On Life Without a Car

March 4, 2006

Since selling my car in October to force myself to walk or bike as much as possible, I am now starting to really appreciate the changes that foot travel can bring. Today I rode the bus to my neighborhood dry cleaner to drop off some pants and shirts to start my errands for the day. Since I am working on a law project that requires me to work weekday hours in a law firm for the next few months, Saturday is my best day to get things done.

To get from the dry cleaners to the post office, I needed to walk over a small stream and under a freeway overpass that passes by SW Canyon Road. While crossing over the stream, I stopped and noticed a pair of mallard ducks below. The male had a gorgeous green head and a bright band around his neck. The much smaller female was a mottled brown and white. I leaned against the railing and gazed upon them floating lazily in the stream, occasionally dipping their heads under water. They seemed so serene and peaceful. Twenty yards away, cars and trucks raced by, their occupants oblivious to the wildlife nearby. Soon this little family will be trailed by four or five ducklings, none of them ugly.

After continuing under the freeway, I passed a man sitting on an overturned bucket at the 217 off-ramp. He was holding a sign pleading for money from people who had just pulled off the freeway and were waiting at the red light. The man asked me for a cigarette (but no money). I gave him two. When I approached him I recognized him as a man I had met before.

A few months ago I was waiting at a bus stop late at night and struck up a conversation with him. I immediately regretted it because he was really drunk and looked like he might go off at the slightest provocation, real or imagined. By the time the bus arrived, I had learned about his brothers and mother and seen the scar from the time he was stabbed in the stomach by a friend. He also regaled me repeatedly with part of a Steve Miller song. I forget which one. When I saw him again at the off-ramp today, there was no hint of recognition in his eyes, but I remembered that he supports his mother, apparently by holding a sign next to the freeway announcing that “Anything helps”.

(As an aside, I don’t know if it is common in other cities, but nearly every highway on-ramp and off-ramp in the Portland area has a person asking passing motorists for change. They catch the traffic on the off-ramps when people pull off the freeway and have to stop for red lights or stop signs. They catch the on-ramp traffic during rush hour when cars are stopped by flashing red lights that regulate the pace of cars entering the freeways; as motorists pass, there is just enough time to hand over something if they choose to. Various police agencies abhor seeing poor people begging for spare change in such a public manner, but the Oregon courts have rightly ruled that preventing such practices amounts to suppression of free speech.)

I arrived at the post office (actually a UPS Store that has better Saturday service) to mail several packages. I had to call my friend Kate in Bend to ask for her address. (“Hi Kate. What’s your address? What do you mean it’s been four years since we talked? You had a baby on Monday? Wow!”)

After catching up with Kate in the middle of my transaction while the clerk busied herself with other things, I crossed the street to the Fred Meyer and Trader Joe’s, where I bought 50 blank DVDs, sausage, eggs, butter, fish and bell peppers. Then it was back to the bus stop for the return trip up Canyon Road. I stopped by the Westside Bar and Grill for some breakfast, even though I had a backpack full of the same thing I was paying someone else to cook for me. The waitress had a migraine, but, as she told her friend having coffee on the other side of the bar, she only had a couple of drinks after work last night.

The only other thing I must do before the end of the weekend, and twice a month, is my laundry. I don’t have a washer and dryer in my cabin so I have to clean my clothes off-site. Laundry day is kind of a drag without a car because I have to take two buses each way, with two large bags of clothes. It is doable. And it reminds me that living without a car can be done.

[Postscript: In the interest of full disclosure, I borrowed my neighbor’s car to go do my laundry. She offered because her daughter is out of town and the car needs to be driven every so often so the battery remains charged. I could not resist.]

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