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Friday, 11 July 2014

Carless in America

By Bettijane Eisenpreis

I was standing at the reception desk in the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the lovely old resort hotel in the Berkshire Mountains, when the woman behind the desk handed my completed registration form back to me. “You didn’t fill out this section giving us the information on your car,” she said.

“I don’t have a car,” I replied.

Had I told her I had two heads, she could not have looked more confused.

Unlike most citizens of the United States, people who live in New York City – or, at least, in Manhattan – do not regard a car as one of the necessities of life. Public transportation, complain about it though we may, takes us nearly everywhere we need to go.

When it rains or you’re in a hurry, taxis usually fill the bill. True, taxis seem to dissolve at the first drop of rain and they are expensive. Still, you don’t have to park them or pay the gas and insurance. The monthly rental fee for a garage in Manhattan is more than many Americans pay for a two-bedroom apartment.

For years after my marriage, I was the family driver. I was always a nervous driver and, with accumulating age and infirmities, finally decided I was dangerous and should stop driving. I was ahead of the State of New York in making the decision – but not by much. I had already had one fender-bender which would have been worse if I had been going more than 20 miles per hour.

Not driving in Manhattan means being like almost everyone else. Not driving in the Berkshires is equivalent to being an invader from outer space.

There is excellent bus service to Stockbridge, Lenox and points north from New York City but once you are there, it’s another story.

I did find a local taxi service on the internet and made reservations with them for the two Tanglewood concerts for which we had reserved seats. But how would we get around the other five days that we planned to be in Stockbridge?

While still in New York, I had surfed the web for a local transit system. Sure enough, there was one. I carefully printed out the schedules of some of its routes, finding that we could reach several sites of interest with great speed and efficiency.

Other destinations required a quick change of buses at a shopping center in nearby Lee. And several destinations were an example of “You can’t get there from here.”

But wait! Maybe I was going about this the wrong way. I had booked the hotel in Stockbridge for a week. Why not assume that meant I should stay in Stockbridge for a week – not use it as a base for forays into all of New England?

And as that old New Englander Robert Frost would say, “That has made all the difference.”

Suddenly, I was having a wonderful time. Going to Tanglewood by taxi meant sweeping by lines of concertgoers trudging in from distant parking lots burdened by lawn chairs, picnic baskets and thermoses. Going home meant sweeping by the same people we had seen at 5:30PM, now dragging their paraphernalia and looking desperately for their cars in a sea of similar vehicles.

In the daytime, I took a bus to the Norman Rockwell Museum just “up the road a piece” on Route 183. There was a local museum in the basement of the Stockbridge library with exhibits about the area’s history (and scandals).

I found a general store that carried maple sugar and horehound drops. There were real ice cream cones, the kind I haven’t eaten since I was 10. And I had an opportunity to sit, to write, to read, to use the pool (or not), to stroll the streets (or not) and just to do nothing.

People said hello to me even if they didn’t know me. And since I was not thinking of the next place I needed to drive to, I said hello back. I wasn’t going anywhere – I was there already!


[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Bettijane:

You maximized a car-less holiday commonsense-ically, but the car culture in the US makes most people prisoners of the ghost of Henry Ford.

A while back,I visited my daughter in rural Tennessee. The only way I could get from the Nashville Airport to her house in the sticks without renting a car, was by taxi, a $100, one-way, 75-mile trip.

In Europe, and other places I've visited, public transportation is clean, convenient, accessible, and on time; outside major metropolises like New York, it's a distant dream.

Marc

Great story and excellent examples of how life without a car can be its own kind of convenience and yield such potential for many new adventures.

As a fellow New Yorker, I can say I've never felt deprived one moment since giving up a car -- we're lucky to have excellent public transportation here and so far shank's mare works very well!

Carless is wonderful. No gas to buy, car repairs and the like. But Seattle has a wonderful bus system, thankfully and it's amazing how much walking places helps keep one healthy.

Really enjoyed reading about your adventures, Bettijane.
We are dependent on cars in our
community and I am dreading the day I must quit driving.

Bettijane,

I loved the structure of your story from the opening to the middle to the excellent conclusion.

You have a great sense of humor and a terrific way with words as in "Not driving in the Berkshires..." And the paragraph about going to Tanglewood by taxi made me laugh out loud.

We relocated to an area with great pubic transportation and stores, the library, etc. within walking distance. Love it. But we still own a car for drives out of our area. I doubt we will ever be carless, unless/until we can no longer drivel.

Our son lived and worked for 10 years without a car in Minneapolis. He used the excellent bus system, walked a lot, and rented a car when necessary. It worked just fine for him. But, obviously, one must be in the right type of place. Our nearest grocery store is five miles away, and no public transport is available. No way we can make it without an auto. Enjoyed your story--well done.

You give a new perspective to a lifestyle that might have otherwise been looked at in a negative way.

And here comes the negative! I had to give up driving for a long period of time after 2 heart surgeries and my doctor's worries. During that time, the lease on my car was up, and, aware that it had gone nearly unused for 1 of the 3 years, I decided not to do that again. We do have hourly buses here during the day, but I couldn't and still can't get in and out of them by myself. I have relied on friends for many months, and have now arranged with 2 volunteer senior groups to drive me to appointments--one is free, the other I got a scholarship from (about 1/4 of their usual fee). It is a good solution for Doctor visits (I have a lot) but it doesn't help me get out with my camera for an hour or two every nice day. I thought I had a few yeas left, so the adjustment has been very difficult.

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