on having a car — or not

Interesting post from Eleanor Arnason on “not having a car”:

In this society, not driving means you are poor, in some way disabled or odd. When I was young, I was less aware of this, since there are a fair number of young people who bike or take the bus. But now — at my age — I am aware that I look poor or disabled or odd.

Eleanor’s writing from Minneapolis, and i suspect that notions of who has a car / who doesn’t have a car will depend on where one lives — what city, what neighborhood.  For instance, i suspect it’s significantly less odd to be car-less in New York City.  In my case, while it is fairly odd for me to not have a car in Seattle, it’s not so terribly odd in the U-District, my neighborhood.  I regularly see the inhabitants of Greek Row hauling many grocery bags 2 blocks from Safeway back to their fraternity/sorority houses.

Now my granny cart.  That‘s odd, and Andy’s still sufficiently embarrassed by it that he winces whenever i try to use it, which at this point in our tenure in this neighborhood is really only about once a year.  Wimp.

Still, i think Eleanor’s point definitely stands.  Whenever i’m outside of the U-District and explain that i don’t have a car, i always get odd looks.  I’ve had people i’ve only known for 2 hours offer to give me a ride home, because why would you take the bus???

5 thoughts on “on having a car — or not”

  1. i don’t understand why people are so hung up on owning a car if there are other alternatives available. CARS ARE EXPENSIVE AND FULL OF HASSLES AND FREQUENTLY BREAK. i WISH i lived in an area where i could take a bus. think of all the built-in reading time!

  2. Huh.

    Here at the other UW, everyone (students + employees) gets a free bus pass because parking spaces are extremely limited.
    Because of this, bus traffic is generally full of affluent, able-bodied people who just don’t drive to work. (Like, I own a car and use it to drive to other cities or to get groceries or etc., but most of the time I’m busing/walking places.)
    For the most part, co-workers who drive themselves in every day don’t bat an eye at my bus-riding. A couple co-workers frequently give me rides home, but only because I’m on the way.

    I do remember my extended family members reacting with horror, though, when I met them at a baby shower at a hotel here my freshman year of college, and went out on the bus to the edge of town. “The bus! OMG! Look at you, you took the BUS out here, you poor thing!” It was pretty weird.

    My boyfriend doesn’t own a car at all, and that usually gets weird reactions from more affluent people who don’t live in particularly urban areas (my family, high school friends), but it’s accepted as normal here.

  3. Yes, not having a car in NYC is not a big deal at all.

    Here in Bristol, there’s a good deal of folks who bike to many places – enough that drivers are quite used to cyclists and afford those that used the road (as they should) respect and give them space. The public transit situation is a bit weird. Busses are seriously expensive. Taking the local commuter train routes is actually MUCH cheaper, but both get used on a fairly regular basis.

    Driving is still de rigueur, but not to the insane levels you see in most of the US. We’re quite able to live happily here without a car in a relatively small city. Neighborhoods tend to be walkable here, even in small villages, and transit can take you even out to the boonies.

    The only times I’ve had offers of rides home when I really didn’t need them have come from folks who themselves need to drive places due to mobility issues, and really only after I’ve ridden tens of miles on my bike to get out to wherever it was I went out to see them.

  4. This mentality was definitely a culture shock for me, coming from a country where I knew only a handful of people of my age who had cars–and they only used them for long-distance drives, not for going to the grocery store. Even all of my colleagues came to work by bike, after dropping their kids off at the daycare or school (on their bikes). If you had a car before you turned 25, you were probably some kind of a car freak who loves motors and fiddling around with vehicles. :D

    Now we do have a car and it sometimes bums us out that we haven’t been able to do without. We mainly use it for work commute, because our neighborhood is so very walkable (which is one reason why we live here). Today I get to use the car and K. carpooled to work because otherwise I’d get home from teaching two hours later than usual: silly East side connection buses, running only once an hour in the late evening and of course the one I want to take leaves exactly at the time my class ends…

  5. The flak my oldest daughter got when she turned 16 (and 17, and 18, etc…) and did not push to get her driver’s license was crazy.
    And then when she moved to (college town with plenty of local transit options) my mom offered to buy her a car. Her response to me was “Yeah, that’s exactly what I need as a college student – something else to worry about and spend money on!”

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