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Have a Carfree Day
by John Scull and friends

I sent the following email to many relatives, friends, acquaintances, and discussion lists:

Two weeks from today is my 60th birthday! This is impossible for me to believe, but if I really am turning 60, I figure I can pretty much do what I want from now on, so here goes. I don't want gifts, parties, or cards. Instead, here's a birthday gift idea from an article by Arthur Orsini:

Between now and my birthday, I would like you to spend one day without using a car and then send me a short email about the experience. For those of you who normally travel by bicycle, transit, or foot, and for those who just stay home, this will be another ordinary day. For those who routinely travel by car (this includes me), the day may be really different. Even if you don't succeed in going a whole day without driving, I would like to hear about the challenges you encountered in the attempt.

"Your car can stand a day without you. Can you travel a day without it?" -Arthur Orsini.

A number of people never responded to this message. I guess these people were offended by my request, didn't think I was serious, or weren't able to go a day without driving. I'll never know; silence is fraught with different meanings, but I think I can safely say that a majority of people decided not to give me this present.

As I expected, this was an effortless gift for a number of people. Some examples:

"I do this most days, so I'm afraid I can't make you much of a present."

"I commute by bicycle to work, your request is common for me."

"I am a bicyclist commuter for about the last 10 years."

Some people expressed appreciation of the gift idea, but described their lifestyle rather than telling me about a car free day:

"This is a wonderful birthday present trying to find a day not to use the car. It is making me very conscious of every moment of car use."

"We spend many, most days without driving, one of the great joys of where we live."

"I love your idea. It's a wonderful gift."

"I spend many days not driving."

"I only use my car twice a week tops."

"It is common for me to only use my car one or twice a week."

"Although I do need to drive each day to work because of distance … there are always three other passengers with me."

"We don't use a car very many days of the week. I also check with neighbors to see if they need things at the store or want to drive with me."

I most appreciated those people who wrote to me about their car free days. Here are a few:

"I gave you a birthday present and got a thank you from my neighbor. I needed some things from the store and I thought of you and then I felt guilty because I needed to drive. So I thought how can I make this more earth-friendly? Then I got the brilliant idea of asking my neighbor if she needed anything from the store. She had a few things she was going to get later on and I said, I'll pick them up for you and save you the trip. She, of course, was really pleased with my offer. So I drove today, but I saved a car trip. And I suspect she'll return the favor sometime, saving another car trip later on."

"Since your birthday request, I have not gotten in my van. I have errands piled up, but have found that they can wait and get done on the same day."

"This morning I had a meeting at a spot about a mile up the road from my house. Although it was pouring rain, I decided to mark your birthday by walking instead of taking my car. And what a great decision that was. I was blessed with an abundance of amorous frogs croaking in full voice all along the way...and the mist hanging lightly on the mountains along the river valley...and the din of a most industrious woodpecker trying to tap his way through a county road sign. Thanks, John, for encouraging me to enjoy these natural wonders that I would have missed had I driven my car. And for the reminder that nature travels at the speed of the moment, not 50 mph."

"I just spent two days home and didn't go in the car. Tuesday, I thought of a lot of little errands that I could run. Interestingly, most would have involved buying something (a lemon, a garbage can for our local community building) and I think of myself as a person who doesn't shop very much."

"Shortly before 8:00 am, left my house and walked 3 _ blocks to the bus stop, rode the bus downtown and walked another 3 blocks to my office. Walked 4 blocks to an appointment and back to my office; walked to 2 other offices (about 25 minutes from my office) and then back to my office. I had a problem carrying an original document (11”x17”) which didn’t fit into my shoulder bag. At 5:00 pm, walked 3 blocks to the bus stop and caught the bus. Got off the bus, made some purchases at the local shops, put them in my backpack and walked 4 blocks home."

"I made plans to ride the train to an already-scheduled conference. I invited two friends who declined."

" I found the simple intention of staying put for the sake of less consumption of gas (and what ever else I may have run into on the road or errands) made for some good feelings. The day had more color, texture, life and more attraction. The pot of soup I finally had time to cook has been a welcomed reminder of the importance of nature based, mindful presence."

"I spent the day yesterday without a car and felt a little like I was cheating because it was a Sunday and I didn't have to go to work and the kids didn't have school. However, it was not as easy as I'd thought. Actually, I was fine with it; it was my daughter that was struggling. I decided to stay home all day and sit in the sun and listen to music and go through my ever-growing mail pile. I told her, "What a great day this is going to one is coming over, and we don't have to go anywhere. You can hang out and do whatever you'd like". Sounded good to me, but she immediately started thinking of things we needed to do. She was "bored". I tried the old famous Uncle quote, "only stupid people get bored". She was unaffected.

"I want to get an ice cream. It's hot, you said next time we had a day off, you'd take me to get one."

"Well," I told her, "we can get an ice cream, but we'll have to ride our bikes."

"I can't, Daddy took my training wheels off and I can't ride it yet."

"We could walk."

"That would take SOOO long. My ice cream would melt."

"Then we'll eat there and walk home after."

"It's too hot, I'm not feeling good".

The afternoon went on pretty brutally, with moaning and groaning and endless ideas of why we need to go somewhere. I knew it was just driving her crazy after she came up with the idea that she was helping me out.

"You HAVE to drive somewhere, Mommy."

"Oh yeah, why is that?"

"Because we don't have any dog food and you told Daddy you'd get some today."

Good point, but I wasn't falling for it. The ice cream parlor is in the same shopping center where we get pet food."

"For your birthday wish I went without my car for about 4 days and on a walk home from the local gym one night I had a very close encounter with a koala in a beautiful park that is between my place and the town centre. We hung out together for about ten minutes in the dark, a young one about 2ft from me with big sincere eyes."

And one letter from someone who, it seems to me, really does need to use a vehicle -- a friend whose husband has severe disabilities. This message was a wonderful birthday gift.

"The weather always presents a challenge for us because he dislikes being out in the rain and cold and pushing the chair is more difficult when it's wet and slippery so I was pleased that our appointed day was dry and fairly warm. The power chair was without power (charger is acting up) so we took the manual chair - I had forgotten how difficult it is to push up grades and hills and he found the ride bumpier than usual. We made the doctor's appointment and then headed for the lawyer's office. After that we headed towards the grocery store but then had to locate a bathroom -- nothing fully accessible so we settled for the local deli/restaurant. After that we decided to stay for food and coffee before going to the grocery store and pharmacy. We fought our way up and down the aisles stuffing groceries into the small basket on his lap. We usually drive to a store where the aisles are larger and they have a large attachment for the wheelchair that holds more groceries. The pharmacy only posed problems due to the groceries slung around and about the wheelchair which caused me to take out a few aisle displays. We managed to get home without major incidents - one bag broke and caused a delay for sorting and repacking."


These pictures show my sister-in-law enjoying her "carfree" day at home with her car.
John is an environmental activist and ecopsychologist in British Columbia, Canada. He is a founding member of ICE.

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