Hell Yeah, I Love My Car
SPRING IS RIGHT AROUND the corner, and we all know what that means: streets and sidewalks bustling with fair-weather bicyclists dodging cars and pedestrians, screaming “On the right!” and ringing their cute little bike bells like we’re the ones breaking the law. I particularly love when they keep their helmet on in the Whole Foods checkout lines, lest anyone fail to notice their inherent superiority for riding their amazing bicycle to the supermarket. And actually, they’re merely the shock troops of the modern anti-car brigade: Zipcar-driving hipsters, bike-riding mayors, urban-planning professors, livability advocates, and even Ray LaHood — the secretary of transportation and a former Republican congressman — all convinced that cars are the worst epidemic cities have faced since cholera.
Marc Schlossberg, a professor of planning, public policy, and management at the University of Oregon, neatly summarized the indictment in the New York Times: “The costs of using the car for every type of trip…are finally apparent, from their contribution to global climate change, the national obesity epidemic from loss of daily physical activity and the 40,000 deaths per year on the road-ways, to the social isolation and neighborhood fragmentation that the roadway system creates.”
And here I was thinking that cars were just a mode of transportation that has done as much to modernize the world as clean water. Instead, cars are responsible for obesity, death, and terrible neighborhoods, plus the fact that we’re destined to a lifetime of loneliness. But you want to know something?
I don’t care. This past January — after three years of going without wheels — I was downright giddy to go to a dealer and buy myself a car. Because here’s the secret the anti-auto mafia doesn’t want you to know: The only thing better than living without a car in Boston — America’s third-most-walkable city — is living here with one.
When I officially went car-free a few years ago, it was for the same reason I have always been yacht-free and chalet-in-Gstaad-free: I didn’t have the money. I’d been driving a banged-up ’98 Ford Escort since 2004, when I started my software company, but by May 2009, every part of the business had grown except my own salary. So when I came up against a $1,000 estimate for repairs to pass inspection, I sold the junker to a guy with a flatbed truck and $105.
Car-free-and-loving-it types often describe dumping their automobile as a moment of liberation. I have to admit, for a while I kind of saw their point: There was no more waking up in terror that I’d parked on the wrong side of the street and was about to get towed. And when winter came, I’d look at my neighbors excavating their buried hoopties from a snowbank and think, “Suckers!”
Largely because my daily commute from East Boston consisted of a mere walk to the T, and because my bachelor lifestyle revolved mostly around an assortment of downtown watering holes, it took a while before things began to go to pieces. The train went pretty much everywhere I needed to go in order to survive, and I could grab the makings for dinner at my neighborhood market. And if a cute redhead with a smorgasbord of progressive buttons on her messenger bag happened to compliment me on my environmental awareness, well, it didn’t matter why my carbon emissions had plummeted, did it?
Illustration by Shout