Friday, May 23, 2008

Contemplating the car-free lifestyle

When I was a teenager, I dreamed of the day I would get my driver's license. Driving meant freedom, the ability to go where you wanted when you wanted, without asking anyone for permission. I've owned a car since the day I graduated high school, and I've never even considered the possibility of not owning one... until now.

I don't have to tell you about gas prices. But with the cost of driving increasing daily, our family is forced to take a good hard look at whether or not driving is actually necessary. After all, we live in a big city. There's a bus that stops at the end of our street; there are at least six more buses that run within three to four blocks of our house. A mile away is the mass transit hub of our part of the city, with buses and trains coming and going every minute of every day. In addition to public transit, there are taxi companies and the up-and-coming Philly Car Share. We also own bicycles. And within walking distance, we have a supermarket, a CVS, several restaurants, bars, stores, banks, hair salons... So honestly, having a car is really more of a luxury than a necessity for our family.

And what an expensive luxury it is -- for us, the monthly cost of driving, including car payment, car insurance, and gas (I've conservatively estimated six fill-ups per month at the going rate), is about $740 per month. That doesn't count parking, or routine maintenance like oil changes, car washes, etc, or big expenses like the new battery we needed two weeks ago, or traffic tickets from someone in my household's tendency to run red lights (ahem). So it's really over $800, on average, per month. (And we just have one small, fuel-efficient car.) In comparison, an unlimited pass for our mass transit system costs $78 per person, per month. (Single-ride tokens are only $1.45.)

So, for the first time in my adult life, I'm really considering the possibility of not owning a car. I know it will make some things more of a hassle, and I won't be able to just hop in the car and go somewhere at a moment's notice. But at the same time, maybe it will force me to make a concious effort to be more organized, to make do with what I have, and to appreciate my surroundings.

If you'll permit me, I also have an Eckhart Tolle-influenced observation to share. As I drive around the city, I notice how much of the act of driving has to do with the ego. I'm not talking about luxury cars, premium gas, or even my big pet peeve, gas-guzzling SUVs, but things I'm guilty of, like impatience, speeding, not letting someone cut in front, road rage, talking on the cell phone while driving, etc. Sitting in traffic stresses us out. Everybody's in a Big Hurry, and everybody wants to be First. I know that the guy who rear-ended me in March was driving with his ego -- he was in a Big Hurry and couldn't wait ten seconds so I could let the pedestrians cross; instead he tried to to go around me, wound up underestimating how much space he needed, and crashed into my car. Maybe if everyone slowed down and took a walk, or took the bus, every once in a while, instead of being in such a Big Hurry, we could become less impatient, less competitive, more aware of the world around us... Okay, maybe I'm dreaming, but at least it might reduce some of our stress and make us happier people overall.

Or maybe it's just me. But having an extra $800 in the bank every month sounds really good right about now...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Ancient Mom

Jacob recently acquired a box of White Cheddar Cheez-Its which advertises the new Indiana Jones film, as well as having a special mail-in offer for the Raiders of the Lost Ark DVD.

Jacob: Have you seen this movie, Mom?

Me: The new one? It's not out yet.

Jacob: I know that, Mom, I meant the Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Me: Yeah, I saw all of the Indiana Jones movies when I was a kid.

Jacob: Wow. How many were there?

Me: Three of them.

Jacob: Did you see them in the theater or on DVD?

Me (amused): In the theater. They didn't have DVDs then.

Jacob (alarmed): They didn't have DVDs?!

Me (feeling very old): Nope.

Jacob: Wow...

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Headhouse Market, and other news

Today was the grand re-opening of my favorite Farmers' Market, at Headhouse Square in Philly. I've really missed having fresh, local produce, and being able to meet and talk with the people who grow the foods I eat. Supermarket shopping is so cold and impersonal!

Because it's so early in the season, there wasn't a whole lot of produce to choose from, but Jacob and I did buy two lovely, purply-green bunches of asparagus. We sampled cheeses and baked goods, and I had a hard time restraining myself from buying a gorgeous strawberry plant for $22! We did buy a hunk of Alpine cheese, a chocolate chip cookie and some pains au chocolat (which I've come to realize that, while yummy, are just not the same in the US... sigh.)

In other produce-related news, I've decided not to do a vegetable garden this year (boo - I know) because I want to concentrate on getting the house ready to sell. One of my criteria for a new home, of course, is that it have a space for me to garden. And I'm hoping for a composter for mothers' day!

You know you're a theater geek when you go to see two musicals in one day. Yesterday Jacob and I saw Seussical at my friend Tatlyn's school. It was a terrific production, and the show itself was much better than I'd hoped. I teared up at the end when all the Whos yelled "we are here! we are here!" (Alright... I had to choke back sobs... but I wish to assert my time-of-the-month privileges!) I also went to see Hairspray at the Academy of Music. I went to see the movie version twice last summer and absolutely loved it. The play was just as fabulous. Now I can't stop singing "Good Morning Baltimore!"

And speaking of choking back sobs, I couldn't stop crying yesterday when I heard about the murder of Philadelphia Police Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski during a robbery yesterday, less than four miles from my home. He was only 39 years old and had a wife and three children. Sometimes I really despise this city...