Friday, December 08, 2006

Social Isolation and The Car

Our car has a terminal illness. Some days it looks fine and seems like its old self, and others you can sense its slow march toward the great junkyard in the sky. Entropy is once again at work in the physical universe.

What makes the impending death of our car so worriesome, is that we can't really afford to buy a new one. In the past six months we have had to put a new roof on our house and install a brand-spanking-new Central Air unit in our house. The joys of home ownership! But, when you have a house that is 20 years old and hasn't yet had anything replaced, that's just the way it is. Hopefully, there won't be any more major home repairs.

But, back to the car situation. For about a year and a half we, as a family of four, survived with one car. I stay home, so it was possible to do. My husband drove the car to work and we either walked or rode bikes to get my son to and from school. That worked great except for the rainy season in Florida in which violent downpours occur pretty much every day sometime between the hours of 2pm and 5pm....just as our son would be getting out of school. Did I mention that violent downpours also produce copious amounts of lightning? Each year, during the rainy season, the news is always full of people being struck by lightning....so much for the sunshine state!

So, as a result, I would have to drive my husband to work in the morning, in order to have the car to pick up my son in the rain, in order not to be killed by electrocution. Then I would have to make sure that dinner was prepared, on the table, eaten, and cleaned up, all by 6pm, in order to shuffle the kids into the car, drive to my husband's work to pick him up and then back home again. It's really not that big of a deal, but when you are tied to such a strict schedule everyday, it's a little exhausting.

Our in-laws took pity on us and "donated" to the cause by giving my husband a 91 Mazda Miata(which is a two-seater) that they owned, but hardly ever used. It's 15 years old and only has 27,000 miles on it. It was like the sound of trumpets from heaven for me. No longer did I have to constantly schlep everyone around in an attempt just to get through the basics of life! My husband could drive himself to and from work, and I would have a car every day to do the essentials....grocery shopping, picking up the kids, taking them to AWANA, etc. It saved me an hour and a half of drive time each day. Yea in-laws!!!!! It really was an answer to our prayers.

Ok, Terri, that was a nice story, but what's your point?

Well, with the impending last rites of our car approaching, I pondered what we would do if we couldn't replace it. My husband would still be able to get to work; I would still be able to run my business from home; I could "conceivably " walk to a grocery store, though crossing 6 lanes of traffic would be daunting; but it would hamper us in crucial ways. We could get by during the week, but how would we get to our church? It's 20 minutes from where we live. How would I get my youngest son to his VPK program? It's about 1 and 1/2 to 2 miles from our home, but to walk it would be impossible. There are two extremely busy streets that we would have to walk on because there are no sidewlks....not really an option with a four-year-old.


Realization swept over me about how dependent we are on our cars. If we truly couldn't afford another one, we would only be able to attend church two at a time in my husband's tiny sports car; my youngest would lose all the friends he's made because he would no longer be able to attend VPK; and, we wouldn't be able to travel anywhere as a four person family.

We, as a society, have created an environment where owning a car is a necessity. There is no church within walking distance of us. We have no friends that live just next door. I couldn't buy a week's worth of groceries, even if I did walk to the store, and carry them all home. Even our relatively close family would be vastly beyond reach without cars. The closest relative is about 35 minutes/35 miles away.

Cars give us accessiblity to things we otherwise would not be able to reach. If we hear there is a great school for our children, but that it's farther away, we can just hop in a car and take our children there every day. If the church down the street isn't quite what we'd hoped for, we can drive to one that's farther away that is closer to our preference. If we get a great job 45 minutes from where we work; no problem, we can commute. The car provides limitless possibilities.

The flip side is this: we never learn to deal with what we have right before us. We don't get to know our neighbors, because we already have friends who live in different parts of town. We never learn how to worship in a church that is not of our "stylistic" choosing, because we drive to the church that fits us, rather than attending the church in our community. We don't work and build businesses where we live, because we can drive to sonething better.

Perhaps, the car is the single most important factor in the current sense of disposability that permeates our culture. Why connect with what's around you when you can drive to something "better?"

Anyway, we need a new car!

1 comment:

Al said...

I live in San Jose, CA. We have a very crummy transit system.

Recently I had to turn my car in for repairs. For about 2 days, I was riding the bus to and from work. Yesterday I hung out downtown.

Now that I got my car back, I realize how much I took the automobile for granted. With the car you can go anywhere quickly. You don't have to worry about catching the last bus for the night.