Have a Carfree Day
by John Scull and
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
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:
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
"I am a bicyclist commuter for about the last 10
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
"Although I do need to drive each day to work because
of distance … there are always three other passengers
"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:
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 be...no
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
"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
"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
"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