Column: How and why I became -- and have remained -- car-free
- Published Sunday, March 9, 2008, by the San Jose Mercury News
Rodriguez: Why I don't drive
WITHOUT A CAR, LIFE MOVES AT A MORE NATURALLY HUMAN PACE
By Joe Rodriguez
I didn't mean to become car-free in Silicon Valley. Like luck or
love, it happened, literally, by accident -- a glorified fender-
bender at that.
Rather than repair the twisted nose of my aging Ford Focus last
March, the insurance company gave me a check for $6,800. I had three
choices: 1) Buy another car. 2) Save it for a leave of absence to
write a book. 3) Paint my old house.
I painted the house and, boy, it looks great in blue-green. You see,
the boss nixed the leave of absence and I thought a new car could
wait for winter. I wanted to pass the summer biking to work and
around town, acquiring an athletic tan and thunder thighs.
But then a funny thing happened. I quickly discovered something
surprising -- I actually enjoyed being car-free. I felt fine about
distancing myself from auto addicts.
According to the latest census data for Santa Clara County, we have
more households with four cars than households with no cars. The
numbers: 80,446 to 18,814. And when it comes to getting to work,
624,300 of us drive solo. Only 29,700 take public transit.
My colleague, Mr. Roadshow, puts lots of feet to the pedals. One of
the four cars in his driveway is an old van especially for schlepping
his dogs to the dog park. Mr. Roadshow's got some explaining to do.
We all know this is a valley where freeways and computers connect but
sidewalks and people do not. So don't fret: I'm not here to talk you
into giving up your precious wheels or sets of wheels. I still use
company cars to do my job, but I can say with full confidence that
most of you don't need personal cars as much as you think.
As I explored the universe car-free, my friends started admiring my
non-automotive moxie. I was reducing traffic, air pollution and our
dependence on oil from terrorist-loving regimes. However, none of
those do-gooder reasons adequately explain why I'm happier after
junking the car.
I think I've got it now: Freed from the fast lane, status-symbol
silliness and puny parking spaces, I'm healthier, happier and
better-informed by getting around on foot, bike and public transit.
It's mostly about moving at a slower, more naturally human pace.
Without a personal car, I simply can't get to every party or store
sale or do everything I think I must do. I have to choose from among
the most meaningful, interesting or necessary pursuits.
Even some of the sacrifices have been a blessing, like being dumped
by an attractive lady friend who expected real Silicon Valley men to
drive hot cars and lock their GPS devices onto her address. Guys,
real women don't mind picking you up!
When you don't have a car, the little things in life don't have to
be perfect. Heck, you can blow off a lot of them. I don't run to the
hardware store for the perfect-size nail if a longer or shorter one
will work just fine. No steak sauce in the fridge? Just liquefy a
little salt and pepper saute!
And for the important things in life, I find a way to get there. A
few months ago I took a local bus, express bus, BART and then a taxi
to get to a reunion of dear old friends at a public park in Berkeley.
For a dinner in La Honda, which has no public transit, my host
friends picked me up at the nearest train station.
I stay home more often, fix the leaky faucet, learn new recipes,
invite friends over, read more books, write more e-mail letters.
And from all the exercise I sleep like a baby.
I walk at least a mile to and from bus stops almost every day in
winter. Waiting or riding, I can finish my magazines in a week. When
I'm not doing that, I study the passing world of interesting people,
places and things.
For example, there was the elderly Filipino lady who stepped off the
bus's wheelchair ramp, turned around and blessed it with the sign of
the cross. I never would have seen that zooming by in a car.
On the flip side, I saw a young mother with a stroller the size of
a Panzer refuse to give up the front seats to old passengers. It was
a heartbreaking, but worthwhile piece of human drama to witness up
Sometimes, I don't look at anybody. I just let my brain breathe.
Can you say that Mr. Road-Hogshow? I don't think so.
It's nearly impossible to be in a hurry when you don't have a car.
The rat race goes a lot slower and affects you a lot less. I'll get
there when the bus or train gets there, or as fast as my own feet or
bike can take me. It allows me to hear the chatter of the city, smell
the rose gardens and see my world up close. I feel blessed to have
more time to think about things and take almost everything at my own,
Contact Joe Rodriguez at jrodriguez@... or (408) 920-5767.