Twenty-One Car-Free Years

Over the weekend, thanks to traveling up to Albany to meet an old friend, I was unable to make note of an especially important anniversary: March 30th marked twenty-one years of blessed freedom from car ownership.

On March 30th, 1993, I sold my Toyota pickup truck, purchased a mere eighteen months previously, at a drastically marked-down price. My reasons were simple and numerous: I was headed out of the US for an indefinite period; if I returned, it would be to New York City, where I did not expect to own a car; and lastly, most significantly, my insurance premium–in New Jersey–had climbed to an astronomical four thousand dollars a year.

Cars had always been an expensive headache for me. My first car, a Toyota Corolla with over hundred thousand miles on it, had flamed out spectacularly on a New Jersey highway; it had minimal resale value and I was only too happy to dispose of it in a junkyard. My second, a Volkswagen Jetta, had niggling problems with its fuel pump, and spent too much time in the repair shop. And while I owned it, my insurance climbed into the stratosphere.

My troubles began a few minutes after I had picked up the Jetta from the used-car dealer. As I drove down the Garden State Parkway, already late for work, I failed to notice I was speeding. A state trooper pulled me over, informed me I was driving at 78mph in a 55mph zone and gave me a ticket. That meant four points on my license and a thousand dollar increase in my annual  premium. A few months later, after I had skidded on a wet road and hit the kerbside, I filed a damage claim, which the insurance company honored. But in exchange for this thousand-dollar payment, they raised my premium by a thousand dollars a year. And then, finally, thanks to another wet road, I rear-ended a truck, filed a damage claim again and was treated to the same sequence of claim-payment-followed-by-premium-increase.

By late 1992, I could not afford to drive a car any more. But I still had to commute to work. So I persisted for a few months, all the while actively plotting my escape from New Jersey to New York City. When my move looked imminently possible, I put up my truck–purchased after my Jetta’s fuel-pump troubles had become intolerable–for sale.

Twenty-one years on, I remain relieved to be free of the hassles of parking, gas prices, speeding tickets, towing, worries about blood alcohol content, traffic, and all of the rest.  Public transportation, with all its frustrations, works well enough for me. New York City’s magnificently flawed subway system takes me where I need to go; on rare occasions, I rent or borrow a car. That limited and circumscribed ownership is all I can handle.

I do not know if I will ever move out of New York City. If I do, I know one of my most profound regrets will be the leaving behind of this blessedly car-free life.