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Column: How and why I became -- and have remained -- car-free

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  • 3/9 SJ Mercury
    Published Sunday, March 9, 2008, by the San Jose Mercury News Column Rodriguez: Why I don t drive WITHOUT A CAR, LIFE MOVES AT A MORE NATURALLY HUMAN PACE By
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 10, 2008
      Published Sunday, March 9, 2008, by the San Jose Mercury News


      Rodriguez: Why I don't drive

      By Joe Rodriguez
      Mercury News

      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,
      natural pace.

      Contact Joe Rodriguez at jrodriguez@... or (408) 920-5767.
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