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Friday, April 6, 2012

Car Less in Seattle

Antique car in the DeLand Mardi Gras parade
We're still getting used to the fact that people are surprised we don't have a car. Our neighbors keep asking us about our two empty parking spots. After talking, they start to envy us the fact that we don't spend lots of time stuck in traffic, or hunting for parking spaces or shelling out lots of money for gas and insurance. Such is the car oriented mindset that one woman admitted she has a membership at a gym because it means she can use their lot instead of paying for (and trying to find) on street parking. Personally, I always hated driving, and love cycling and walking. I don't mind taking the bus, except when it fails to show up.  I've learned not to try to get anywhere when it snows, but that was true for nearly every other city I've lived in. 

A friend who lives out of town was appalled.  "How would we get to Costco to buy industrial sized containers of snacks and paper products?" he asked.  Easy, we don't need huge quantities of anything - there are only two of us. It can lead to a slightly ascetic  existence. Every purchase is considered carefully. Can it be bought locally? Can we carry this home? Is it worth the bother?  Sometimes you have to be creative. I have cycled with small kitchen appliances and a laser printer strapped onto my little bike (not at the same time!).   I also took a Christmas tree home on a bus once, and pushed around all sorts of odd things in a wheeled shopping basket, or strapped to a rolling luggage rack. 

It's not as if we never use cars.  D. has occasional access to a fleet car, a zippy little hybrid, which is handy for a quick run somewhere that's either difficult to get to, or involves moving something too large or heavy to use our usual modes of transport. Sometimes we take a taxi, sometimes a kind friend will give us a ride. We also rent a car now and then to go out of town. The last trip we took was by small plane to Orcas Island. We were so pleased that we could get there and back without driving.  But because it was the off season, and our accommodation somewhat remote, we ended up renting a car.
Seattle from the inside of a float plane.

I was told: 'You need a driver's license for identification'.   Identification should not be synonymous with proof of one's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Besides, I already have a UK license (good til age 70) and a valid US passport, and just to have something with my local address, a Washington State ID card.  Our New Jersey licenses expired while we were abroad, so we have to take both the written and practical tests.  D. felt compelled to do this, and in the process he proved how difficult it is if you don't have a car.  The written test and the driving test are given at two different locations, neither particularly close to home.  He wasted an entire morning getting there, taking the half hour written exam and getting back. For the driving test, you have to have a car and proof of insurance for that car.  Rental cars and fleet cars have fleet insurance - the individual cars themselves are not specified in the document, and therefore can't be used fot the test.  Luckily, he has a very generous colleague who loaned him a car for a few practice runs and the exam itself.  D. now proudly possesses a brand new State of Washington driver's license*, but no car.
Meanwhile. . . I'm lusting after a bike with more than six gears and better luggage carrying capacity.

*I lied about that, they don't issue licenses where you take the driving exam.  So he had to go to yet a third office to have his picture taken, whereupon they issued him a temporary license and will mail him the real one. . . Possibly the most inefficient system (from an end user's point of view) I've ever seen!