An epiphany About My Automobile

April 14, 2016

An Epiphany is “the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi,” according to Matthew 2:1-12. And an epiphany? “A moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.” We’ll stick with epiphany here, sans the upper case E.*

I read The Absurd Primacy of the Automobile in American Life by Edward Humes for The Atlantic on Tuesday night. The article is adapted from Mr. Humes’ book, Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation, purchased by me for Mark’s 3rd Kindle on Tuesday night. (It’s a great book, so far.)

Transportation has been my dirty little hobby for decades. At Beloit College in the mid-late 1970s all students had to pass two hard science classes. Professor Daniel Schroeder’s Astronomy 101 was a must. (The final lecture, demonstrating why it’s unimaginable that life does not exist elsewhere in the Universe, draw hundreds from a total student population of about 1000.)

The other class I took was Physics 101, taught by Professor John Bailey. (Preparing this post, I discovered his passing on July 6, 2015, just nine months ago. RIP.) As the obituary tells it, “[a]fter 17 years as a Physics professor at Beloit College in Wisconsin, John switched gears and became a transportation planner where he modeled and predicted traffic for the City of Baltimore and Montgomery County Maryland.”

I caught Professor Bailey soon before his career change, and got to focus on transportation instead of physics. Today, I wish I better understood basic physics, but I’m happy about how Professor Bailey sparked my interest in transportation issues.

So, the epiphany! I read Mr. Humes’ Atlantic piece, and was struck by the problems associated with personal vehicles, powered by internal combustion engines. Now, I have been a Prius owner/lessor for more than 10 years. And, for sure, a Prius has a smaller carbon profile than many other cars and trucks. Still, accidents involve Prius automobiles—I’ve had two—and they pound asphalt on a daily basis. They’re also just as isolating as any other vehicle driven by one person, even when that person shares the vehicle with canis lupus familiaris aka Max.

I was obligated to assume my lease when I left my law firm last September. The Prius costs me $237 a month, plus gas, car washes, insurance, and the other expenses associated with owning a automobile aka a rolling steel box. Maybe the total monthly cost approaches $450. And for what? Max and I drive to work in the morning. We leave in the afternoon. I go to my second office once or twice a week. I also go to the bank, grocery stores, my mom’s home to put water bottles in a water fridge, etc.

Do I need this car? I don’t know, but the lease ends on October 31, so I have a bit more than six months to figure it out. It’s a close call in sprawling Tucson, but until I read Mr. Humes’ piece the notion of not having a car never occurred to me.

Cost is not the issue. Without a car I expect I’d spend a significant chunk of $450 per month, or more, on transportation.

Not having the automobile is also not—at least not solely—about making a statement. Mr. Humes does not focus on the isolated nature of driving along—at least not in the Atlantic piece—but there is that “isolating” thing.

So, are any of my readers car free? How does it work for you? Do you miss the vehicle? Input is always valued here at Mark Rubin Writes, but in this case I really want thoughts. Thanks in advance.

*I’m fessing up that, with 21,397 dates under my belt, I knew in only the barest of ways that “Epiphany” had Biblical origins.

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