cafe mama

finding magic every day

dieting (the car version) . june 13 . 2006

Yesterday, my family began its diet. No, we're not overweight (well, I'm not, anyway... the BMI charts would say otherwise of my sturdy, muscular boys). We do have a problem, though. We're car addicts.

Really, we've been on the extreme end of the car abuser spectrum. When I was young, single, and a little rich, I bought a brand-new Mercedes ML320. An SUV, for one person. I commuted to my fancy dotcom job (20+ miles each way) in already-congested Northern Virginia.

I drove across the country, bringing my gas-guzzler with me. Jonathan was almost as enamored with the car as with me and proceeded to love the thing almost to death. He loves driving with a rare and deep passion (not for nothing he picked driving as his MOS for the Army Reserves). He's been known to drive two blocks for groceries, or across town to pick up a friend in what I call (a little angrily) his taxi service.

A few weeks ago, ironically, while Jonathan was at Ft. Lewis driving for the Army, I got a flat in our already very distressed tire. It so happened that, at the very same time, my insurance payment was reaching critical status. I decided to park the car.

It took a week or two to bring Jonathan around. But it was the bike trailer that did it. I mentioned casually to Cindy (my indoor park buddy) that we were waiting until we could afford a trailer. She had one lying, unused, in a neighbor's garage. The next day, there was the trailer, ready to be attached.

The first day we used it, I spent an hour getting the boys set. I've been accumulating a delightful collection of child's helmets at garage sales, but I had to fit them to heads and find the missing set of straps. I had to figure out seatbelts and secure a faulty canopy.

And suddenly, things began to fall into place. My nanny co-share buddy, Patty, had recently gone to work for Flexcar and was administering a "Low Car Diet" program. She was short families. Might we be interested? There were goodies involved. A Trimet pass. A free bike tuneup. A small but generous Flexcar membership. Only, of course, for the committed. The car keys would have to be given up for the entire month of July.

All of my objections had already melted away. I'd gotten Jonathan's bike tuned up for his Christmas present; we had new bike shoes; Truman was filling out his baby helmet nicely; all of our legs were strong and I had just sewed a whopping five baby carriers to secure Truman during those long bus trips.

Both yesterday and Sunday, Jonathan biked to and from work, and the boys and I took the bus everywhere we went. Sunday, it worked perfectly thanks to the beauty of the 75. Yesterday was a bit dicier, we took the 70 down 17th to the yarn cafe to knit with Larissa and the timing didn't work out -- we ended walking over a mile through a not-perfect neighborhood -- but we got some great exercise (and we gratefully accepted a ride home). Today I was a hard charger, sprinting the four miles downtown on my bike to pay our water bill, then running two miles on the Eastside Esplanade before hitting the bank and returning home. The whole errand took about an hour and a half, likely the same time it would have took in the car, and my body has never felt so fit. At this rate, I'll be more than ready for the Hood to Coast in August... I might even keep up with Hau! (Oh, I know, pipe dreams ;)

I love myself and my family for committing to this concept. I must admit, every time Jonathan drove the two blocks to his sister's house, I felt a little sick to my stomach. I was overwhelmingly guilty when I'd drive our babysitter home (east end of town) after doing errands downtown (west side) and hitting favorite coffee shops on Alberta (north end). We could use $200 or more in gas each month.

But I know it's not going to be easy. Yesterday when I kept hitting "more options" on the trip planner feature on Tri-Met, I kept wishing for a little car. Just a little one. A Mini Cooper would be nice. But we've committed to going without, and we couldn't afford anything new, or even close to it, even if I was weak enough to give into my lust for autos.

Just the same, on the way home from the bank today I pulled up at an intersection. Right there, next to me, was an interesting-looking headline on the Portland Tribune. I opened the box and took out a copy, sticking it in my backpack and eagerly looking forward to reading it when I got home. You just can't do that kind of thing in a car. You can't stop and pull out your camera on the middle of the Hawthorne Bridge. You can't feel that grey June rain on your back and the muscles in your calves. You can't meet all the bus drivers on your route. You can't challenge yourself, you can't discover new options, you can't walk as if you meant it.

It will be an adventure. And I'll be happy to take you along for the ride.

(And, after I published this, I realized: I'm doing lots of things from my list. Yay!)

Other car diet posts:

read the previous post . kupie corner . june 13 . 2006