Zoom Zoom Wah

Shall I tell you what is troubling me, and you can tell me it’s a first-world problem, that I’ll be fine, and we can go back to regular programming? I really think that would be the best use of your Sunday morning. Forget slopping around in your bathrobe, eating pancakes at noon (almond chocolate chip with real maple syrup), reading an edifying book. Your real work this morning is to cheer me up.


Just a few days ago, in a moment of pride and astonishment, I  realized it’s almost February, and other than a few weeks of gloominess back in November, I seem to have escaped my annual Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Now here’s where you might be tempted to say, “Jan, that’s because you’ve been misdiagnosed. That golden, life-affirming fluorescent light which hangs over your head, its beams hitting the back of your retina so that it can reprogram and regulate your biochemistry — that light is unnecessary. You might have Annual Effective Disorder, or Hourly Affective Disorder, but you don’t have SAD.”

But you won’t, because you are kind. And in any case, if you did, I would reply — with a twinkle in my eye, you understand — but firmly nonetheless, “Who’s the doctor in this relationship? And aren’t you supposed to be affirming me, not questioning my authority?”

(This is how we handle conflict in my family, but I digress again, because in this thoughtful essay, I’m not supposed to be modeling conflict-resolution but asking for help.)

My theory about why I’ve done better this winter is the weather. It’s been unusually mild and dry. I’ve had no difficulty in getting out for walks most days of the week. Driving’s been a cinch.

I’ve also seldom been alone. Between one kid or another, the ToolMaster taking holidays, or motoring down to help family, I’ve had people around most of the time. Oh, I’ve had plenty of solitude, which I crave, but no week-long spaces where it’s just me and the animals.

All that’s about to change. The second semester’s about to begin and it promises to be more rigorous. My family is dispersing. Molly’s next nursing assignment is at a hospital a good hour away. She’ll need a vehicle.

At my instigation, thinking of finances and the Earth, rather than expediency, I suggested we try to manage without purchasing another car. In effect, from o’alarm-clock to o’dinnertime, I won’t have a vehicle.  I can still walk, bus, drop the ToolMaster at work on the odd day I need transportation, but I’m wheel-less, peeps. Of my own volition.

Why does this feel different? Why does it give me a pang?

On a practical basis,  it’s doable. It won’t change 97% of my week. But the very air seems to carry different potential. The wind whispers, “All licensed-up and no way to go.” I feel thwarted. When I dig in my purse, my car keys reproach me.

So my questions for you: Have you ever been car-less for long? Did you grow to love it or acclimate? If an empty parking spot cries in the garage, and no one’s around to hear it, will it still be there by nightfall? Talk to me about suburbia and what it does for community.

38 thoughts on “Zoom Zoom Wah

  1. Yes, I’ve been there. When we lived in Edinburgh, Scotland for four years, we did it without a car. I walked to do my weekly shopping, I walked the kids to and from preschool. I took the bus for bigger shopping trips and, on very rare occasions (date night, minor medical emergencies), took a cab. Even before moving to Scotland, while living in Michigan after my oldest was born, we were a one-car family. Usually, it was just me and the baby buggy, going about my day, with the opportunity to drive my husband to and from work on the days that I needed a car to go a little further.

    I have to admit, I was reluctant to get a car when we moved back to the States. I hadn’t driven at all in the years we lived in Scotland and, before then, had driven very infrequently. It felt like an unneeded luxury to have my very own car sitting in the driveway. Surely I could carry on as before? And indeed, the first month or so I was determined to use my car as little as possible, a small defiance against nothing-at-all. But there were few places I could walk to from my new neighborhood. Most places I would want to go are a distance, along busy, sidewalk-less roads. So I started using the car more and more. I’d be lying if I said I loved it. There are more days than not where I feel the loss of having places to walk. I like having destinations. I like having my exercise an unnoticed byproduct of my daily errands. I really do miss not needing a car.

    1. Wow, this is helpful. You just jerked me out of my car-centric complacency because of the near-opposite attitude. A begrudging use of a car? Maybe I’ll get there one day.

      My neighborhood has sidewalks, but their upkeep is dubious during the winter. Come April, though, I’ll be able to bike as well as walk. I need to focus on this phase lasting 8 weeks at most.

      Thanks, Jess.

      1. There is an organization in our area that has raised money and have gotten federal and state grants to build walking and biking paths connecting all of our various neighborhoods and, eventually, connecting them to the local library, nearest grocery store, and many of the elementary schools. Construction of the first phase is set for this summer. I can’t wait! When I can walk for a bag of groceries or a stack of books, I’ll be much happier!

        1. I understand. We bought where we did in good part because of promised community access. Then funding dried up and a local school didn’t get built, etc., but there are still a few essentials within walking distance. I think the hardest is when you haven neither the benefits of the country nor the city.

          You’re going to enjoy your walkways!

    2. Hi Tart! This is DisobedientWriter – not sure if you remember me. We were blogging buddies a little over a year ago, but I had to stop suddenly because I got pretty sick. I’m better now, though, and am back to blogging! I retired Disobedient Writer & started a new one. I look forward to catching up on your blog. I’m so happy to see you’re still writing and are as sassy as ever!

      1. Hey, K! So great to see you again! I definitely remember you. Think I was by your old site only a few months ago to see if you’d made a return, and I’ve been asking about you through our mutual friend.

        Glad to hear you’re better. Will look forward to catching up.

  2. I am car-less.
    Actually, I’ve always been car-less. Due to a combination of my health, financial situation, and lack of desire to get out onto the road, I’ve never had a car. At this point in my life, I walk almost everywhere, because I live close into the centre of the city. I walk about 2.2km to work (and back) each day, and I can walk to the grocery store, the post office, the pharmacy, … pretty much everywhere I need to go. On the off chance I need to get somewhere far away, I have family that will occasionally give me a lift. My lack of vehicular transportation surprises people, especially in this car-centric city, but I’ve gotten used to it, and I moved specifically to be closer to work and amenities.

    As for suburbia… if I still lived where I grew up, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do now. Or at least, I’d be taking the bus and spending a lot of time commuting. (When I did live in suburbia and commuted downtown, it was a good 1.5/2hrs of my day lost on the bus.)

    1. Yes, the commute from suburbia is a killer. You’ve set yourself up well for a car-less life, Alyssa, and given the city in which you live, that’s a real accomplishment.

      Believe it or not Frank doesn’t want to drive. He’ll learn it so he can, if required, but his aim would be to live like you.

      1. The only good thing about the commute to and from suburbia was the time spent reading on the bus. Other than that, it sucked. I’ve started listening to audiobooks and radio dramas during my walks, so I’m getting almost as much ‘reading’ done as I did on the bus. 🙂

        Frank just needs to get himself set up in a place that’s nice and central, and he’ll be happily car-free.

  3. Jan, it’s cause we always want what we can’t have. I don’t feel the need to anywhere until hubby takes the van for something, then suddenly I just HAVE to get errands, or go somewhere. But I couldn’t’ do it long term. I need my wheels and my freedom. Good luck! 😉

    1. “I don’t feel the need to anywhere until hubby takes the van for something, then suddenly I just HAVE to get errands, or go somewhere.” LOL. Ain’t that the truth! You’re probably right that most of this is contrariness.

      Oh, thank you, guys. You’re cheering me up.

  4. I’m just glad to hear you’re mostly having an un-sad winter. I have a big ole’ gas-guzzling pickup truck in the garage, but very rarely use it these days. I think I put less than 2,000 miles on it last year. I walk everyday, but this winter I drive only on grocery shopping days. But I’m pretty sure I would have the same pangs as you if I had an empty bay in the garage instead. Good luck!

  5. I went a few years without my own car back in Guernsey, but driving conditions there were so awful it was no loss. Where we lived, everything was in easy walking or cycling distance so it was no hardship either. I know I’d struggle now because everything is so more spread out.

    Glad you’re having a better winter. I get down this time of year too (and just posted about that recently!) and it makes a huge difference to be able to get out into proper daylight from time to time. It seems a lot of people struggle with January. You are not alone.

  6. I live in the country, no bus, just a car, when it breaks down and I am without it for a few days , withdrawal symptoms set in, such as I reallyhave to go there , right this minute, or I really needs this, right now. Well it takes a while to settle down, to talk to myself , that I did not need this before right at this instant ,but it seems that a little voice whines “why not?” a real battle ensues and reason has to prevail , Oh the whining!!!!

    Annie v.

  7. Oh wow, I once went without a vehicle for three weeks. Just about drove me nuts. I couldn’t take the kids anywhere. I couldn’t grocery shop. I had no bus or oth form of transportation available. It just about drove me insane.

    Okay, I’m no help cheering you up today, so I hope the weather stays lovely and bright so you can get out for a walk every day. Maybe head down to the nearest mall or Timmy’s so you have people around you. 🙂

    1. You’re right. Today you suck in the cheering-up department. 😉

      Seriously, going without a vehicle is so much harder when you have tiny people. Bussing becomes problematic, and so do taxis because of the car-seat issue.

      And yes, that’s my plan. The trick is to get out the door first thing, before I become too settled.

  8. I’m one of the many who suffers horridly from winter. The cold air is like a million tiny daggers shredding my lungs; then they spread to freeze and hack at my entire body. No amount of winter clothing helps for more than a minute. I started this winter by saying, “didn’t you get the memo? Winter’s been cancelled this year.” And I’m extremely grateful that for the most part it seemed to be true.
    Sorry Jan, I grew up in a ‘bedroom community’ where Everything and Everyone was six to ten miles away, with no bus service whatsoever. A vehicle was not and still isn’t an ‘option.’ It’s a good thing I love to drive. (On cold days I’m tempted to hug the car, bless its little heater.) When I move to a warm climate with bus service I might be tempted to park my vehicle, but I doubt it. If I do I might have to take up a job driving bus.

  9. In the United States, bedroom communities and suburbs were designed to ecourage woman to leave the factories and stay at home making babies after World War II ended. This was to allow the returning soldiers to take those factory jobs the women stepped into durring the war. In those days, most families had only one car.

    Sorry, I used to work for a Metropolitan Planning Organization, so I can’t resist answering those urban planning questions.

  10. Eek! the page glitched and posted before I was finished.

    But because of those early planning decisions, where you live does make a tremendous difference. I lived without a car for a long time and it was difficult. It required lots of planning.

    Have you thought about making a shopping /errand day with a friend or family member so you can both get out and have fun?

    1. “In the United States, bedroom communities and suburbs were designed to ecourage woman to leave the factories and stay at home making babies after World War II ended.”

      Is that so, Glinda? How fascinating. They purposefully created a nursery community?

      Why didn’t they reconsider neighborhood design twenty years ago, when women began to work in earnest?

      Good idea on the carpooling. Alas, most of my friends or family aren’t at home in the day or don’t drive, but I will mull this over.

  11. There is an urban historian by the name of Delores Hayden who has written quite a few interesting books, including a history of the movement to the suburbs. The part about bedroom communities comes from her book, “Redesigning the American Dream: Gender, Housing, and Family Life.” It is a fascinating read…. And unfortunately, not available for the Kindle. 🙁

    That doesn’t help get you out of the house, though….

  12. We live in an urban sprawl where it makes a car a necessity. But, I don’t drive that much now and sometimes imagine life without a second vehicle. We haven’t really had a bad winter here (knock on wood) yet. We see the sun most days which is helpful on really cold days.

    1. Stacy, that’s the thing: I have actually fantasized about being vehicle-less, so it’s crazy that I’d feel trapped.

      Re sunshine: my province has a reputation for being sunny, but with global warming that’s changed. Yes, I’m serious. Glad you get to enjoy the rays. 🙂

  13. I troll around the internet looking for good writing – rearely do I find anything worth reading more than a sentance! I love your blog and how you can make a subject interesting. I’m skipping the discussion about cars in Suburbia, but I will be back to read your musings! Thanks for writing something I can relate to!

  14. Aside from a brief period immediately after college, I’ve never lived anywhere where walking to the essentials was an option. I do have the country as compensation, which is lovely, but I often feel guilty about how much driving I do. Like you Jan, I try and save up my errands to do in one trip, and I always try and plan those errands to the same part of town — no just running to the store for a carton of milk!

  15. When Joy was born 5 years ago we got rid of our second car and bought DH a scooter to get to and from work. I did have the car for me and the kidlets, unless he needed an actual vehicle. I will say that I rarely used it. We walked a lot – even to the store – because it was easier to manage small kids in a stroller rather than getting in and out of car seats, schlepping strollers, etc, and then doing it in reverse. We are very lucky to live in a pedestrian area of our city and we did this intentionally when we bought our house. We can walk to the store, bank, restaurants, movie theatre, yarn store, parks, etc.

    Now, we did get a second car last year when DH changed jobs and it’s now too far for him to scooter to. I do have to drive car pool for school and now that I’m back to work we need the second car, but I will say that I loved those years when we intentionally lived without the second vehicle. It was great on our budget and great to know that we weren’t burning up more gas than we absolutely had to:)

    1. Stephanie, having to manage two kids and strollers with any kind of vehicle isn’t fun. Sounds like you structured your life very well to integrate exercise, fresh air, and budget concerns. Eep on the scooter, though! They are fun, but drivers around here have no respect, not to mention that six months of the year they’d wouldn’t be able to manage the weather conditions. I’d have been fearful for my DH, though also a tad envious.

  16. You will be able to turn into a tourist in your own city! You can ride on buses that are so plastered with advertisements that you can’t see out the window!

    Remember when it took me 6 months to fix the head gasket on my car? It was a simple time in some ways, irritating in others – irritating beyond the annoyance of my incredible capacity to delay a couple hours’ work. You can definitely drink more, though! (Grins as types.)

    PLUS, you can call your brother for the odd ride. 😉

    1. You’ll call me a plebe, but since I haven’t ridden on one of those ad-plastered buses, I assumed they were transparent from inside. Guess I’ll find out soon, huh?

      Re the rides: thank you, Oly. I will remember that. 🙂

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