carless, part 4

rainboots over camellias

Carless for over a year now, I figure it's time for an update. Yesterday I had planned to run a bunch of errands on foot downtown, typical for a Saturday. Come along?

After sleeping in, after coffee, after a shower, after loading myself up with canvas bags, half of which were already full, I skipped downstairs around 11:30 a.m., pushed open the front door, and stepped outside . . . into a drizzle of rain I'd forgotten was coming (probably because yesterday was deceptively, tantalizingly sunny—so sunny I've even seen a few women this week wearing summer sandals, while I'm still wearing goosedown and wool). So back upstairs I ran to switch out the sneakers for rain boots and grab my umbrella.

errands in the rain (self-portrait)

A core fact about being carless is how much more a person needs to dress for the weather because of being more thoroughly out in it than someone driving door-to-door in a car. Though I wear heels most days at work, I carry them with me and change shoes at school (which admittedly can be tedious), unless I'm wearing boots, so I destroy neither shoes nor feet. And skipping a coat and scarf is never advisable in this town, except in summer (and often even in summer). People in cars can be much more laissez-faire about weather forecasts than people on foot.

Take two. Re-armed, I stepped outside and walked three blocks to the dry cleaners to ask what they'd charge to mend a small canvas bag thrifted for a dollar about a month ago but so cheaply made that one of the seams fell apart during the first machine wash. "It'll be five-to-ten dollars, but I'll have to ask the tailor for sure." "Oh . . . that's okay. It's not worth it, thanks." (Note to self: When thrifting, construction quality matters as much as design.)

Bee Tailors & Cleaners, Portland, OR

daffodils with raindrop, SW Portland

Central Library Book Return box

Then I walked a few more blocks to the library, dropping off two hardcovers and picking up a memoir. I love public libraries and acknowledge them as one of the few public places in which homeless people can escape the weather and even do a little reading and relaxing. Homeless people mostly mind their own business and don't seek trouble. Homelessness is a complex, sensitive issue requiring compassion, social action, and so on. But oh, how the Central branch library smells like homeless people. As a result, I'm usually in and out, breathing as little as possible.

homeless storage, Chapman Square, Portland, OR

homeless person sleeping in sheltered parking space, Portland, OR

bare crow roost, SW Portland

skyscraper with tree blossoms, SW Portland

Next up was the post office down on the waterfront, where I (finally) mailed off two packages for friends. Still working in the outskirts and dependent on infrequent public transit, I find it impossible to run errands during weekday lunch breaks. So the only real time for errands is on Saturdays, plus the small bits I can do after work when I get back downtown sometime after 6 p.m., meaning things like post offices and most small retailers are already closed. So yet another great thing about living downtown is that the post office is open on Saturday.

waterfront post office planter reeds

At this point, I already needed to use the restroom (!), so I walked over to Macy's and pretended to browse their made-in-China sale boots before locating the toilets upstairs (not something a homeless person would likely be able to do before being escorted out by security). Before leaving, I also checked out their furniture department downstairs full of matching sets (ugh).

Macy's sign, downtown Portland

After Macy's, I exchanged some new yoga pants at a nearby discount store, which took mere minutes, and even got to flirt with a very tall, very handsome clerk wearing a navy blue sweater. "That's quite a camera you've got there." "Yeah, I traded a couch for it." "Not a bad deal."

By this halfway point, I'd succeeded in lightening my bags, but then it was time to head uphill to Northwest to reload. Living without a car tends to mean feeling like a pack mule. Last weekend at the coffee shop, my friend Carol, watching me juggle all the canvas bags from that Saturday's errands, suggested I get a shopping cart so I wouldn't have to hoof around loaded up with so many bags all the time. "I already have one. Jeff found it for me." "Why don't you use it?" "They're for old people." I suppose one of these days I'll end up caving on the shopping cart—but not yet. Now I can still pretend I don't need a gym because I'm lifting weights naturally.

SW public statue

But on a more positive note, another lesson repeatedly learned from having no car and walking around all the time on foot is how much detail can be seen when movement is slowed down—things that would never be noticed from a car window, like quaint alley gardens, concentric circles in puddles, or plastic fences looking like grass-green honeycomb.

green plastic honeycomb fence, SW Portland

corner-lot crocus, SW Washington Street, Portland

Converse ad above corner-lot garden, SW Washington & SW 14th, Portland

NW alley garden

Headed uphill, I needed to pick up some new-to-me boots I'd had resoled for extra weather protection by 3 p.m., an early closing day. By then it was about 1 p.m.—plenty of time—but I was itching to get those riding boots in hand again. I'd paid a lot more for them than usual for secondhand shoes (at Goodwill on 10th a few weeks ago), but they're like-new, flat-soled, and comfortable and so should (crossing fingers) be good for extended walking, a benefit my heeled boots cannot claim.

Nob Hill Shoe Repair, front window

concentric circles in puddle

After the boot pick-up and small talk about the rain with the nice old white-mustached guy manning the counter, I walked up to the William Temple House Thrift Store for some browsing and then back down to Trader Joe's for a few groceries. But by then I was overloaded, no more arms left for juggling the umbrella, bags, and camera. On the home stretch back down the hill, I did wish I was pushing that shopping cart. But until that last leg, it was a fun outing, four hours alone downtown walking in the rain with my camera and checking things off the to-do list.

William Temple House Thrift Store sign

fallen camellia, with raindrops

On the whole, most days I don't miss owning a car, though family, friends, and acquaintances pity me for that lack. I get a lot of reading done on the bus and train. I save money this way. And I can afford to live alone again, something I cherish.

It's not like I'm never in a car. I commute for work about two-and-a-half hours a day (which is insane, I know, doesn't match my values, and needs to change soon), and one hour of that daily commute is spent sitting in a coworker's car. Plus, when hanging out with friends, I'm often in their cars because, of course, if a person has a car, why take the bus or train? Cars are so much faster and more convenient.

The worst part of not having a car in our car-centric culture is not being more exposed to the elements or the larger travel-time suck but feeling dependent at times on those who do have cars—even when contributing towards gas money. I haven't yet researched the economics of getting a smart car or car-share service, so perhaps those could be future options filling the dependency gap.

Needless to say, a walking-errand day out in the rain is much more pleasant when the temperature is in the low-60's than the low-30's or -40's. Now that it's (almost) spring, why not leave the car at home sometime and try living life on the wild side? Oh, and don't forget the camera.

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