On sometimes driving.

With one notable exception*, most of our living is done within a couple miles of our home. R’s daycare is about six blocks away. H’s school is about four blocks away. Groceries are about a mile away in Porter Square for the store we don’t like, or a little over two miles for the store we do like and deem worth the (heavily loaded) bike ride. Our religious community is about a mile away outside Davis Square. We met many of our closest friends through this community, where many members prioritize not driving on Shabbat, so it turns out they also live within a couple miles of us. Most of our other close friends are from school, the neighborhood or our local bike community connections, so they’re close by too.

Given this, we don’t really have a lot of problems figuring out how to maintain friendships with people who live “far away” or in regions with poor transit access. But every now and then, an important event comes up somewhere that feels impossibly distant. We need to get there, but it’s not going to happen by train, bus or bike.

Enter the car share.

Today was one of those days. An important get together of several families was happening in West Roxbury. From North Cambridge by public transit it would have been about 2 hours on a restrictive Sunday schedule, or 12+ miles by bike. By this spring, I think we’ll be able to do that by bike, or perhaps a combo of bike+T (which works on a Sunday), but for now, it was too much. We planned ahead and booked our zipcar, and first thing this morning put our carshare prep into place (dig carseats out of basement, check map of car location, find access card for the car, check and recheck the directions, send Angela out to pick up the car…).

Except that when Angela came back from “picking up the car” it turned out that we didn’t have a car. She had forgotten to actually complete the reservation, so it was 9:15 and we were stranded.

A quick check revealed a zipcar in inman square so I started suiting up the kids in helmets/coats/mittens and figuring out how to fit both kids and car seats on the bikes but then Angela also checked Relay Rides** where I have a membership that we’ve used only once. Last time we checked, there were almost no cars in our neighborhood, but today, there were several, including one about 5 blocks away. We grabbed a reservation, and I biked out to get the car.

Now running terribly late, we wrestled the carseats in, threw the junk in the car, strapped in the kids and were on our way (and by some small miracle, no one had gotten angry and the kids were in good shape). But man was I grumpy. Because of the Relay Rides switch, I was now driving (Angela hasn’t set up a membership yet), and driving really stresses me out (Angela is usually our driver when it’s needed). With all the delay, the whole ordeal was taking us about the same total amount of time as the T and bus would have, but was costing us a lot more (about $45 total).

But as I got back behind the wheel, my driving skills came back (I guess you don’t really forget how to do it– kind of like riding a bike!), I remembered it’s not all that bad, I had a great navigator and the kids were loving it (on the way there anyway, the ride home was another story, but that’s true on the subway too). It was a Sunday morning, so traffic was light. All in all, it was a pleasant drive.

I realized as I settled into the drive that all those logistical hurdles that feel so impossible to me about driving, getting the car, strapping in the kids, answering their eight million questions because we hardly ever do this and thus they find it fascinating, feeling like it’s just way too much of a pain to possibly be worth it, come mostly from not doing it much, and are just another version the same hurdles that other parents face at the prospect of biking or riding transit, both of which are made substantially more daunting by adding children to the mix.  I always try to remember that these things aren’t necessarily easy until you practice them, but I don’t actually experience that frustration myself very often anymore, that exasperation that anyone could possibly expect me to get somewhere I need to go this way — are you kidding me? This is impossible!

But today, I felt it, and I took it as a reminder that, despite how much we really love biking and transit around here, and how much we want to let other parents know that getting around this way can be wonderful, and can even make life easier and nicer in many ways, changing anything about the way we get around, especially with kids in tow, is not a small or easy task.

I was grateful to have access to the car, and grateful to the neighbor who made their car available to us via Relay Rides (have a car you don’t drive much? Consider sharing it!), because all told, it probably still was easier than an extra long round-trip transit ride on a bus and two trains (especially the ride home smack dab in the middle of R’s nap time). It wasn’t exactly easy. Or completely painless. But it got us there when we needed it, and was a good reminder that change, even change for the better, is not necessarily an easy thing.


*The exception merits another post entirely, as I’ve been commuting to Providence, RI for part of the week since Sept by a combination of foot/T/train and bike.

** Relay rides doesn’t advertise here and didn’t pay or give us anything for this mention, we’re just occasional customers who think that peer-to-peer carsharing is a really good idea.

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.
This entry was posted in Cambridge and Boston area, Car sharing, Problems and issues. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to On sometimes driving.

  1. I feel like this about hanging dry my laundry – it’s easy for me because it’s what I’ve always done. The practice part happened a long time ago out of necessity and now it’s just part of the deal of clean clothes. I’d say it’s also like heating with wood, but I do really hate hauling in bags of wood. just not as much as I hate being cold.
    Anyway, thanks for reminding me to recommit to walking rather than driving.

  2. Which is the grocery store you do like, just out of curiosity?

  3. Karen says:

    Totally agree… now when I have to drive to campus I’m like “I have to park a BLOCK AWAY? I need QUARTERS? I got a PARKING TICKET?” I can’t believe people would put themselves through this torture on a regular basis!

  4. I love this post. I totally agree that when use our car (which is not very often), I find it so much more of a hassle with strapping in three kids, dealing with wants and whines while driving, and navigating busy city streets. We much prefer to walk or take the bus/T. And, like you, luckily most of our daily/weekly errands are within a few short blocks of our home.