going carless, part 2

image mirrored off the back of a Volvo station wagon

The universe decided (whatever that means) to force my hand about all this talk about bus riding. The car wouldn't start one Monday morning on the way to work, which I'd been worried about because for no obvious reason, it hadn't started one night the previous week, and I'd had to get a jump to make it home from a friend's house. So because the fear had been instilled and I'd already Googled and jotted down the TriMet bus numbers to get to work, I threw my keys into my bag, pulled out five dollars for a day pass, and stomped down the street to catch the first bus headed downtown, where I switched to a transfer bus back across the river to the Rose Quarter and then up and over to St. Johns. It's a winding route, full of stops, that towards the end of the trip meanders along the northwest river bluff past the University of Portland, overlooking Forest Park on the other side and an industrial shipyard, warehouses, and parking lots below. I was 40 minutes late to work that morning, missing a session with one student, when I usually arrive at work 15 minutes early. The rest of the bus-commute week went smoothly because intentional, though the bus takes three times as long as the car and I must now get up at five a.m., an hour earlier.

The car's original battery has since been changed and the Volvo's once again operational (though the check-engine light has since come on and off again, probably for another, incomprehensible sensor like the one replaced a few months ago for $230). At this point, I'm going to try to sell the car as is before dumping more money into the little fixes that aging, increasingly electrical, computerized vehicles now require. It's still a very nice car, perfect for hauling groceries—or a futon or chair or bale of straw—and I wouldn't be selling it at all if my income were double because, let's be honest, seat warmers are genius.

However, after two weeks now of riding the bus during commute hours, I've decided my stress level is lower on the way to work (less so on the way home because I'm usually hungry and cranky and just want to be home alone already). On the bus, I don't have to worry about running into the car in front of me or having to change exit lanes aggressively during bumper-to-bumper traffic. I don't have to worry about on-ramp traffic jams, getting a ticket, or watching the gas gauge drop, and I don't have to suppress any upwelling road rage about other people's driving. Instead, I get to stretch my legs a little during the five-minute walk to and from the bus stops, and I get to knit or read or close my eyes and rest if I'm still sleepy or stare out the window and plan my day or week, while someone else, a professional, does the driving. In a way, when you think about it, that's a luxury of the truly rich. (Of course, the rich never have to stand out in the rain for 15-30 minutes, waiting for a bus, or be driven halfway across town before doubling back in the desired direction.)

My car gets about 16 miles a gallon in town. (I know, I know. What was I thinking?) It's around 23 miles to and from work each day. The cheapest gas prices in Portland right now are about $3.87 a gallon, so that means I'm spending $5.56 a day on gas alone on the days I take the car to work, not including maintenance costs, insurance, or remaining payment on the car itself. By contrast, a 30-day TriMet pass is $100, or $3.33 a day, for unlimited train, bus, and streetcar rides, with no extra costs. That difference adds up when one is poor.

So I'm about to put the car up on Craigslist, but my feet have been dragging. The thought of fielding e-mail and phone inquiries, scheduling test drives, figuring out the paperwork, and judging whom to trust feels almost overwhelming, certainly draining. Plus, my landlord's having the apartment painted next week, which means I have to box up my whole metro-shelf kitchen and anything else not enclosed in a drawer or cupboard, taking myself and my cat to a friend's for several days. And to top it off, today the winter rains have begun, the gray drizzle more or less constant from now to July.

Damn, I haven't had to tote home my groceries on the bus since college. On the whole, WinCo's got the cheapest groceries around town, but it's all the way out on SE 82nd Avenue, servicing the city's lowest-income crowd on the fringes of town, two buses away. And sadly, Portland's new MAX (lightrail) line won't be coming through my neighborhood for another three years. Maybe I should move—that or, because there's a Cash & Carry restaurant-supply store within a 15-minute walk of my place, I could just open a restaurant.

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