1 Living Without a Car
Originally published on Mujeres Talk on May 10, 2012.
I rode home the other day in the pouring rain, on my bicycle. A few drops fell as I left my office, a few more as I packed the bike and headed into traffic. The umbrellas were out, the windows on passing cars were all rolled up. Then the deluge hit. I stopped under the thick, spring-green leafy branches of a beautiful old tree by the law school to keep dry. From the pace of the clouds crossing the sky it would probably be about twenty or thirty minutes before it let up enough to get home fairly dry. The safest thing would have been to stay under the tree for a half hour … but I didn’t. As nearly everyone else – with the exception of other bikers and runners along the way – ducked for cover under awnings and bus shelters or hopped into cars, I headed into traffic and in short order was completely drenched. The other bikers mostly sped by – those with rain gear looked just so comfortable (I hadn’t packed mine that day). The runners seemed mostly okay in the rain, several laughed and waved, recognizing another intrepid spirit. Bystanders exclaimed and pointed as this completely empapada bicycle commuter passed by. I hadn’t expected to have a hard time keeping my eyes open, but I did – the rain was that hard and fierce.
It felt glorious. It was a moving massage. It inspired joy. If I go on, I will wind up romanticizing – or maybe I already have – a ride on a warm, spring, rainy day on which I welcomed a change in my daily routine. For the past eight months, my bicycle has been my primary mode of transportation. I actually sold my car in the fall – my way of making sure I didn’t backslide on this new adventure. That’s when I realized anew something I had, in fact, long known: in the U.S. only poor people and New Yorkers don’t have cars. I’ll tell you about the many ways I’ve re-learned this another time, but for now let me note that people look at me a little funny when they learn about my “transportation status.” Part of the surprise has to be about the gap between what people imagine a university professor makes and the lack of an automobile as a sign of lower income levels, but another part of it is surely about the difficulty most of us have imagining life without a car. A friend reports that in her neighborhood the parents have started a “bike ride with the kids to school in the morning pool” rather than the traditional car-pool. At a recent conference, I heard several people comment on how they’d like to live in a more ecologically sound way, but we just don’t provide the structures to allow it. I’ve found myself advocating for those structures more often and in more places now that I’m on the bike everyday, getting myself where I need to go on my own Chicana-power; getting a little bit of daily exercise; saving money on car payments, car maintenance, insurance and gas; not making the environment any worse. I highly recommend it. There’s great rain gear available for commuters so you don’t have to ride in the rain if you don’t want to … but I’ve re-discovered that it’s just rain.
Theresa Delgadillo is a professor of English and Chican@ and Latin@ Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.