How To Live Without A Car

This year, I sold my car. Flackback to five years ago, when my last car was totalled: I was in a panic at the thought of being carless for even one weekend, let alone the rest of my life. My insurance didn’t cover me getting a rental, so I spent that weekend searching relentlessly for a car, finally settling on my latest, and possibly last, car—which I promptly named Petunia (after Petunia Pig, the cartoon character that Porky the Pig dates). The name I chose might have been a foreshadowing of my car’s future with me, considering what a sideline cartoon character Petunia turned out to be! Unlike my last car, Petunia didn’t get into a wreck, and she didn’t break down either. I sold her because I’m trying to save money to travel, or to buy my own house, and I knew that she was standing in the way of my dreams. And–with regret that this wasn’t my first reason for selling her–I don’t want to try to offset my car’s pollution by buying trees, and I don’t want to try to pretend I’m filling my car with candy and licorice when I fill up at the pump. I don’t want to be part of the system that sends troops to war to fight for oil. I worry about the future of our planet, and now, standing on the sidelines, it seems like there are even more cars than people sometimes. Top that all off with the fact that I am now, again, living in a major city with ample methods of public transportation, and a car just seemed like an excuse to indulge in convenience.

Living without a car gets me outside—most days. But better than that: it makes me feel like a traveler. I almost never rent a car when I’m traveling, and I end up a pedestrian in every strange, new place I go—so being carless in my hometown holds a lingering feeling of being a world traveler, which I adore. And really, that feeling of being a traveler—it’s true, even when you’re deeply rooted in one place, a space you call home—you’re just a temporary visitor here on earth. No one gets to stick around forever—might as well take some good long walks and get to know where you are more intimately.

So, how can you live without a car? I’m a walking (literally!) example of how:

  • you make up your mind to get rid of it, and you just–sell it. Or donate it to a charity that accepts cars, if you’re feeling especially generous (or you have a real clunker of a car). It helped me to make the decision by making a list of all the expenses my car included—gas money, upkeep, DMV registrations and smog checks, and car insurance. I figured that as long as I spend less than $5.50 per day on public transportation, I will be saving money over the long-haul. And many days, I don’t spend a dime.
  • Make good friends with google maps—you’re going to need it! There’s a public transportation mode right there, ready to give you sometimes-accurate information about the timing of the next bus heading your way. Better yet, download Nextbus, a superb app that I almost always forget that I have installed on my phone.
  • Buy a good pair—or three—of walking shoes.
  • Give yourself ample time to get from place to place. It might slow your life down—but in this fast-paced world, is that really a bad thing? I find that I either don’t plan so many events in one day, or make sure I have lots of podcasts loaded onto my ipod so I don’t get bored during the commute.
  • Get ready to see more varied people on your commute. I especially enjoy the fellows on the BART who breakdance for spare change. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, and I miss the comfort of sitting inside my very own box, traveling down the road as fast as can be—usually singing my heart out along to my radio. But that seems to me to be a way of thinking independently. By being out in the world more on public transport, you get a chance to build community. Yesterday, an older couple fell on the BART—they didn’t take their seats before the BART started moving, and down they toppled. Luckily, they weren’t hurt. What shocked me almost as much as seeing them falling was the immediate reaction from my fellow commuters—no less than five people rushed to help them stand up and get to their seats. Sure, there’s the flipside—you might feel more vulnerable, and you might actually be more vulnerable, being around so many people all the time. But you can’t see the good in people from the freeway.
  • Buy a bike—or, like me, tune up the one you had but weren’t using.
  • Be prepared to give up some options for places to visit—unless you’re more willing than me to spend money on Uber or Lyft. Just today, I found an advertisement for a grocery store I’ve never visited, but when I looked them up—they’re an hour walk from me. But there are so many ways around this, if you really care to investigate, such as instacart. There are solutions to every problem that come up when you find yourself living without a car. I’ve been surprised to find people who are willing and interested in carpooling to events, even when I tell them I don’t have a car and we’ll have to use theirs. Sharing a ride means another chance to connect with another person. Just yesterday I carpooled with a woman to a meeting, and along the way, we shared some of our highs and lows in life. I wouldn’t have gotten to know her so well if we hadn’t spent that time commuting together.

I have shifted my view about cars, but I haven’t divorced myself from them altogether. I’ve been using Lyft and Uber like it’s going out of style for the past month, mostly because of: convenience. It’s inconvenient to have to walk in the 100 degree heat a half-mile to the grocery store—but it’s the most sensical thing to do, really (unless you have a bike, or don’t mind waiting for the local bus.) I also take public transportation, which still uses fossil fuels a large percent of the time. So I am definitely not saying “look at how I’m not using any fossil fuels!” I don’t pretend to think that I’m better at living in this crazy mixed-up world than anyone else. I just know that if I can go from being so dependent on my car, to not having one, then anyone can. It seems to me that it’s a very viable option, especially in the big cities—and as more people get rid of their cars, there will be more demand to get better public transportation to all those hard-to-reach (on public transport!) areas.

I haven’t committed to living without a car forever, but I would like to see how long I can hold out. Perhaps by the time I’m ready to buy another car, there will be an option that won’t run on fossil fuels at all, with an app that lets me co-own my car with several people. Or maybe, those hoverboards from Back to the Future will finally be invented, and I won’t ever need a car again.


Ode to the Oregon Blueberry

OH! You – in a cluster on the bush. You sweet, tart little thing, you.

You look so unassuming – blend into the greenery, even. But you POP on my tongue!

Some of you are sweeter than others, but you’re all Magic.

Without the rain, and maybe the overcastness – would you exist? would you persist?

But there you are – and I, with my big hands and opposable thumbs, can hold five of you in my palm and still pluck more off the stems and into my hand. Gently – to not rip your delicate skin. Dip you into water and you lose your ashy covering – turning dark, rich blue. Almost purple – you underripe ones are purplish.

I adore you! Don’t ever leave me to face the world without your delicious addition.

Spinning the World On Its Head -Andy Kaufman and Other Random Thoughts

It’s been a rough week.  More deaths by the hands of cops, and then cops being killed.  It’s enough to make me turn to comedy for relief–for distraction from reality.

Enter Andy Kaufman, circa 1978.  I found the 3rd season of Saturday Night Live at my local library, and had chuckled my way through a couple of rousing performances by the great Gilda Radner when a skit by Andy came on.  He was standing in front of the microphone, talking in what seemed to me to be gibberish.  It’s difficult to explain exactly what happened, because it was so bizarre.  Here he was, making gibberish, and then his tone would change, so that it sounded like he was having a conversation.  He began to shout-the two people were having an argument? -and then beat the bongo drums that had been waiting for him onstage.  After his song ended (with some especially loud nonsensical shouts), he stopped playing the drums.  Then, he start speaking in gibberish again–I interpreted it as him explaining the bit, but that could have just been my imagination.  It didn’t make a whole lot of sense, to be honest.  He called a woman up to the stage, someone from the audience, and while he spoke to her only in the made-up language, he got her to lay down on the stage.  He then danced around her and chanted, pretending to try to get her to stand up – motioning her to stand.  She finally tried to stand up and he pushed her back onto the floor.  It was this moment that got him the biggest laughter from the audience. As the audience is engaged in the hilarity of that moment, he grabbed the woman’s head and pulled the woman up (or at least seemed to!) by her hair.  She didn’t seem hurt, but I worried that that move had been painful for her.  He congratulated her and that was the end of the skit.

I suddenly felt completely confused.  Had I just watched a comedy act?  Was it funny?  If it was, why was it?

I admit that I don’t know the answers to those questions.  I have been looking up youtube clips of Andy Kaufman since watching that skit the other day, and I feel as though I’m falling into the rabbit hole – and I am beginning to get the feeling that that’s what his aim was, to create that sense of confusion and curiosity in his viewers.

In a world where we appreciate comedy that has a clear beginning, middle, and end (as most Saturday Night Live sketches have!), as well as a clear punchline, I’m recognizing that one of Andy’s talents was fracturing this stereotypical act and being unsettling -perhaps for the sake of it.  And in a world where I am feeling unsettled pretty much all the time, I can’t say I’m definitely a fan of it as a form of comedy – but it sure is intriguing.

I watched The Man in the Moon years ago, before I had seen any of Andy Kaufman’s sketches.  Jim Carrey did a great job of capturing Andy’s wackiness, but the chaotic nature of Andy’s comedy was lost in such a structured, plot-driven movie.  I wasn’t expecting to be so thrown for a loop by Andy Kaufman’s comedy, considering I’ve watched a biography of it!

It seems that the internet pegs Andy Kaufman as a Dadaist comedian (harkening from the Surrealist art period, where artists like Duchamp wrote “R. Mutt” on a urinal and called it art), or as an anti-humor comedian.  I’m not sure how to label that kind of comedy – but I know it’s a way of spinning my ideas of what comedy is on its head, and I appreciate the riskiness of that kind of effort.  However, as I watched clips of Andy Kaufman on the David Letterman show in the early 80’s, he seemed to be fundamentally unhappy with how his comedy was received by the masses – but with an act like that, how could he have been surprised?  Or maybe anytime he was on television, he was acting, putting on a persona for the cameras and the audiences.  If I were a public figure, I could see that being a way to hide my true self, to disconnect it from who I was when I was in the spotlight.  However, if I did that, I can imagine I would find myself fundamentally unhappy, being both seen and not understood.  If I were Andy, I might have faked my death, too.

What it really makes me wonder, is what kind of a society are we living in that produces the kind of people who become Andy Kaufman.  And what kind of society are we living in where murder is a daily reality–murder in schools, nightclubs, murder by the same people who have sworn to protect the public, and murders at peaceful protests.  Andy Kaufman’s comedy, it turns out, wasn’t enough to fully distract me, but it definitely got me thinking.




Music and Vulnerability

Music soothes my weary soul. That’s something I’ve known since I was a little girl, when my dad made me my very first mix-tape with 3 songs on it. I played that tape over and over and over, and I remember my mother asking my father to please, for the love of God, add some more songs to the tape—she was sick of hearing those songs on repeat. More on my early years with music another week though.

Listening to music and making music, to me, are two very different beasts. Listening to music is a warm, fuzzy beast, more like a teddy bear, who wraps you up in their arms and says “Don’t worry, little one, everything is gonna be alright…” and then suddenly they start crooning like Bob Marley, “I said don’t worry, bout a thing….cuz every little thing, is gonna be alright, yea…” I love being held by the listening-to-music monster….and of course I inevitably end up singing along.

Making music—making my own music—is like a beast with 400 heads. I never know which head will turn to me, and what their mood will be. Perhaps they will be warm and fuzzy, and lyrics and chords will flow out of my pen like rain pours from the sky. Or maybe they will just bite my head off and remind me that I can’t possibly finish that or any other song, because I just can’t. Sometimes I think it’s the making-music beast but it’s really my fear monster in disguise—that guy is always up to no good. A tussle with the fear monster can keep me from making my own music for days, weeks, or months.

Imagine taking some nugget of truth you’ve dug up inside your brain, setting it to a beat and a melody, and then repeating some of the lines over and over again. At times, I feel like I need to write music that doesn’t have choruses—because by the 3rd go-round of a chorus, I feel like my meaning, intention, and depth has gone flat and all I’m left with are words that are empty shells of what they once were. (could be the fear monster giving me feedback on my tunes there!)

I think that’s what makes truly good music great—the fact that even if the words are cheesy or cliché, the singer is able to bust them out, even the 3rd chorus, with conviction—every time, too, when they’re playing live on tour! That’s my goal—to be vulnerable with my music, to set my heart on my sleeve and play it out loud, with conviction, every time.

Some of my favorite lines in music aren’t deep or meaningful at all—they’re just full of truth. “It’s still rock and roll to me.” “You can’t spend what you ain’t got, and you can’t lose what you never had.” (for the first part of that line, pretend credit cards don’t exist (which I personally think would make for a better world!)) “I’ve been waiting for a girl like you to come into my life.” I could go on for, literally, forever….I love lyrics. The people who sing these songs don’t cringe at the fluffiness of them, or apologize for their easy-listening-ness, or skip the 3rd chorus because it’s just so cheesy, they figure you’re done listening. They know the power of the word, and they trust that the music they are singing will fly into the ears of someone who needs to hear it.

Praise be the singers who’ve come before me and the ones who are doing it right now—putting their souls on display. I am forever in dept to you, for you shine a light in this world and show me what’s possible.

And a video bonus for you, dear reader: In the spirit of sharing my music, here’s an original I wrote a few years ago and recorded last fall as an audition video for a talent show: