Since moving to Chicago in 2009, I’ve been introduced to a new way of life. Not owning a car is relatively common among my friends and acquaintances in the city. Some don’t even have driver’s licenses. Where I grew up in rural Kansas this was, of course, unheard of and impractical if not impossible. Now, I walk two blocks to the grocery store. There? Ten miles.
Though exceedingly grateful for my car as I traveled to church by 9 am on Sunday mornings or as I journeyed to my weekend babysitting engagements on the other side of the city, I also did a lot of walking those first couple of years here: to class, to the gym, to my part-time job.
Slowly I got used to using public transportation. With practice riding my comfort level on the buses increased, and I stopped experiencing anxiety that I would miss my stop. I became better at standing and walking on moving trains without tipping or tripping. Using the Chicago Transit Authority system, it turned out, I could get anywhere in the city that I wanted to go and didn’t have to worry about finding (and paying for) parking. In 2011 I invested in a bicycle and used it to commute to my summer internship in the Loop.
The gradual lessening of my dependence on a personal vehicle was good, but I remained skeptical about whether I, too, could go car-less. Even as I marveled at the small carbon footprints and the complete disregard for no parking signs and gas prices of those without vehicles, I enjoyed the ease and comfort that my car provided.
Every time Sylvia the Silver Saturn broke down, Jason and I had a conversation about whether this was the last straw. And every time, we paid for the repair. Last summer we even set a limit: if the repair was over $200 that would be it. It cost $175.
When the car wouldn’t start this past Thanksgiving, we figured it was the battery and got it replaced. When the car wouldn’t start again a few days later, it turned out that the alternator was the problem and our favorite mechanic shop would repair it for $365, parts and labor.
This time, as part of our discernment process, we pulled out a thick folder of receipts from various auto shops. We got out a calculator and started figuring. The water pump, the starter, the radiator. The series of electrical failures including the one at the rest stop in Iowa that resulted in a 60-mile tow to Des Moines and an overnight stay there while we waited for the fix. Not to mention the price of gas, regular oil changes, registration, city stickers, insurance, and those pesky street-sweeping tickets. The time had come and the $365 alternator repair—as it turned out—really was the last straw.