Car-Free Grandma

Angela asked an interesting question the other day.

“When Grandma (Angela’s mom) moved here from Florida 6 months ago, would it have been better for us (from a purely selfish perspective) if she had kept her car?”

Keep in mind, we’re talking from a purely selfish perspective, i.e. pretend she completely funds the car/insurance, deals with the parking and maintenance, and we have access to a car for occasional outings or big shopping trips. Maybe we would “generously” put in for gas.

Even with this hypothetical most lazy and cheap possible version of a car, we came to the conclusion that we are happy she became car free when she moved here. At first blush, this seems silly, after all, wouldn’t such a situation mean we could have the perks of car-ownership without the costs? Our trip to Drumlin Farm would have been much easier if we hadn’t had to worry about train schedules, and we could easily get to more fun weekend outings if Grandma had a car. We need to get some lumber at Home Depot this weekend, and we wouldn’t have to get a zipcar. But would Grandma have an apartment in the middle of Davis Square, a mere 15 minute walk from our house, if she had a car? Nope. Parking there is awful. She would more likely be out in Arlington, and we’d have to hop the 77 bus to see her…which would mean she’d either need to come to us more or we’d see her less often. We wouldn’t be able to easily drop by each other’s houses or make last minute dinner or babysitting plans as easily. Also, as our hypothetical use of Grandma’s car increased, which it would inevitably, we’d start to feel guilty, and ultimately probably end up splitting the cost and hassles. I mean, we’re not total jerks, and if we were using the car eventually we’d put in, so it wouldn’t be so free anymore. And there would be that awful car tension, over finances, parking tickets, needed repairs, even if it was vicariously. So even selfishly, we’re glad Grandma doesn’t have a car.

Less selfishly, we’re glad to have a car-free Grandma because we like Grandma to save money (she claims she spends much less in Boston than Florida, who would have thought it possible?), we like watching her feel joyfully smug about being extra-environmental (she works in land conservation, so this is a nice perk), and we get to talk pros and cons of the lifestyle with one of “our own.” I suppose we also like that we get to take a little bit of credit for bringing someone into the car-free fold…do we get a toaster?

About Nathan

Nathan lives in North Cambridge, MA with his wife and two kids, and prefers never to be in cars if he can avoid it. Nathan thinks parenting is way more fun when you don't have to worry about car seats.
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4 Responses to Car-Free Grandma

  1. Susan says:

    Grandma (Baba to H) is indeed glad to be car free in Boston, for several reasons. The primary reason is that I really did not enjoy owning a car. Mind you, I do enjoy driving, but owning is way too much of a burden. I never remembered to do things like check the tire pressure or the oil. Getting the car into the shop for maintenance was a hassle, especially being single. I would make the first appointment of the day, then just sit and wait…sometimes for several hours. No fun, especially on a Saturday morning. For major repairs, they would give me a lift to work, but then I had to find someone willing to drive me to pick up the car. In most of the places I have lived, public transportation is almost non-existent.

    I am also very glad to be able to lower my carbon footprint in such a huge way. I do work in conservation, so I feel like I am doing my part to further our mission. I have always been concerned about the environment, even before I began working in the field. This is just the natural progression of a life-long commitment, but I never thought I would live in a city that had such a great transportation system.

    I work in downtown Boston, so getting to and from work is easy. I also enjoy walking as a way to get to know my community and as my primary form of exercise. I love to find new ways to get where I want to go, enjoying the new sights and places I encounter on the way.

    As Dorea said, I have found that I spend less money in Boston than I did living in Orlando, even though I am paying much higher rent. It helps not having the expense of a car. More importantly, it’s just not as easy to get to the shopping centers and malls that have become the primary source of entertainment in our ever more material society. I do still indulge in an occasional trip by bus to Target, but I used to go to the Target down the street from me at least once a week. I find I don’t miss spending a good chunk of my life shopping, and the shopping I do now is much more enjoyable. I am trying to shop at locally owned businesses whenever possible, which makes me feel better about the money that I do spend.

    Finally, another big plus for my health and my wallet…I don’t eat out as often. It’s not as easy or as tempting to stop at one of the multitude of restaurants I would pass on my way home from work. I am much more thoughtful about how I am living my life now. Of course, I can’t really say that being without a car brought about all of these changes, but I can say that it certainly got me moving down a different path.

    The very best thing about being car free is that H and I spend a lot of time walking around Davis Square and playing in the park…I just don’t think it would be the same if I had a car.


  2. Dorea says:

    You said it best!

  3. speedyima says:

    Susan – You rock! (Good to see you at the Sukkah today, BTW.)

    This post got my partner Jesse & I discussing my use of my work truck. When our son was born 3 years ago, I was glad to get the "perk" of a company car (in this case, a Tundra, as I'm a landscaper). Although I live 6 miles from my work, I frequently drive 50-100 miles a day for work. I paid all gas, plus 1/3 of repairs & maintenance.

    As a new mom who brought my nursing baby to work with me, I was glad to be able to flow between naptime, work at home, and work in the field, plus shlep all the stuff I thought I needed to keep him happy. After a year and a half, though, I realized that the "luxury" of a seamless work-life existence meant that I was always "on", giving 150% as a full-time worker, spouse, and mom.

    This season, a combination of rising gas prices, ambulatory kid with near-by daycare, and increased running mileage allowed me to give up the truck for personal use. Mostly. My boss thought I was "depriving" myself needlessly, and encouraged me to use the truck whenever I need to, in exchange for gas, on the honor system. I started reading more on my 45 minute T commute to work. I was more calm and focused, because the commute time allowed me to switch gears from worker to mom/spouse. I had a fixed time when I turned off my work phone. I arrived home sweaty twice a week, able to check my run off the to-do list. (Bonus: When I showed up sweaty at daycare, a neighborhood pre-teen told me proudly how she had done the mile at school in 7 minutes. She's at an age when it's not cool to be strong.)

    There are still weeks, like recently with the Jewish holidays, when I am convinced that the only way to get the errands and cooking and daycare pick-up done is to drive. I also feel pressure to work late, eating into my car-free commute time, and I drive home from the jobsite. Basically the days when I allow the truck into my routine, I am more frantic, less focused on what really matters. Being car-free lets me turn off some of the noise and better prioritize what's most useful.

    I also think we're better community-members car-free. Ditto Susan's point about materialism — I would bet that our expenses are lower and our purchases more ethical on weeks when we're limited to what we pick up from the CSA and local stores, vs. big box stores. Sans car, we're also more likely to pool our shopping, child-care, and cooking resources with friends, and to spend more time hanging out together, vs. consuming passive entertainment.

  4. Jen says:

    Where do I get that cool One Less Minivan plate for my X?

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