September 14, 2005
So we noticed yesterday that the paint and clear-coat on our nine-month-old car is getting melted from the sun. Talked to a few people who said it's a warranty issue and that the damned thing needs to get repainted. Repainted! On Ford's buck, but still: Repainted! That's insane. Which got the Mrs. and I to thinking and talking: Why the hell do we drive ourselves crazy with owning a car? We were afraid of being stranded in Carbondale when we moved out here. Okay. Makes sense. We didn't know about the university shuttle system that goes all over town and how bike-friendly Carbondale is. Or how terrible the parking at the university is. We actually wind up walking half-way to Faner Hall as it is, since we have to park so far away. During the last year of my undergraduate work and the two years we were in Boston, we didn't have a car. So moving away from Beantown and getting a car felt free for some reason -- going where we wanted to, etc. And we felt that way for a long time. After all, I really do love to drive. But looking back on the subway, walking, cabs, etc., it's sort of...romantic. With a newish car now, it's almost like we're just grown-ups who go to school and don't really have any money or kids. So we have had nothing but car drama since the first Focus was totalled in May 2004. Thought it would end when we sold the Mazda (at a bit of a loss) and bought the Focus this February. But no. Owning a new car, there are too damned many things to worry about. Paint scratches. Dents on the side from really really inconsiderate people. Tornados and sever thunderstorms with hail and falling tree branches. Moronically drunken neighbors. The fact that you're PhD students and don't need a new car! Since our oil change on July 5th, we've driven around 1,200 miles. In three months. We used to drive that much, and often more, each month. We get gas once every two and half to three weeks. We live down the street from the university, and there's a market within a 5-10 minute stroll. Everything we need is within walking distance of the university, and the shuttle goes everywhere else. It would seem that we don't need a car. We can rent one to drive to Maryland in, with the added bonus that it getting chips on the paint and windshield from rude drivers won't get me upset anymore. Hell, there are day trips from Carbondale we've always wanted to take but didn't because we didn't want to mess up our shiny new car that we can finally take now in a rental car. To boot, I've become a bit of a fat ass. My eating habits aren't that much different than they were when we lived in Boston and walked a lot -- and walked for fun -- but the fabled beer gut persists. And I don't even drink a lot of beer and haven't had one in nearly a month at all. That's just sad. I was sweating and huffing and puffing when Chris and I last went hiking in a way I've never done before. The Mrs. denies it, but I've really become quite round. The idea of burning 300 calories in a half-hour of biking and thereby almost effortlessly becoming less pudgy is a very attractive one. We could just get bikes and ride to school and loss weight. Yes. But paying $500 a month for owning our car (payments, insurance and gas) leaves no money for nice bikes. And then, what the hell would we have a car for, if we don't drive it to the one thing we do everyday, i.e., go to the university? If we have bikes to ride to our daily destination, why would we continue to pay $500 a month for the car that sits home except on weekends? Good questions. Is it worth all that money to be able to pop out to the office supply store because I'm jonesing for some new pencils after dinner? Is it worth having a car for the three or four times a year that we go home to Maryland, especially when we can rent a car or take the train? Is it worth all that money and trouble just because I can fight my way up Route 13 to get the cleaning supplies I like from Target? Getting to the mall easier? Going to Wal-Mart to save $1.50 on frozen pizza? It seems like the only things having bikes in place of a car would make difficult involve buying things. We have too much stuff as it is. I recently had a long talk with a friend of mine about simplifying, and I felt guilty. It's bad enough that I have enough pencils for two life-times and still keep trying new ones; that we have literally over 100 DVDs; that we lost count of our books; that we go through nearly two pounds of "gourmet" coffee a week and spent lots of money at Starbucks daily. But trading away $500 a month on something we don't need that only drives us crazy seems really stupid to me, now. Don't get me wrong. If this were Baltimore or if we didn't live exactly where we do, I might feel very differently. But owning a car costs more than the money. In Walden, Thoreau talks about cost a lot. At one point, he defines cost as the amount of life traded for something. That's why he doesn't want a big house -- not because he has anything against palaces. Just that the cost in living is too high. That's the way I feel about this car. It is no longer a source of freedom, but is instead a burden -- and an expensive one at that. Worrying about and taking care of this car have become far too expensive in life-cost. I know that the flaw is in me when all I can think about on a day where the weather dude is calling for severe weather is whether our car will be Okay. I know it's all in me. But why put myself through that for a car we don't need? It makes no sense. So we realize that we are going to lose money on the sale of this car. No matter what. The value is considerably less than what we owe on it. But we will also save even more by not having to pay for it. So we cannot allow money to dictate our decision, since getting rid of the car to save money would be foolish we we decide that we need to have a car. Essentially, we owe $18,000 and will owe whatever Ford gives us less than that. We have thought about this. A lot. And it feels like the right thing to do, even though I'm sure that my family and friends will tell us that we are completely nuts. Maybe we are. But we are going to the Ford dealer today to see how much they would value this car that came from there, after all, and only has 6,000 miles on it. I'm taking my CDs out of the changer and taking my maps and assorted gear out before we go. Because we are crossing our fingers that we might be free of a car by tonight. Please cross yours with us.