This month celebrates three years of living without a car. The first two years felt worthy of celebrating, but this year i almost forgot, until today, when i found myself driving a borrowed car, because my mom was out of town. I felt so much pressure to go and "do something," as if we don’t do anything without one. The girls and I, we get around, by foot and by bike and by bus pretty well, and I’m understanding more and more that we have some incredibly meaningful adventures because of this. We don’t have the ability to frivolous roam, to and fro, filling our days with meaningless busyness, so instead we have to use our bodies and our creativity and be intentional with how we spend our time. I realize that statement is a little unfair and usually not my style, at least not outloud, because I don’t like making other people feel bad, and I also don’t like making assumptions. But sometimes being diplomatic is exhausting. And I'm good at being diplomatic, which means sometimes I am exhausted. I realize that just because someone has a car doesn’t mean they use it in this way. But if I had one, maybe I would, so I am probably just speaking for myself. In any case, I got in my moms car to “go somewhere,” and I drove and felt like the masses. For a moment, I loved it, but then I didn’t. After ten minutes of bad radio, pride and chaos, I thought “ugh, I hate this,” and then I kept on driving, because I could. And because i wanted those feelings to sink in a little deeper.
After three years I am convinced that the challenges that come from living without a car have little to do with actually transporting yourself. It's not challenging to live without a car. It's also not challenging to do this with a family. The difficulty comes from living in the minority. It comes from living in a culture where it is not socially acceptable to live without a car. It's hard keeping up with a culture that moves twice your speed, just because it can. The strange thing is that I don't even want to keep up, and yet sometimes I still find myself tempted. If you look at a big metropolitan city like NYC, London or Paris, majority of the people in those cities live without a car. It is very socially acceptable, in fact it is the norm. It's not hard to live without a car there, because it's just what you do. Everyone embraces this way of life and they don't think twice about it. This is not the case for the majority of the United States, even a "bike friendly," city like Portland.
It was easier to be car free in Casper, Wyoming than in Portland. I knew this before we ever moved back. Family, friends, and especially Christopher loved to tell me how much easier life would be living back in a “bike friendly,”city. I was agreeable and easily persuadable on the surface, deep down knowing they were wrong. I may fly under the radar on my three speed Linus and heels, knowing very little about bikes, but I do know a thing or two about myself.
“Bike friendly,” has little to do with how easy or difficult this endeavor will be. It has more to do with how you build your life. Casper may have had some hard winters and we may have been an anomaly, but all of our relationships were within a few mile radius. Christopher did however work 20 miles away from our home, (but he is a rare breed and his endurance and iron will should not, and cannot be compared with others.)
I grew up in a suburb of Portland. My family still lives just outside of the city, and the dance studio I work at once a week is there too. If we had moved to Portland with a clean slate, sans car, this city would be ideal for that lifestyle. We would never meet people outside the circles we could walk and bike and we would never be missing out on anyone or anything, or at least that we knew. But, we are trying to keep up relationships that we (I) built years ago, when we (I) had a car. And sometimes that is hard, and it’s not always realistic, and yet it seems unfair to neglect those relationships because of our ideals. But really, our ideals are only a smallest part of this equation, because with time ideals loosen and shift, but over the last few year(s) we've experienced financial hardship.
Living below the poverty line has made living without a car extra challenging. Which is ironic because initially it was going to save us money. But a move west, job changes, and another baby put us in a position where even if we wanted a car, we couldn’t afford one. And I don’t throw around, "couldn’t afford,” cutely or lightly. There was barely enough money to eat, let alone transport ourselves. From the outside our life probably looked one way, while on the inside it was anything but. Our modern apartment with big windows, boasting good morning light, in a prime location happened to be an income restricted apartment, and my Hunter rain boots were given to me, (thanks tay tay!)
Portland has great car sharing programs, and I've always believed that if we were to have a humble budget for zip cars, car 2 go's, or taxi's, car ownership would be far less appealing. Thankfully, times and jobs have recently changed and we are moving into a brand new season where we are getting back on our feet. I am feeling hopeful, and life is starting to present options again. Ironically these options have made me fall back in love with our car free life style. Living without a car is slowly becoming a choice, like it started three years ago, and it suddenly feels empowering instead of degrading. For the last year, the lack of choice has been more of a burden than the choice to live without one, and I find this so fascinating.
So, the challenge is finding a balance between ideals, values, expectations, and reality. The challenge is the being held in the tension of the here and now with the people you love most, and the future generations that you can’t see or touch, but you also care deeply about. The challenge is in staying true to yourself, while finding compromise for the sake of the people you love. The challenge is feeling excluded from society while simultaneously living a lifestyle that can make other people feel that exact same thing. The challenge is learning that nothing fits in a perfect box, and there are always what if’s and buts…But this has little to do with transportation and everything to do with life. This is growing up.
For the majority of our days, I love the way we live. It’s simple, and it’s rich. We are connected, present and intentional, and these are the values I want to instill in my daughters. Living without a car (for now) makes it easier for me to not just teach my daughters these things, but to show them, with how I live my life. Also, riding a bike makes me feel young and care free, and sometimes it helps me forget i am a mama, which is sometimes vital to my well being. I realize this is not the case for everyone, and may not always be the case for me. But I’ve never lived in a world for absolutes, i live in a world that is fluid, with ample space to evolve, and obnoxiously change my mind, a million times over.
I’m not sure I have something inspirational to close. But I am proud of us, and I think it’s interesting to have three years under our belt, with the conclusion after each year being dramatically different from the last. The first two years living this way took up a lot of mental space. I thought about it constantly. I challenged it, shared it, and proved it. But now, apart from this anniversary reflection I don’t feel the need to let others know we live this way, let alone why. If it comes up I just tell people, “because it’s fun!” which is one hundred percent the truth or “we are getting a car soon,” which is only a half-assed statement i like to throw out there from time to time, just to see how it feels. Maybe we will, but maybe we won’t. I think Chris and I try and keep it under the radar now. I guess there was a time where we needed to justify to all the skeptics out there, mainly the people closest to us. And maybe I wanted a few kudos for being totally bad ass and biking pregnant in sub zero temps, or pedaling a toddler and 100 lbs. of groceries just days before giving birth. And maybe we too were testing the waters, wondering if we were completely crazy, using others as a sounding board. Three years later, I do think we are kinda crazy, but I like crazy and own it, and wouldn’t want it any other way. At least for now, because there is always next year…