I Don’t Like Cars

Darryl Hart’s recent essay at Front Porch Republic made me realize that I do not really like cars and I would like to live without one. I don’t know much about how to fix them. I don’t particularly like driving them. My 1997 Ford Taurus has about 89,000 miles on it. It is running fine, so I do not really feel a need to get a new one. Who cares that it does not have a CD player. It also doesn’t bother me that I have to adjust the air conditioner and heater with a pair of pliers because the nob fell off and I can’t find it anywhere. So what if the water that leaks in the trunk means that the car sometimes smells a bit mildewy. The car carries me to work each day on my three mile commute and, on occasion, it even gets me to far away places like Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and New Jersey.

I envy Darryl and his wife. Here is a taste of his “pedestrian diary”:

My wife and I no longer own (better – make loan payments) on a car. I would like to claim that an auto-less existence results from a principled stand against fossil fuels. As guilty as I am (a la Wendell Berry) for soiling the planet with carbon emissions and as much as I would like to restore my innocence, the decision to abandon a car has more to do with being downsized than with ideas and their consequences.

To adjust to economic realities, my wife and I also moved from the leafy neighborhood of Chestnut Hill into Center City, Philadelphia. Urban centers, especially in the Northeast, are the rare places that make life possible without a car. I have agrarian friends in rural Virginia who need to drive their pick-up trucks at least a mile just to pick up the mail. In Philadelphia, car rentals are possible by the hour. But the city’s public transportation system is very good even if quirky and still in need of some upgrades. And if residents are willing to use their solar-powered bodies to make up the difference between the buildings they want to enter and the nearest train or subway station, they can – with the help of SEPTA – go almost anywhere in the Delaware Valley.

So instead of driving, my wife and I walk – a lot. I even walk to purchase beer, which is something of a nuisance in Pennsylvania where cases are much cheaper (per bottle) than six-packs from the local package store. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board – a Prohibition-Era agency – still controls the sale and distribution of wine and hard liquor. Beer distributors sell cases. Bars and some delicatessens sell six packs. This means I need to walk a little more than a mile each way to buy a case from one of the city’s very good micro-breweries. (The Hart favorite these days is Yard’s IPA.) But a two-wheeled shopping cart makes this a fairly easy outing as long as the weather cooperates.