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Farewell, Auto

American culture got hooked on the private auto because it meant a greater measure of freedom. One could go wherever roads are – on his own terms, at his own pace, limited only by the constraints of time and budget that were not so intensely impacted among the expanding middle class.

Autos for a time did not just symbolize freedom in use, but also in upkeep. Fuel was cheap, but the cars themselves were also mechanically simple. With a modern car, all but the most simple maintenance tasks are inaccessible to a home mechanic. Before the 1980s, an enterprising youngster could build his first car.

When cars later became accessible to teenagers, freedom took an extended interpretation, as the car represented refuge from their parent’s house. Since I came of age to drive, my parents continually pushed me to learn. They even pledged to buy the car, which was generous of them. I believe they saw my ownership of a car as a means of escape in a town I found smotheringly dull.

But I never liked cars. I’ve always looked at them like a sickly, troublesome pet – more trouble than it’s worth. I knew that if I had a car, I’d have to hold down a job to support it. I was way too much of a band geek to give up an hour of my spare time. Driving a four-seat car always felt like I was taking more space than I felt entitled to. It doesn’t help that I’ve always been a lousy driver.

I’m observing that private autos have been steadily falling out of use in American society. They are becoming unsustainably high-maintanence for lots of people. More trouble than they’re worth. Where cars were once associated with freedom, they are now more commonly a stone around the owner’s neck.

I prefer bicycles because of the open, non-invasive interface with the environment. The area extends evenly fore and aft, and I know exactly where I begin and end. It’s so much harder to get that sense of boundary when operating a vehicle that is largely empty space.

I’ve also enjoyed how bicycles are much easier to maintain. All the moving parts are out there in the open, obvious and self-evident. One does need special tools for some jobs, but these are much more accessible than the diagnostic computers needed to service modern cars. Fortunately, the special tools do not need to be called upon often, as long as one keeps diligent about the basic maintenance.

I don’t own a car anymore, nor do I miss it. I use a combination of bicycle, train, bus, taxi, and rideshare to get around. Some people have described my commute as epic, but I don’t find anything heroic about it. I see hundreds of workers making a similar journey every day. It’s just the direction society is going now.

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