I just got a new job. The prospect of the new job, and the opportunities I believe it will offer, excites me. However, with the new job comes a new commute – “new” meaning that I will go from a 10-minute walk to a 30-minute drive (or, as the case may be, a 30-minute bus ride followed by a 30-minute bike ride.)
I have toyed with the idea of doing away with my car since the fall of 2007, when I was preparing to study abroad in London. Having always been deliriously headstrong, I was determined to use the experience to build an appreciation for public transportation and an applicable skillset in making one work. I packed two huge suitcases, handed my parents the keys, and advised them that I no longer wanted the car – it was a Grand Am, and my first car; they’d bought it for me when I was sixteen and I’d developed a deeply-rooted affection and named her “Grandy.” And now I was informing them that Grandy and I were parting ways. (The actual circumstances of this exchange were far more dramatic that how I’ve described – there was a great deal of concern and frustration on my parents’ behalf. Looking back, it’s no surprise they perceived me as a difficult child.)
The car was, of course, still parked in front of their house when I returned to The States three months later. It was December when I got home, and I’m sure they expected me to go back on my decision once I had to commute to class in January. I didn’t, however, and for several winter months persisted in taking the lightrail to class each day. (I lived at home for the second half of the school year.) I will not suggest that waiting for three transfers on a 45-minute commute added a lot to my quality of life. But I was determined. And though, when I moved back to campus, I took the car with me, I always regarded it with guilt. I began seeking live/work situations that would allow me to shed the vehicle.
And so, when I lived a 10-minute walk from where I worked, it was by design. I moved close to downtown, found a job in the heart of it, and then moved closer. And then I drove my car back to my parents’ house, and handed them the keys forever.
However, now I’ve acquired a new job, and have also, in the past 9 months, fallen in love with my apartment (and developed a disdain for the area of Metro Denver in which the office is located.) So I shall commute – despite the fact that I perceive having a commute as a considerable detriment to almost everyone’s quality of life. The closer you live to where you work, the more time you have during your day to allocate to other – and vastly more important – things.
Could I go get my car? Of course.
Can’t I afford to buy one? Yes, probably.
The thing is, I don’t want a car.
Having been without one for about a year now, and having had the concept in my head for almost 4 years, I have since discovered that my inclination toward such an ambition was right on. When I do drive, on occasion, I do not feel a sky-rocketing sense of satisfaction in it. The convenience and pleasure of driving is out-weighed by a number of things: first, the cost of parking (I live downtown, remember?), gas, insurance, maintenance, and the occasional speed ticket and towing incident. (Having the latter happen three times in one year is a sure incentive to scrap the thing altogether.)
Being someone who considers myself a bit of a “business-minded” environmentalist, I also feel that there is integrity in surrendering your car. If you care for the world around you in any capacity, and voice these perspectives while continuing to cruise around in a car, it sends an inconsistent message. I know that almost everyone else at the 4,000-person corporate campus where I work drives, but that doesn’t mean that my actions are lost. After all, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Lead by example.
Then there are also the soft factors – driving permits too much autonomy, which not only fosters emotions like road rage, but also ones like loneliness. Being on the bus is being part of a community, however small and for however short a duration. And it permits you time to touch up your make-up, read the Journal, or daydream. You know, all those things that we do in our car anyway. Just more safely.
And so, I am riding my bike. I am heaving it onto the front the bus every day; I am heaving myself up the tremendous hill that leads to my office (which, to be fair, permits me a terrific ride back down after work.) I am getting off, at especially long uphill stretches, and walking. I am bringing my work clothes in a bag. I am changing in the lobby restroom before any of my coworkers see me rocking my yoga pants. And I am walking in as polished as – and more alert than – I would if I had driven.
And I think it will make me a stronger person. In more ways than one.