FDR Memorial

FDR Memorial
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial - click on the image for larger view

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Automobiles and the rediscovery of time and space

When I returned from my recent vacation down the east coast my 94 Eurovan was in need of a ball joint. As I had spent more on our vacation than I planned, Kevin and I decided it would have to sit in the driveway for a few weeks while we saved up. His car, a 98 Toyota was also in need of shocks and brakes. Ugh! As gasoline was well over $4. a gallon we opted for a radical solution. We would go without a car for a month!

Many of our friends and neighbors thought us quite insane. (They might think this anyway) They instantly had visions of me stuck at home with three starving kids unable to go to the grocery store. Or of Kevin collapsing of heat stroke on his 9 mile journey to work. We of course had some concerns too but we were resigned to make a good long term decision. Not eating to fix the car was definitely the wrong choice. A little inconvenience for a few weeks we could handle.

The reality turned out to be a bit of a blessing. Kevin was able to take the PVTA bus from the end of our street right into work. After a week he determined that he liked having 20 minutes to prepare in the morning and 20 minutes to decompress in the evening as he rode the bus. It also made him come home on time every night. He had to leave work at 4:45 when the bus came. It tamed his inner workaholic. Our home is only a mile from the center of town. It's an easy walk or bike ride. The Whole Foods and Trader Joe's is maybe 2 miles. Not too bad on our bikes. On a rainy day the bus leaves the end of our street and takes us right to the center of town. The kids and I simply biked to the library, the store and for the occasional bagel. All in all it was simpler than we thought it would be.

Then two more events triggered our perception of cars and time.

We are members of a wonderful Biodynamic CSA, Brookfield Farms. The bike trip from our house to the farm is 6 miles each way. The first week we waited for Saturday morning and then Kevin and I took all three kids on a bike ride to the farm. We expected a production. Despite a flat bike tire at the half way mark we arrived and made it home still in one piece with a minimum of whining. The second week the kids and I went on our own. By the third week we had a particular route we liked and timed our stop with the open hours of the South Amherst Library. The kids accepted that this was our afternoon together. Round trip it takes 4 hours. This includes at least an hour of picking veggies and hanging out at the farm. There were no phone calls to interrupt our time together. No computer screen to distract. Our time to rest in between the 6 miles each way became a space for quality time. We could hang out at the farm, pick veggies with calm and enjoy our time together. All three kids playing and laughing together. No more rushing in and then out to the next errand. Just quality time together laughing over chocolate milk and strawberries right off the plant. This one afternoon, I no longer miss the car.

The next event was our Friday night date. For the last year Kevin and I have gone out every Friday night for dinner at the Amherst Brewing Company (ABC). We try to let nothing interfere with this time. We need time together at the end of the week to talk, decompress and be together without the kids. It makes us better parents and nicer people. So when the first Friday came I was unsure how we would handle this. Friday arrived and I hopped on the bus that brings Kevin home and we continued our bus ride into town. After dinner we walked through town talking and sat together waiting for the bus. We just sat on the bench holding hands and talking. We couldn't rush home to the kids or the next thing as we had to wait for the bus. Our date was probably only 30 minutes longer than normal but they were 30 minutes we were missing through the modern temptation of rushing to the next thing. The following week we walked to town. Now it seems silly to even drive this mile journey. even in the snow the bus is right outside our door.

Being without a car has made us aware of how much most of us drive our car back and forth on little trips close to home usually all by ourselves. It has also taught us how much of our day is filled with things we think we need to get or do that in reality we didn't miss at all. Twice our neighbor has let us borrow there car to go to the grocery store. Once for a smaller trip my daughter and I biked the four miles to the grocery store. Cars are nice but the instant access to drive away, drive to get, drive to be has made our days full of all kinds of unnecessary things. It also allows us to fill our time with things other than being together, enjoying the people we are around, breathing in the air and seeing the sunshine (or the stars).

All this has led us down the path of becoming a one car family. At least for now. We have gone ahead and sold our Toyota. The Eurovan will get fixed in the next few weeks and Kevin and I can share it for things we need to drive to due to distance, timing or scheduling. Perhaps in the future we will thing about a small fuel efficient car. For now, in between the must drives and the occasional far away play date or family visits, I hope the Eurovan spends lots of time in the driveway. I've rediscovered time and space. I've rediscovered my feet, my strength and a bit of my health. The first week of our adventure the mile to town took my breath away. Now the 12 miles to and from the farm is a pleasant bike ride. My oldest son has mastered the bus schedule and become very comfortable getting where he needs to go by bus or bike. We've all discovered a new resourcefulness. We've also discovered that a bit of having to work at something is good for us.

I'm grateful for the lesson. Now I'm starting to wonder about how many other appliances I might do without and gain some other quality from.


Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Loved this story! I've posted it to Metapagan.

whitehorse said...

I enjoyed reading this post about your experiences and lessons learned. Sometimes we think we're getting an "upgrade" in life (newer car, bigger house, higher-paying job, etc.) when actually we are "paying" for it in other ways more valuable than the material upgrade.