"Is anyone else on a car diet?" I wondered today. I'd been contacted by a network producer, researching a show (now I've totally given away all the great network ideas! Sorry!).
As it turns out, many of my nearest and dearest (and farthest, too) are on car diets. The trend is so new: you don't know its name.
Like Meg in A Wrinkle In Time, I am a Namer. A car diet is giving up all, or part of, your driving habit. Let's face facts: You're addicted to fossil fuels. You know you are powerless... heck, you're not powerless. You're just used to it. You've been conditioned to except that you need a car. To get to work. To take your children to school. To go on errands. To Buy Things. Because that's what we do, here in the ol' U S of A. We buy.
While I'm Naming, I'm going to call that the Old Way. Here's the New Deal: Give it up. Give it up a little, or give it up whole hog. Got two cars? Park one, and combine trips, stop going to Costco for Sunday afternoon family time. If you are a two-commuter family, pick one commuter who could ride a bike or take the bus, train, subway or shuttle to work. If you're ready to go a little farther (a Car Fast? Car Starvation?), do like me, let the insurance lapse, let the tags expire, let the tire slowly flatten. (Or you could sell your car, but it won't be as picturesque, and then you'll just be enabling. No one likes an enabler.)
Seems impossible? It's not. It may be hard, but I believe with every deepest part of me that things that are hard, are good. Digging in the dirt. Making a souffle. Parenting a child. Going without a car.
Maybe we have it easy; I work from home, Jonathan has yet to acquire that one career that's right for him (and in fact, we're hoping to get him a pickup truck; he wants to be a tree guy). But we have three children and my firm belief is there is no emergency that necessitates a car. What would be the emergency? If someone's hurt badly, there is an ambulance. I can't think of anything that's desperate enough to qualify other than mortal wounds. It's all about recasting the idea of an emergency, and unpacking your expectations -- of yourself, as much as of your life. You always imagined, didn't you, that you would spend your childrens' grade school and high school years in an idyllic string of classes and performances. Music, sports, art, theater. They'd have it all!
But maybe that's really not the way of life our children need in this manic world. Maybe they need something slower, something way closer to home, something with far fewer expectations. That's what my children need, and that's what I'm giving to them.
A mom I met recently said something like, "I drive so much more now that I don't work! Of course, we have to get the children to preschool, and I just can't imagine waiting 20 minutes for a bus..." and my answer to that wasn't helpful but it was basically, "make conscious decisions about where you're going to preschool and grade school." And she wasn't going to do it, but the reality is that I took Everett out of preschool largely because I didn't like driving across town, and Truman will go to the MESD preschool at Grout. We'll walk.
Give yourself permission to be late to school once in a while. Give yourself the authority to say "no" to that activity. Change the way you think about preschool (according to the way I read the studies, children whose parents are involved and who spend a lot of time with books and imaginative play, and without TV, don't need preschool -- at all). Change your expectations for grocery shopping and activities. Figure out a way to stay closer to home, to do a little less, to live more fully. And if you're like me, soon the very thought of getting in a car will make your stomach churn and your head swim. You'll beg to be let off of driving duty. You'll plead with your spouse. You'll hide the keys. You'll save money and help the planet and one day someone will look admiringly at you and ask, "how did your back get to be so muscular?"
It's a little known perk of going car-free: a strong back. Your soul will change too, but that's harder to see when you're bending over to pick up a cloth bag of groceries.
Won't you go on a car diet with me?
Here are some images, if you'd like to join the car diet. Pick one, add it to your blog, make it your own. Or Name your own car diet. What does it mean to you?
Update: Several people have asked me about the bike in the photo at the top of this post. It's a bakfiets, a Dutch cargo bike with a box in the front for hauling children, adults, or other sorts of carry-ables. They're imported into the U.S. and sold by Clever Cycles in Portland. They're quite expensive; $2,999 today and the price will go up in the next shipment due to the dollar's decline. The one in the photo was a loaner (not even loaned to me!) that Truman was just checking out there, with Milo. Bakfiets are lovely but I've decided, not for me. What I hear: they are relatively easy to steer, but pushing them uphill is a serious challenge. Lots more info at the Bakfiets blog, managed by the awesome Portlander who just a week ago opened 'Cafe Velo', a Bakfiets-powered coffee kiosk at the Portland Farmer's Market.