Wednesday, April 9, 2008


"Wow, that's a lot of strawberries," a fellow farmers' market goer smiled at me as I hefted a flat of organic strawberries to my car, parked along side the road.

"They are just sooo good," I grinned back and opened the back passenger door, gently positioning my red babies on the floor, under the empty car seats. The boys were home with their father and I'd slipped over to the closest farmers' market for some produce to tide us over until the big Wednesday market. I settled into the driver's seat and glanced at my watch and then the stack of books on the passenger seat. There was just enough time to return my library books and pick up Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet, which I had reserved on another blogger's recommendation. An hour and a half to myself was a luxury and I intended to enjoy it.

I stuck the key in the ignition and turned. Everything was still. That's strange. I tried again and again nothing happened. Checking to make sure the headlights were off, I tried a final time. Again, the engine was silent. Sitting in my car, parked along the side of the busiest road on the San Francisco Peninsula, I felt an overwhelming sense of . . . calm.

Not just because I'm a grown up now. With a husband, two kids and a mortgage, though, I am assuredly that. No, I was undisturbed because, for now anyway, a car is just a convenience, not a necessity. A year ago, I would have felt very differently but many of the changes I've made to reduce carbon emissions have made local life second nature. First, we've significantly curtailed the kids' after school activities and, without a car, well, we'd just cut back more. Certainly, a five year old can live without gymnastics and the local park and rec offers a wide variety of classes. Next, we stopped our weekend outings to the zoo or the amusement park. Hiking closer to home, gardening and discovering a local creek have provided just as much amusement. Finally, to both reduce consumption and support small businesses, I abandoned Target in favor of local stores. With the exception of my farmers' market, nearly everything I need on a weekly basis can be found in my small downtown - just a fifteen minute walk from home. Besides, sauntering down a shaded street, listening to birds gossip in the trees and watching flowers wave cheerfully in the breeze, well, just feels better than sitting in a car.

I pick up my cell phone - only one bar left - and dial the Automobile Club. Someone will be here within the hour. I then phone home to let my husband know I'll be late. With no radio and the need to conserve my cell phone battery, I might as well read. I pick up an overdue library book, Seed to Seed. Before I've finished the first chapter, the tow truck has arrived, the battery is charged and I am on my way.

It's a different way than the way I've come, though. And it will likely lead me down a different road. Will I give up my car? No. I just may move one of my sons to a closer school, replace a far away doctor with one closer, walk a little more, and finally get on that bike of mine. Independence is one sweet ride.


CindyW said...

I suppose sometimes we just can not imagine living without X until X is not there any more. Then pleasantly we discover that we were wrong all along. We adjust and we evolve. For years my parents lived in Texas where 1000 square feet were just the closet space. After retirement, they downsized and bought a 2-bedroom apartment in a city (1100 square feet) for convenience. It scared them to no end to live "small". Now, a couple of years later, they are quite content about the size - less furniture to stuff the empty space and definitely less cleaning. They often laugh about being so concerned about the downsizing.

Burbanmom said...

Nice. Was it you that recommended Deep Economy by Bill McKibben? If it wasn't you, give it a read. Good stuff. FINALLY, actual data to support buying local. Just what I wanted. I'll be putting Common Wealth on my To-Read list.

katecontinued said...

I feel what you are saying. This week my truck overheated a couple of times. Obviously the radiator leak is worse. I forgot to add water before my short errands. I carry water so I simply let it cool and added water.

My thoughts were similar to yours about knowing I might just have to move up my anticipated 'no more driving' schedule. Same with the microwave that died this week. Oh well . . .

I have a big decision in the next 3 months, whether to renew the insurance, register it, have the radiator fixed? On my non-income these are all really huge bites.

None of it is as dramatically tragic as it would have been in the past.

You clearly have your priorities with the kids. I love your nature/kid posts even though I am long removed from munchkin years.

Tameson O'Brien said...

I read this 3 times trying to find where you broke down and I couldn't find it - then it dawned on me that the car broke down - not you.

arduous said...

Yes! GB, and Cindy you are right on! It is amazing to me how we think, "I could NEVER EVER do without such and such," when in fact we human beings are remarkably flexible and resilient. There have been moments, isolated moments, mind you, but moments nonetheless, where I have thought, "Wow, could I live without a car in LA? I think maybe I could."

I don't think I'm there yet, but it's amazing how quickly our attitudes can change if we just open our mind a little bit.

Green Bean said...

Cindy: Good example. We all fear change but when it comes, we usually find it easy to adjust.

Burbanmom: No, it was not me who rec'd the book but thanks for passing it along. I'll add it to my library list!

Kate: It is so interesting how we can change who we are in the course of a year. Things that would have been devastating a year ago are minor bumps in the road now. It is nice when the decisions are made for you though - instead of having to decide (e.g., with the insurance). Good luck and thanks for the good thoughts on the kids. I treasure comments from parents with grown kids - it is a glimpse into my future.

Tam: Yup, it was the car. A year ago, I would have broken down as well but now it seemed so insignificant.

Arduous: You could live in LA without a car and I could give up my car - it doesn't mean we will but just knowing that we *could* takes so much stress off. It feels great, doesn't it?

Jennifer said...

That must be a nice freedom to feel... I've felt it with other things before, like power tools or kitchen appliances, but never a car... I need to move out east like the rest of my musician friends, I guess so I can make money without a car.

Anonymous said...

as of december 2007 we have been a car-lite household! we donated our van then which left us with just the nissan 4 cylinder truck my less-green-minded husband still views as essential. the van had sat idle in our drive for almost a year prior to the donation which is the length of time it took me to convince him that we'd fare quite easily with just one car to share. in fact, i rarely have a need to use his truck! like you, i have pared down most of my needs to within walking or biking range. i've enjoyed the adventure of mass transit on some trips. now that i am living out from under the car-culture-mind my eyes have opened to a much healthier and happier way of living. and the lack of expenses in terms of tires, engine repairs, insurance and gas haven't been hard to adjust to at all! a very inspiring book on the subject is an easy, fun read by chris balish called How to Live Well Without Owning a Car: Save Money, Breathe Easier & Get More Mileage Out of Life.

Hazel Nut said...

I've started to take a walk every day after work and do my errands. I can walk to the library, video store, pharmacy, bank and grocery store from where I live. I can't carry as much around with me but that's a good thing. It means hitting the grocery store several times a week but I only buy what I need so I'm spending less. Win/win situation all around.

kale for sale said...

I got some great strawberries the other day too. From Stamford (something like that), a farm in Santa Cruz. They also make strawberry jam and have artichokes right now. They're worth checking out if you see them.

I'm reading Deep Economy by Bill McKibben too and agree with burbanmom - it's a good read. I'm at his year of eating locally part which he presents from a bit of a different angle then Kingsolver or the Plenty Couple.


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