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Not a moment too soon


November 10, 2011

As of the day of this writing, I have officially joined the ranks of the carless.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to go all holier-than-thou on you. I didn’t make this decision for any of the myriad lofty and honorable reasons I could have. Terms like “sustainability” or “reduced carbon footprint” didn’t enter into the discussion at all. The fact is, the decision to ditch my 2001 Hyundai sedan was based on simple, cold, hard economics—we just couldn’t afford the bucks that it would have taken to restore my car, driven into the ground as it was, to proper roadworthiness. (We didn’t “ditch” it, actually. We donated it to WJFF through the “Car Talk” vehicle donation program. See www.wjffradio.org for details).

But this turn of events has reminded me of a bromide attributed to Winston Churchill: “In the long run, Americans will always do the right thing—after exploring all other alternatives.”

I could have gotten rid of the car some time ago. Once my father passed away in 2008, after all, I no longer needed to be able to drive to North Carolina on a moment’s notice. My daughter would have gotten to and from high school just fine on the bus. But we held on to the car... because, at the time, we could.

But no more. Now I have to adjust.

I’m lucky. My workplace is well within walking/biking distance, as are most of the other places I frequent, from neighborhood bar to post office to grocery store. And my wife still has her car, so we can travel farther if necessary. But if you had asked me before, I probably would have insisted that I needed my car, for one reason or another, despite the fact that I was perfectly cognizant all along of the many arguments to the contrary.

And having rid myself—no, rather, having been stripped of my car—I find unexpected benefits. I am getting more exercise, I have a bit more disposable income, and I actually have more flexibility in my life than I might have anticipated.

So, if I may be allowed to generalize from my personal experience: when we think about the deep and fundamental changes to our economic structures being suggested by the Transition movement (see www.transitionhonesdale.org) or the Occupy Wall Street folks, we have to ask, “Under what circumstances will these changes take place?”

The answer, it would seem, has to be this: “When they absolutely have to, and not a moment before.”