Saturday, March 23, 2013

My 10 Year Carless Anniversary

10 years ago I unknowingly embarked on a journey that would teach me patience, planning, would help be a wildly successful cost savings and even help the environment. 10 years ago I ditched my car and said hello to public transportation. Let me help set the scene and share a bit about how this experience has been for me.

I was just out of high school and had the “freedom” of driving for just about a year and half. And I loved my car. It was a 1992 Chevy Corsica, the epitome of a beater car. And man I drove that thing all over Southern California. The inside of it was constantly filled with beach sand on the floor, had empty water bottles chucked all over the back seats, and this awesome mess of a car was all mine. I have unbelievably fond memories of being young in that car. Memories filled with cruising town with my best friend, proms, teenage breakups, basketball games, summers at the beach, strapping my surfboard to the roof, essentially everything that comes with teenage years!

Years 0-3: The Middle of the Pacific

But the day came for me to leave for college (fun fact, I wrapped up my undergrad degree in 3 years). My college destination was out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and I would be leaving my personal symbol of teenage exuberance behind in Southern California. Now at the time I did not specifically set out to see how long I could live my life without a car. In fact “the plan” was that I would test the waters out in college and after a semester or two decide if I “needed” a car, which I would buy with part-time income.

Now I will admit that I had the great fortune of living my first years out of high school on an island. I firmly believe with everything in me that it is virtually impossible for any type of organization to screw up planning public transit on an island. For most of my college years I got around solely on bus transit and occasionally used my college’s inter-campus shuttle system to get between campuses when needed. I think that these early years of bus travel in a laid back island environment helped me get comfortable with it that much easier. Island life on itself is incredibly slower and not as fast paced as here on the mainland. So for me it was that much easier to get accustomed to a longer commute not because of  traffic, but because of frequent bus stops and confused tourists.

I won’t lie to you and say that I took it all in stride. It pissed me off (and actually still kind of does) when my commute takes 20 minutes longer than usual because a tourist assumes that bus drivers double as a city’s department representative for tourism advice and general information. Nevertheless in an island environment I grew accustomed to the struggles of public transportation in a more relaxed environment. I used public buses to get back and forth to college to earn my undergraduate degree, make it to my part-time job and have a social life.

Year 4: New York City

Upon approaching graduation from college I was actually starting to dread heading back to the mainland and having a car. I thought back to my brief teenage experiences in Los Angeles traffic and was well aware of daily and monthly parking costs in major cities. Needless to say I was not looking forward to it. Thankfully though in year 4 I went from one island to another as my first job out of college moved me from the middle of the Pacific to the Big Apple, New York City. The idea of getting a car never crossed my mind once during the transition. I set myself up with an apartment in Spanish Harlem around 110th and Madison and I took the subway to work just a stone’s throw from Union Station every day. Interestingly enough I only rode the New York City bus once while I lived there, which was to pick up my girlfriend (now wife) from La Guardia Airport. Other than that I strictly spent my time at three places in New York: my apartment, work and on the subways.

Even living on the East Side I still found public transit in New York to be wildly convenient. I could get everywhere I needed in a timely manner, and truth be told it was even quicker than the public transit I used in my college town. But my stay in New York would be short lived as I painfully missed my girlfriend and was growing weary of the long distance relationship, I hated my job and the general working environment of the KGB US Federal Government, and New York was just much too fast paced for this kid that had just come off a laid back island lifestyle. So I made the conscious (but seriously, when you are in love, are you ever thinking rationally J) decision to leave the Big Apple behind and head for where my heart was, Chicago, the Windy City.

Years 5-10: Chicago

In so many ways Chicago is a hybrid of a lot of things that I look for in “city living.” It has brilliant architecture WITH SKYSCRAPERS nestled in a vibrant downtown area, tons of great neighborhoods – each with their own distinct identity, breathtaking nature with city parks and the lakefront, and public transit that although is far from perfect, gets the job done with a pretty decently mapped out bus and elevated train system. Yes some areas of the city are underserved and arrival timeliness becomes a factor during Mid-West winters, but for servicing a large city with a large populace that is NOT ON AN ISLAND, Chicago does a pretty damn good job.

Over the last five years my life has circled around and through the public transit system. Public transit was even a part of my life before I came to live Dave Ramsey’s principles. In looking at my personal finances the following spending categories have been absent from my life over the last 10 years: car purchase, car repair, car maintenance, gas, city car stickers, monthly parking and car insurance. For groceries I use our trusty grocery cart and head to our local market, and to get around town in having a social life I know the North Side and downtown transit maps like the back of my hand. Yes it takes a bit more time to get around and this time of year I need those extra layers to avoid hypothermia, but to me it’s a small price to pay to avoid all of the aforementioned costs.

In Summation

When I was bouncing the idea of this blog post to my wife she pointed out one obvious (albeit cruel) point. She lovingly looked at me, and in the kindest tone that could come from your spouse said, “Who are you kidding, you don’t care about the environment.” Although blunt, to a certain degree she’s right. My 10 year carless experience has not been a crusade to help save the environment. Although I am aware of the impacts of global warming and the need for the US to get away from fossil fuels, it’s neither why I have chosen to rely on public transportation nor why I look back on these last 10 years with fond memories.

**For the record I do care about the environment. We actively recycle and re-use as much as we can, I am particularly fond of dumpster diving, which has been handy in furnishing our apartment**

The last 10 years have been about unbelievable growth and change in my life. I went from being clueless in LA to a college graduate. I had my dreams of working for the US Government through international diplomacy get crushed with the realization of the inefficiencies and blatant stupidity of our government. I have also chased after the desires of my heart and married the woman of my dreams. I started a career in finance which lead to investment banking that 10 years ago I never would have thought possible (in high school I struggled HORRIBLY in algebra 2). I got my financial act together and discovered hope towards prosperity on a middle of the road income and became so inspired that I started this blog to document the journey. I stressed about proposing to my girlfriend and have made trips to my personal therapist and to participate in group therapies.

And in between all of that, in between each of these events and transitions in my life, there are countless bus and train rides. Rides in which I read books that changed my life, rides where I pondered what I was doing in my life and where I was planning to go, and rides where I got to soak in the morning sunrise and evening sunsets, and look in awe at the beautiful creations of God. These are experiences, thoughts and ideas that helped revolutionize and mold my life. And I would have missed out on these experiences if I had to worry about merging left or missing my off-ramp. And that’s why I’m happy to celebrate living 10 years without a car.

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