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Project Empty: Running on Empty

I'm seriously considering giving up car ownership, so yesterday I decided to find out what that might really mean: I ran all my Saturday errands without my car. I left the house on foot at about 1:30, and came home three and half hours later, at 5:00.

In the interim, walking about three miles and riding four buses, I shopped for clothes, visited my mom, got groceries at Trader Joe's and picked up some housewares at Fred Meyer, all in Northeast Portland.

Did it take longer? The same errands by car would have taken two hours instead of three and a half. But deduct an hour for the exercise I needed to do anyway (but very likely wouldn't have), and you've got a net "loss" of about half an hour. Since those were thirty minutes I spent chatting with strangers, enjoying some good fiction, and being tranquil, they really weren't wasted.

Was it more onerous than driving? The day was hot and humid and my furoshiki--containing clothes, housewares, and groceries--was heavy by the time I got home.

On the other hand, no parking woes, no traffic hassles, no eyeing the fuel gauge in consternation. A leisurely pace, some good exercise. And absolutely no impulse-buying (because...heavy!). So on balance, it was more of a breeze than a burden.

I couldn't go no-car if I didn't live and work in the heart of Portland. Things I need are close by, and if they're not, our transit system is fantastic. There's full support for bicyclists and pedestrians. Portland's own New Seasons Market delivers groceries. And there are ZipCars everywhere, for those times when I just need a car.

The climate may call for a rainhat but almost never for actual gear. And it's pretty here. Lots of trees. Nice gardens. Friendly people in the streets. Decent air quality most of the time. Good place to be out and about in.

So...know anybody who needs a nice used car? 'Cause I think I can really do this.


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 6th, 2008 10:40 pm (UTC)
If I didn't love my car so much I'd consider it ;) But I'm very happy with my little Mazda.

Very cool for you.
Jul. 7th, 2008 12:16 am (UTC)
Boy, I know what you mean! I adore my car--truly I do. I've owned only two cars in my life, and this second one is way, way, WAY better than the first. What's more, it's paid for and probably has a good 50,000 miles left on the engine before it even BEGINS to give me trouble.

I'd love to tell you that the decision (should I end up making it) is environmental and spiritual, but the fact is, my car's manufacturer just announced that it will cease all production of gas engines within seven years, and the writing is on the wall: get rid of it now or have a shiny black albatross forever.

And of course, I won't be able to afford another private vehicle for the foreseeable future. Can't justify a gas one, can't see a better alternative anyway.

I will miss my built-in bluetooth handsfree phone and the wonderful stereo and the moon roof. I will miss that amazingly insular feeling that you can only get inside a car.

But, adventure calls. Brave new world. Alladat.
Jul. 7th, 2008 05:21 am (UTC)
I love Portland! It's particularly pretty from the air. I fly over it often; but I've also visited my friend human_beans there a couple of times.

Good luck selling your car! I want to sell mine too; but I need to get another one -- a hybrid or something.
Jul. 7th, 2008 06:02 am (UTC)
Going carless is a huge step that not a lot of people can take. A hybrid seems like a big step in the right direction. I hope you can find one.

I hear the air car is coming. I could go for something like that!
Jul. 9th, 2008 05:46 am (UTC)
That does look promising!
Jul. 7th, 2008 12:20 pm (UTC)
I'm as usual so proud of you. Just wanted to give you a head's up that I'm going to try to get admitted to Charter Hospital today. I haven't slept in 3 nights for more than 2 hours at a time and no matter how much Xanax I take, the panic attacks just will not let up, I can barely get any food down without throwing up, and suicide is looking more appealing by the day. So please send me your healing energy honey, cause I'm in a really bad place right now.
Jul. 7th, 2008 04:32 pm (UTC)
Good God, woman, I had no idea things had gone so far!

If you see this, think of me thinking of you and enfolding you in a beautiful sphere of golden-white light where everything is safe and warm and free.
Jul. 7th, 2008 10:31 pm (UTC)
How awesome are you?
Jul. 7th, 2008 10:38 pm (UTC)
Heh. To gauge by my carefully edited self-presentation here on LJ, I'm fucking amazing.

In reality...? Not so much.
Jul. 7th, 2008 10:47 pm (UTC)
I stand by my assessment. :)

It's great that you're thinking of doing this, but are you sure that you should give up your car after only one trial run? Or trial walk/bus rides? Pardon the pun.

Jul. 7th, 2008 10:56 pm (UTC)
I'd certainly never advise anyone else to take this radical a step on such short acquaintance. But I lived in this city from age 21 to age 35 without a car (and no credit card to rent one, and no such thing as car-share services).

Since then, I've gotten richer, public transit has gotten better, ZipCar has come into existence, and fuel costs of course have soared.

Also, I won't be the only damn person in the western US who doesn't own a car--which is what I felt like back then.

I'm confident I can make a go of it, actually.
Jul. 8th, 2008 07:31 am (UTC)
I see; it's a very grounded decision.

(I'm more the impulsive type myself. :)

Good luck with becoming carfree and I hope you will keep us all updated!

Jul. 8th, 2008 03:58 pm (UTC)
and I hope you will keep us all updated!

I just can't stop myself.
Jul. 8th, 2008 06:54 pm (UTC)
I've been doing the no-car thing for 10 years now and there have been a few challenges over those years, but no regrets for me. Calgary is one of those cities cursed with the urban sprawl and I believe it has the notoriety of having the largest land area for it's population in North America. The transit system could stand to use a little tweaking though.
Jul. 8th, 2008 07:24 pm (UTC)
It's good to know you've managed, especially considering the irregular hours inherent in your line of work.

Could Calgary really be sprawlier than Phoenix or Los Angeles? Wow.
Jul. 8th, 2008 11:30 pm (UTC)
::Applauds loudly::
I can't drive, so maybe I'm a little biased. And I'm lucky in Oxford, the town is too cramped for cars so there's a necessarily good bus service. But cars are definitely bad.
But I'm worried for you. Are pedestrians allowed to be American?
Jul. 9th, 2008 03:20 am (UTC)
But I'm worried for you. Are pedestrians allowed to be American?

Hee! You gotta wonder. I think I'm pretty safe from prosecution for subversive activities here in Stumptown--we're pretty radical here.

I'm curious: as a non-driver, do you depend primarily on transit, or walking? Or does someone else in your family drive? I'm interested in the varieties of transportation "packages" people put together when a private solo car trip isn't in the equation.
Jul. 9th, 2008 09:22 am (UTC)
I used to walk everywhere. Great for keeping you fit, bad for giving you thighs like treetrunks that won't fit in skinny jeans. Nowadays, mostly buses. Trains for longer distances.
My parents can drive, but neither has a car, the majority (though not a large majority) of people I know in Oxford are the same. With petrol prices at roughly ten dollars a gallon, car tax, road tax etc, I don't know many people who can afford to run a car.
Jul. 10th, 2008 09:52 am (UTC)
I didn't get my license or a car until I was in my twenties. I took the bus everywhere I couldn't hitch a ride with someone else, and I lived in the suburbs! I still remember planning grocery lists not by what I necessarily wanted or needed, but by what I could reasonably haul home. It seems like another life now.
Jul. 10th, 2008 05:34 pm (UTC)
Wow, you did that in the burbs? I'm impressed!

I'd like to think that with gas prices so high (and never going back down), even the burbs will sort themselves out into villages, with local services. Maybe even start putting in sidewalks. Imagine!

I know a lot of people think I'm nuts, but this massive change we're undergoing collectively strikes me as a pretty good thing. Painful, like resetting a badly-healed broken bone, but ultimately very healing.

I hope I'm right.
Jul. 10th, 2008 10:00 pm (UTC)
I spent a lot of time on the bus! And I was working and going to school, so I'd often sleep on the bus, awaking just as it pulled up to my spot. It was like a superpower!

But my dad worked for tri-met for 13 years, so for most of this time I rode for free. I think until I was 21. Very nice perk.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )



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