Monday, September 29, 2014

Contemplating a big life change

I'm thinking seriously about selling my car, and doing without. At my age (64), this is scary. I live alone. Usually people my age are clinging tenaciously to their car keys, sometimes even in the face of actual, factual, decline in their ability to drive safely. It's famously one of a family's hardest moments: taking Dad's car keys away.

But you know what? As a car-owner, I think I'm in the tiny minority of humans who own a car. Really - there are billions of people who live their entire lives without possessing one of these metal and plastic and fossil-fuel and money-guzzling monsters.

I've stayed in my home past retirement because 1)  Good GOLLY I don't want to have to go through everything a down-sizing move would require, 2) almost everything I need (except a grocery store, and that may be changing somewhat even as I write) is within easy walking distance in Benson (a tiny old former small town that was engulfed two generations ago by Omaha), and 3) I have a great neighborhood with great neighbors. Having experienced life with horrible neighbors, I do not sell that feature short.
But now here I am, overweight, too sedentary, with some health exam test results I'm not very happy about. Here I am, I seldom leave the house more than twice a week for errands, and occasionally for social occasions, and my car, a 2001 Hyundai Elantra I bought new in July 2001 when some asshole rammed a stolen car into the trunk of my innocent Ford Taurus parked outside my house, is showing its age. It won't be long before the upkeep becomes too expensive. And here I am with a granddaughter, thinking about what global warming is doing to her future. 

I started thinking about all the alternatives to driving my own car that I have or could have. I can certainly walk, though not as far or as painlessly as in my younger days. A bus is one or two blocks away, and while Omaha's bus system is not ideal, they're working on it and if I plan ahead I could get most anywhere I need to go. I'm retired, so time isn't a problem (I can always knit on long bus trips). And I'm eligible for a bit of a discount for senior citizens now. We have taxis. And if I want to consolidate a lot of errands all over town into one day, I could rent a car. I hear one company delivers the car to your door, and will take you home when you return the car. And I checked - not having car insurance (because lacking a car) does not prohibit you from renting their cars. You can buy insurance for while you're driving it.

So I looked at how much not having a car would save me. Not a lot, it turns out. But probably enough. Dropping my car insurance would result in my losing a $300 a year discount for carrying both my house and car with the same company, but that still would save me about $80/month. And since I haven't been driving all that much, I figure I only put about $35 - $40 worth of gas in it per month. So that's about $90, let's say to be conservative, per month I could use for bus rides, taxis, and/or rental car. I can walk to the nearest full-blown grocery store - and it's all downhill! and could have a taxi take me back home for about $13 - or if I didn't have a huge bulky bunch of stuff to take home, I could ride the bus for much, much less.

And that doesn't even take bicycling into account. I'm thinking with what I could get for my car now, I could maybe get a decent used bike, helmet, and elbow and knee pads - not going to do without those!  Having a bike would greatly expand the boundaries of my carless world. Omaha buses all have a bike rack nowadays (yay!) so there's that.

It would be stupid of me to just sell the car without further ado. Therefore, I'm going to pretend during next month that I don't have a car, and see how I do. Maybe I'll have things to blog about the experience. In any case it's a good experiment! And I'd welcome tips you may have on how to live without a car.

Edited later to add: There IS a new grocery store just 4 blocks from my house! It's a tiny, storefront type place, carrying locally produced meats and vegetables and cereals, eggs, cheese, milk, handmade pastas - all kinds of goodies. It's a little pricey but I need to eat *better* and *less* so that's probably a good thing. Very friendly clerk. I got some organically-grown beef brats. Can't wait for dinner!

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