Believe it or not, it’s been several years since I’ve been behind the wheel of a car.
It all started back sometime in 2009. I was at one of those speaker events. This was a breakfast and the speaker was an author whose new book had just been published. I honestly can’t remember his name, but the book title is The Green Metropolis.
The point being made in the book is that big congested cities are more environmentally conscious and successful then more rural, less densely-populated areas — which is the opposite of what most of us believe. The reason makes a lot of sense — in major urban centres, like New York and Hong Kong more people either walk, bike or use mass transit than drive.
That breakfast changed my life pretty dramatically. But more about that in a minute.
When I first moved to Toronto from Montreal, I didn’t have a car. I didn’t need one, I lived and worked downtown. My friends lived downtown and my social life was downtown. Then for reasons I won’t get into now — let’s just say it was a combination of love and insanity (which have been known to go hand in hand), I found myself moving about 50 km out of the city.
A shocking turn of events for everyone who knew me, because I’ve been a confirmed city dweller all my life — and, for that matter, as far back as when I was about 10 years old I begged my parents to sell their house (which was no more than a 15-minute drive, at rush hour, to the centre of the city — and move into an apartment downtown.
Needless to say, with this move I was going to need a car.
That done, the next thing I knew I was extolling the virtues of being able to take a peaceful, quiet (except for the geese honking) stroll along the lake path every morning, albeit at the crack of dawn, before leaving for work.
Initially I was too blissed out to be unnerved or bothered by the constant honking of horns by impatient, stressed-out commuters as I inched ny way up and down the highway each morning and night. Eventually, though, I became disenchanted with both the endless traffic and the love affair. Being zen was no longer working for me. There is nothing zen about being locked in a car going nowhere for an hour and a half.
So, sans boyfriend, my cat and I made the one-way trip back to the city — for good.
Yes, I still had a car, although not the one I bought when I gave up concrete for grass (I lived out there long enough to own three different vehicles). And I continued to have a car — not that I ever really used it — until that fateful breakfast.
Having committed myself to doing my part to save the planet, as soon as my lease was up, I drove the car back to the dealership for the last time. I truly did not need it — the car was four years old and I hadn’t even driven 20,000 km. It still had that brand new car smell whenever you opened the door.
That was probably mid-2010. On the advice of a friend, who figured I’d last without a car no more than two or three months, I joined Zipcar. Zipcar is a carsharing service. You join for a modest annual fee and reserve cars quickly and easily online — for anywhere from an hour to all day.
Cars can be found in specially marked areas in parking lots and public garages literally all over the city; and to find one conveniently located to where you are, you simply input your address on the website and the locations of all the available cars close to you show up.
Insurance is included in the hourly fee and there’s also a card in the car you use to pay for gas, should you need it. Your membership card locks and unlocks the doors — there’s a reader on the windshield.
For someone like me, who rarely needs a car, this is perfect.
“Rarely needs” is the key point here. In the 19 years since I’ve been carless, I’ve rented a Zipcar only six or seven times. I can walk most everywhere I need to go. When the weather’s nasty, or I’m feeling lazy or I don’t have time or whatever, the subway is down the street from where I live. And if I’m carrying something heavy I can take a taxi. I need or want a car so infrequently in fact, it’s been three or four years since I even used Zipcar.
Until this past weekend, as it turns out. I was going pretty far out of the city to pick something up and the subway doesn’t go there. So I rented a Zipcar — which, in my case, really couldn’t be easier or more convenient. We have a Zipcar station in our guest parking, right where I live.
Which brings me to the reason I’m writing about this today.
I’ve forgotten how stressful it is to drive. First, there’s all the really bad drivers who text while driving, talk on their phones while driving, do their nails while driving (I kid you not), change lanes with no warning, have no clue what to do at a four-way stop, ignore stop signs and flashing lights for pedestrian walkways etc. I was on my guard and on edge the entire time I was in the car — which was about 45 minutes each way.
Then there’s the fact that there is hardly a road where there is not some kind of construction, roadwork or repairs being done. I constantly found myself navigating through detours and a sea of orange traffic cones. I felt like I was the little ball inside a pinball machine. I wanted to scream.
And let’s not get into the condition of Toronto’s roads. And sidewalks, for that matter. Walking is no great pleasure either. It really is a disgrace. Being in a car on Bloor Street — one of the city’s main arteries, is like being on an amusement park ride — you know the ones I mean — they bounce you around so much, you can feel the last few meals you ate making their way up from your stomach to your mouth.
All this to say the folks at Zipcar shouldn’t expect to hear from me any time soon. I’ll stick with the subway.