Breaking up is hard to do

If one old lady like me can’t learn to love life in the slow, mostly car-less lane, how is the entire culture going to shake its unhealthy car obsession?

As the song laments, breaking up is hard to do, even when the object of your affection is a machine. In the interests of full disclosure; I used to have such a personal relationship with my cars that I named them—Krautkar for my orange VW, Limey for my pea green SAAB and finally Hans, the biggest and most polluting monster of all, a Delta 88 Oldsmobile. I loved it because there is nothing like having 2000 pounds of good old Detroit steel to give you a sense of invincibility on the freeway.

Like most people of my generation, I was driving everywhere by the time I was in my early ‘twenties and continued to do so until I reached the threshold of old age. And found that the cost of keeping that car parked in front of my apartment was prohibitive and unnecessary: I live close to several bus lines and work at home, so I actually used the car less and less while the costs kept mounting. My son suggested that I should just sell this leech on my pocketbook and use the funds to join a car co-op.

The idea didn’t thrill me—sharing my car with 17 others and giving up spontaneous driving sounded dreary beyond imagining. When I discovered that there were three co-op cars conveniently parked within easy walking distance of my apartment, there was one less excuse. Then there was the issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But to be honest, it was financial necessity, not the thought that I would have a smaller carbon footprint that compelled me to change. And I consider myself a good ‘green’ citizen who recycles and is aware of the difficult environmental issues facing us. Sometimes, being green is really onerous.

Grudgingly, I gave in, sold the car to a student and joined the co-op. I learned how to use the system, how to wrestle with the lock box where the key is kept and how to plan my life around a few car trips. Mostly, it worked very well, but I hated it. I groused and kvetched. The fact that I now had my pick of brand new cars and didn’t have to worry about the price of gas or upkeep didn’t seem to console me. Eventually, I got fed up with listening to myself and wondered what the devil was going on. I soon realized my resentment had more to do with the myth of car ownership than the reality of actually having one.
Owning a car in North America is deeply symbolic and has almost nothing to do with car payments, regular maintenance and paying a fortune at the pump: it’s about being a grown up, able to go wherever and whenever at a moment’s notice, about hitting the road and cranking up the tunes; in short, it’s about being free—and young. People who laugh at elderly men buying red sports cars won’t laugh when they reach that stage in life. The red Porsche screams virility and mobility at a time when both decline. And yes, Victor/Victoria, it could happen to you, too.

Especially if you’re having health problems. With poor eyesight, loss of hearing and slowed reactions the car ceases to be your friend. One day, your doctor may inform you that you are no longer fit to drive. How demeaning! And how inconvenient.

This can happen very quickly and brings wrenching, permanent changes that we generally do not foresee. Let’s face it; we hate the thought that we could lose some of our faculties as we age. Our culture doesn’t encourage us to think about that, either. We’re constantly getting messages about staying young and fighting the aging process. We get very few messages about common sense planning and adapting to inevitable changes.

One of my best friends, an ebullient retired Ph.D. who lives in a remote suburb of North Vancouver, found herself in this very predicament just shortly before I decided it was time to end the affair with my aging automobile.

Her eyesight had deteriorated due to advanced Diabetes, until one day she was forced to sell her beloved car, her lifeline to her friends, the opera, the grocery store, the occasional trip to Seattle. It was all over, and she was devastated. She still is. To go anywhere now, she relies on friends, but mostly on a taxi driver who has become as important as anyone else in her world. She is able to hire him on a regular basis because she is financially able though not rich by any means. She admits that if she didn’t have the means, she would be a virtual prisoner in her home. When she bought it, a spacious three bedroom semi-detached in a development situated on leased First Nations Land, it seemed like a very good deal. Now she wishes she had thought more about proximity to public transport and what might happen if she became disabled in any way.

Both of us are examples of how age forces us to adapt and live life without owning a car. I consider myself lucky. I still drive; I have options, thanks to the co-op. But I mourn for the good old days—when I was a car owner and had all the responsibilities that come with that. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it, really. I may not miss Hans, the monster car, but I would sell my soul to the devil for my ugly green SAAB, a car I simply adored. The brand new red Toyota from the co-op is just a way to get around; it’s not the same.

If one old lady like me can’t learn to love life in the slow, mostly car-less lane, how is the entire culture going to shake its unhealthy car obsession?

As the song laments, breaking up is hard to do, even when the object of your affection is a machine. In the interests of full disclosure; I used to have such a personal relationship with my cars that I named them—Krautkar for my orange VW, Limey for my pea green SAAB and finally Hans, the biggest and most polluting monster of all, a Delta 88 Oldsmobile. I loved it because there is nothing like having 2000 pounds of good old Detroit steel to give you a sense of invincibility on the freeway.

Like most people of my generation, I was driving everywhere by the time I was in my early ‘twenties and continued to do so until I reached the threshold of old age. And found that the cost of keeping that car parked in front of my apartment was prohibitive and unnecessary: I live close to several bus lines and work at home, so I actually used the car less and less while the costs kept mounting. My son suggested that I should just sell this leech on my pocketbook and use the funds to join a car co-op.

The idea didn’t thrill me—sharing my car with 17 others and giving up spontaneous driving sounded dreary beyond imagining. When I discovered that there were three co-op cars conveniently parked within easy walking distance of my apartment, there was one less excuse. Then there was the issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But to be honest, it was financial necessity, not the thought that I would have a smaller carbon footprint that compelled me to change. And I consider myself a good ‘green’ citizen who recycles and is aware of the difficult environmental issues facing us. Sometimes, being green is really onerous.

Grudgingly, I gave in, sold the car to a student and joined the co-op. I learned how to use the system, how to wrestle with the lock box where the key is kept and how to plan my life around a few car trips. Mostly, it worked very well, but I hated it. I groused and kvetched. The fact that I now had my pick of brand new cars and didn’t have to worry about the price of gas or upkeep didn’t seem to console me. Eventually, I got fed up with listening to myself and wondered what the devil was going on. I soon realized my resentment had more to do with the myth of car ownership than the reality of actually having one.

Owning a car in North America is deeply symbolic and has almost nothing to do with car payments, regular maintenance and paying a fortune at the pump: it’s about being a grown up, able to go wherever and whenever at a moment’s notice, about hitting the road and cranking up the tunes; in short, it’s about being free—and young. People who laugh at elderly men buying red sports cars won’t laugh when they reach that stage in life. The red Porsche screams virility and mobility at a time when both decline. And yes, Victor/

Victoria, it could happen to you, too.

Especially if you’re having health problems. With poor eyesight, loss of hearing and slowed reactions the car ceases to be your friend. One day, your doctor may inform you that you are no longer fit to drive. How demeaning! And how inconvenient.

This can happen very quickly and brings wrenching, permanent changes that we generally do not foresee. Let’s face it; we hate the thought that we could lose some of our faculties as we age. Our culture doesn’t encourage us to think about that, either. We’re constantly getting messages about staying young and fighting the aging process. We get very few messages about common sense planning and adapting to inevitable changes.

One of my best friends, an ebullient retired Ph.D. who lives in a remote suburb of North Vancouver, found herself in this very predicament just shortly before I decided it was time to end the affair with my aging automobile.

Her eyesight had deteriorated due to advanced Diabetes, until one day she was forced to sell her beloved car, her lifeline to her friends, the opera, the grocery store, the occasional trip to Seattle. It was all over, and she was devastated. She still is. To go anywhere now, she relies on friends, but mostly on a taxi driver who has become as important as anyone else in her world. She is able to hire him on a regular basis because she is financially able though not rich by any means. She admits that if she didn’t have the means, she would be a virtual prisoner in her home. When she bought it, a spacious three bedroom semi-detached in a development situated on leased First Nations Land, it seemed like a very good deal. Now she wishes she had thought more about proximity to public transport and what might happen if she became disabled in any way.

Both of us are examples of how age forces us to adapt and live life without owning a car. I consider myself lucky. I still drive; I have options, thanks to the co-op. But I mourn for the good old days—when I was a car owner and had all the responsibilities that come with that. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it, really. I may not miss Hans, the monster car, but I would sell my soul to the devil for my ugly green SAAB, a car I simply adored. The brand new red Toyota from the co-op is just a way to get around; it’s not the same.

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