Twelve weeks ago I began an experiment. I gave up my car. I use the term ‘gave up’ deliberately. Like giving up sugar or alcohol. And it’s an experiment, spiritual perhaps, like something you might do for Lent. Or for your health, like Dry July.
Suddenly, from a new perspective, a walker’s perspective, the world seems sharper and brighter. I have time to pay attention. I am no longer in charge. Walking has changed my relationship with time. As has public transport. When you catch a bus, a train, a ferry, you wait. Not always, sometimes the serendipity of instant connections does occur.
But usually you have to wait: at smoky bus stops, underground train stations, and exposed wharves. You wait in the middle of the day and late at night. You wait in the sun, the rain, the wind. And waiting, you notice the leaves in autumn gutters, the slanting light on winter water, and the warmth of a hill in early spring. These things were there when I drove a car but I didn’t notice them.
On public transport you connect with other people. On public transport there is no privacy. Cars are little bubbles of private space in the public domain. They are ingenious little pockets of moveable real estate. Private property on the public commons. And cocooned in the comfort of our own cars, moving smoothly through the world, behind a barrier of steel and glass, a spell is cast. It is as though we are freer, as though we are faster, and much more powerful, than when we are on foot. And as a result, we can be tempted to do some nasty things. I got angry in traffic. I swore at other drivers. I became arrogant.
Having a car is supposed to be convenient. Convenience is an addiction that breeds a terrible laziness of the spirit. I became lazy. If a place was too hard to get to, I didn’t want to go. If it took too long, I got annoyed. And, paradoxically, I resented how much money I spent on this ‘convenience’. I was annoyed every time I bought petrol, paid the insurance, and visited the mechanic. I started to wonder if there was another way.
I have had a car since I was nineteen. Twenty five years. My whole adult life. In those early days in the far south western suburbs of Sydney, where public transport was virtually non-existent, I desperately needed one. And so the necessity of a car became embedded in my adult psyche. And for the next two and a half decades I drove. I drove a round trip of ninety kilometres each day to go to work. I drove fifty kilometres once a week to visit my mother. I drove when I dined out with friends. I drove to shopping centres to buy groceries. I even drove to National Parks to go for a walk.
And driving everywhere, I became bored with driving . Perhaps I was bored with life. So I decided to break this dependency, to challenge the perception that I couldn’t live in Sydney without a car. I am no longer 19. I am not that person anymore.
So I sold my car. I gave it up. It’s an experiment. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and I’m not saying it should be. But for me it’s an experiment in tearing down barriers, deleting comfort zones, observing the world in a new way. Living deliberately.