“Mom, today is Earth Day at school,” my first-grader said over breakfast one day last April.
“Really? Well, you can tell your teacher we got rid of our car for Earth Day this year,” I said, stretching the truth a little.
We moved to Colville in February to be closer to my aging-but-not-really-old parents and my husband’s work. It meant the glorious end of a 30-mile commute. There would be no more worries about snow, ice or summer construction. We celebrated the fact that our 15-year-old car would no longer hold us in dread fear of breakdowns. After much discussion, we decided we would fix the car ONLY if we had the cash to do so. It seemed like a sensible plan.
We knew of one needed major repair and had it done after we were settled in. It was so nice to have the car purring once again. We figured, since we had already fixed the other 90 percent of the car at one time or another in the preceding five years, it would continue to purr for months to come.
We were so trusting.
Cars seem possessed of certain personalities, which is why some people give them names. Our car’s personality seemed sadistic, so we called it “The Marquis,” which was not its model name.
Not 100 miles after the “big” repair, The Marquis refused to start. We paid $40 to be told it needed another pricey repair, which, of course, was not at all related to the previous (and quite similar) expensive problem. The only difference seemed to be that this time we didn’t have the cash to fix it.
No cash, no repair, we had decided, and now our decision was staring us in the face.
“We really can’t live without a car, can we?” I asked my husband.
“Well I’m not going to pay someone else to fix it anymore and I have no desire whatsoever to learn how to fix the car myself,” he replied. “Let’s go buy a bicycle.”
“You don’t really mean it, do you? I mean it’s, it’s positively un-American to … I mean … live without a car on purpose,” I stammered, hoping he would see the folly in such a rash decision.
“Are you coming or not?” he said.
We bought my husband a bicycle and, in a strange twist of fate, ended up trading our money-pit-on-wheels PLUS $20 for a bicycle trailer. The people selling the trailer needed a car for a soon-to-be-driving teenager and saw visions of low insurance rates. It was a good deal for everyone, I suppose.
We were honest with the buyer about The Marquis. It helped that the man was mechanically inclined. He stopped by one day after work to tinker with it - and DROVE it home. I felt sick. I hope they christen it “Lazarus.”
It has been many months since that day, and we have adjusted rather well. We had no other choice BUT to adjust.
In the meantime, a couple of events put our situation into perspective: Around the same time we gave up the car, a friend in Florida was shot while playing the Easter Bunny; he barely survived. Then, about the same time, our toddler gave us a scare when he decided to take a walk one day ALONE. Not having a car is nothing compared to what we might have experienced.
It isn’t always easy to be without a car, but we manage. I have an adult tricycle for cargo space on family outings. I bought new walking shoes and the best stroller I could find. We all have umbrellas, which we use in sun, rain and later, we expect, in snow.
Colville recently received a grant for a free public bus system and while most people gripe about it, we adore it. It stops near our house, and we arrange errands and appointments to coincide with the bus schedule. When we must rent a car, I doubt many others could exceed the level of sheer pleasure we squeeze out of our 24 hours of luxury.
People often look at us queerly when they learn we gave up our car. “What will you do when winter comes?” and “How on earth do you manage?” are usually the first two questions we’re asked. We tell them we will know what we’ll do in winter when winter arrives.
It is inconvenient not to have a car, but it isn’t as bad as we thought it might be. For instance, we get a lot of fresh air and exercise.
Even after everything is explained, most people still look askance. They ought to see us on Sundays, riding bikes in suits and dresses.
Sometimes it’s even fun not owing a car. We were smug when gas prices went up, since we don’t buy gas anymore. That small consolation eased the pain a little of letting the car go, but I still feel an odd catch in my throat when I see the car purring - purring! - around town. The new owners had to “put a little money into it,” but they knew that when they bought it.
Walking home with the kids one day, bags of groceries hanging from each arm, I met The Marquis’ new owner as we waited for a red light to change - he in his car and we on the sidewalk.
We talked until the light turned green, and he was gone.
He didn’t even offer us a ride home.
MEMO: Shannon A. Hensley is a free-lance writer based in Colville.
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