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Friday, May 09, 2008

Carless

I know it’s a cliché, but be careful what you wish for. I have been fantasizing about getting a Prius lately, mostly so I’ll feel less guilty for all the driving I do, but it didn’t seem justifiable with two cars working. The Toyota Camry, which is the car I primarily drove, had 103,000 miles on it, not to mention a few minor dents and a back seat spaghetti sauce stain a foot in diameter, which is to say it looked like it had some life left in it, but not much resale value. I actually stopped by a Toyota showroom on Thursday, while the Camry was getting an inspection and a new tire next door, but told the salesman my interest in the Prius was just “thinking ahead.” Little did I know the Camry would die two days later, with a brand new inspection sticker on it. The engine was so shot I had to coast down Midvale Avenue with the engine off to get an official diagnosis from a mechanic. When I turned the engine on in order to turn it into the service station, the grimacing mechanic came running out asking, “What happened to that car?” Indeed.

So after two days of calling Toyota dealerships and hearing repeatedly that in the last few weeks, with gas prices soaring, the Prius (both used and new) has been speeding off their lots, we finally ordered one that will be in late May. I’m grateful that the decision is made and that we can actually afford it now. A few years ago a dead engine would have been a much bigger hurdle, as it would be for many families, I know. Still, I couldn’t help feeling that God/the universe was really messing with me. I had been looking forward for months to this time when my university semester was over, but the kids were still in school, so I could just write, write, write, with no distractions. I had this image of total focus and had been trying to clear out possible distractions ahead of time. So here the first morning of my writing month, I had to shop for a car and look into things to do with the old car.

Ah, yes, be careful what you wish for because there is nothing to cut the distractions out of your life like being without the vehicle that made your distractions convenient. Instead of my favorite coffee shop, where I know all the staff and most of the customers, I’ve been forced to work at home or at a walking-distance coffee shop where I don’t know anyone. I can’t have those little chats while I’m getting another drink. I can’t swing by the co-op and pick up a quart of milk or see my acupuncturist in Ambler. It’s been a blessing, much more than an inconvenience. Combined with my ongoing media diet, staying home has meant much more quiet than I usually experience, a real gift as I shift back into writing mode. Plus, it has been a gorgeous week, so that walking around the neighborhood and taking the bus home from piano with the kids has been a pleasure. I’ve been thinking about teaching the kids to be more independent, and May is as nice a time as any to learn how to transfer between two buses. Even though I had been trying to cut back my driving anyway, this week is making me realize that it is not as hard as I thought, though it is also affirming my sense that I’m not ready to live without a car completely. I’m looking forward to the Prius, but enjoying where I am.

5 Comments:

Anonymous cath said...

As Eileen points out, sometimes it's a good lesson to have the occasion to be without something we consider a must have. And sometimes it helps to have something we've been without.

I currently have a borrowed car because I travel out of town to participate in the care of my elderly and infirm parents. Prior to this arrangement (their car) I hadn't had a car for almost a decade.

I've relied on public transportation in a city that doesn't really care to put energy/money into the only means low-income people have to get around.

I've met people who wanted to go to the 4th of July fireworks, but couldn't because the last bus to their neighborhood left before the fireworks began.

--people with no way to get to the church of their choice (or any church in some cases) on Sunday.

--people who could only bring home from the grocery store as much as they were able to carry--and they also walked with canes, had parkinsons, or children with them.

--people who waited by the side of the street in pouring rain because they coudn't afford to buy an umbrella.

--people who couldn't read and got on the wrong bus without enough money to get off and get on the right bus.

Once a man got on and slumped in his seat sobbing the entire time I was on the bus.

Once a man got on and became incontinent and had to endure the taunts and disapproval of fellow passengers.

Once a pregnant woman with a young child fell down because the bus driver didn't wait until she had gotten a seat before starting.

Once a man headed for a job interview he told me he desperately needed was stranded because the bus simply didn't show up.

Once, while sitting on a bench near a bus stop, a woman was put off a bus because the bus driver felt she had been drinking. She was bleeding from a wound on the side of her head and told me she had been pushed inside the bus. I had plenty of kleenex with me, as well as a large water bottle so I was able to stop the bleeding and clean up the side of her head. I also believed that she had been drinking, but it was hot out. So I gave her my hat.

Being without a car in a car-oriented culture creates massive (almost insurmountable) inconvenience and an "outsider" feeling. Not having the community of one's normal coffee stop diminishes things. Having only the momentary community of the bus stop also seems less than optimal.

I do believe if God were to come into earthly life right now, God would be carless. There God would be--perhaps with children and bags and a stroller--trying to get a bus pass out of a pocket and get on the bus before it took off. The wind might be blowing. And maybe God would be very very tired.

I think God would be very happy if one of us came along and had an extra pair of gloves in our bag. Or simply held the bags for a moment.

cath

1:19 PM  
Anonymous cath said...

Eileen--I don't usually post a comment meant to be a direct response to a post unless I say so. But I've had some experiences recently where people thought I was talking to them or engaging in a rebuttal of their posts or something like that.

So, after a moment of reflection, I thought I would come back and let you know that my comment was not intended to be directed at anyone--it was a reflection.

cath

1:23 PM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks, Cath. I know my post was full of middle class assumptions. It's good to be reminded that public transportation is the only option for many people in our city.

6:04 AM  
Anonymous cath said...

As I said in my second comment, Eileen, I wasn't trying to critique your post or your assumptions.

When you mentioned that you missed the community of your regular coffee stop, I starting thinking about "things missed" (in my own experience) when it comes to transportation and I ended up with a long reflection on what I've seen.

That's all. I think most of us who are lucky enough to have computers and see/respond to blogs have a level of convenience in our lives. But many of us don't know each others' stories, so we can't really make assumptions about how we got those computers or what allows us the time to post or what being temporarily carless means in terms of living our lives authentically.

It could be that both you and I are currently giving up something important just to interact with each other here, something that another person doesn't have to give up.

Please don't feel badly about posting re: your carless state. I suspect you are able to do many good things since transportation is not an on-going issue for you. Blessings for that!

cath

7:28 AM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Don't worry, Cath. I didn't take your comment as personal criticism, just a good reminder.

1:09 PM  

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