Why Would Anyone Give Up Their Car?
As the Kickstarter campaign wraps up today (success!), I thought I’d share my most “thoughtful” blog from the 80 Day experiment of going car-less (and with zero carbon emissions) in Los Angeles. Enjoy, and thanks for the read.
An Essay on Our World — Day 71
I have loved letting this movie evolve on its own. With very little pre-production, we kind of had to be at the mercy of That Something Way Bigger Than All of Us. Although the lack of planning has been a pain in our hinnies in a lot of ways, it has also given us a rare experience of just letting things happen…letting people, events, situations come to us. We’ve had the camera for most of it, and for that, I am grateful.
One of my favorite aspects of being a part of Carless in L.A. has been to observe certain themes as they surface in day-to-day life, in interviews, in the speeches that I’ve attended.
So, I’m going to take this time to comment on those themes, if y’all will bear with me.
****One of the reasons I embarked on this pilgrimage was as a result of my belief in the power of each of our individual choices. After all, it was someone’s choice to take an idea and create it into a machine that would allow us to get from one place to another in a relatively short amount of time. And it was someone’s choice to say, “Hey, that’s a good idea!” and then buy it and drive it. And someone’s choice to see it and say, “Damn, I want one too.” And so on. And so on…
I interviewed a psychologist from UCLA the other day. Dr. Timothy Fong. He is an expert in addiction. He, in short, defines addiction as an action or behavior that one engages in successively that causes more havoc than pleasure, after it’s all said and done. In other words, an addiction is not an addiction until the problems outweigh the good stuff. So a person can use cocaine, but if it’s not wrecking his or her life, it technically isn’t an addiction.
I, of course, was exploring the notion of “autoholics” with Dr. Fong. Are we, as Americans, addicted to our cars? I mean, can a whole society have an addiction? Perhaps we are modern-day Lotus-eaters, having mass-consciously indulged in the so-called conveniences of this machine called the car, and it has caused us to forget. And because we are ALL consuming this convenient little leaf, how would we be able to determine whether it was healthy for us or not?
No one can understand my gratitude for the automobile after this 71 days of zero carbon emissions. I glorify in every carpool ride that happens to being going my way. I adore all the things I somewhat took for granted: the private stereo system, the bucket seats, the intimacy of a private conversation, the ability to turn on whatever road calls the whim; I even adore the seatbelt and the cupholders, and the fact that there is room for my bike, my bag, and my backpack, and me.
Plus, there’s the fact that certain cars, when you sit in them, give you a certain feeling… I’m talking about luxury here. I’m talking about feeling sexy. A new convertible Mini Cooper can do that. Much more than a bus can, believe me. Especially while driving down Pacific Coast Highway 1 on one of those L.A. blue sky, impossible-sun days…with India Arie playing loud and a good friend to share it all with.
Yet, I of course am even more keen on the problems that cars cause. I’ve been educated. In these 10-plus weeks, I have witnessed friends as they complain about traffic, parking tickets, parking meters, and other drivers on the road. People don’t complain about gas as much…the cost is much less than it was in the spring, so I suppose it’s all relative. I’ve seen friends’ cars breakdown, have to go to the shop, and loose front bumpers. And then the complications of having to find a parking spot! Time-consuming. Gas-consuming. Oil-consuming. Good-mood-consuming.
One’s luck these days is determined by one’s abilities to find Doris Day parking, as a friend called it. Right there, right in front. That is a great feeling.
But on a bike, one’s parking spot is always Doris Day’s.
Here’s the thing:
Can an individual think in terms of what is best for society? Enrique Penalosa determines that no, an individual does not have this ability. He was the mayor of Bogota, Columbia during a time when Bogota was crumbling under political, social, and environmental stress. He made laws that limited use of cars, and the city improved. He was a city official, and his job was to think in terms of what is best for the city as a whole.
Therefore, he believes that it is the duty of the government to think for the people…tell them what is best for all…because, left up the masses on an individual basis, they will fail.
He disclosed these philosophies in his lecture and in our interview. I was quick to challenge him on this.
To paraphrase: “But, Senor Penalosa, Americans love their freedom. If we start to limit their choices…”
My darlings. I am rebel at heart. I am. We all are. Our country, in a way, was founded on the rebellion of a few, particular individuals. We have built a rich and thriving democracy on the notion of freedom–liberty and justice for all! But has this freedom of choice gotten us in an less-than-free position, and we’re not even aware?!
One car is not a problem. Ten cars are not a problem. We, as individuals, can no longer afford to look at ourselves this way though. When ice caps are melting, and poor animals are dying, and our beaches are covered in trash, and asthma is on the rise…
And children don’t know what it is like to be in a grove of trees, because they have never seen a grove of trees, because parking lots have taken their place…
And Alaskan wildernesses that our forefathers set up for generations beyond are now being drilled into because of a dependency on this stuff called oil…
And people are afraid of each other because they don’t have to be in the vicinity of others from different classes, races, socio-economic backgrounds…
And all of our unique cities start looking eerily the same due to the cookie cutter strip malls that one can only get to in, you guessed it, a car…
And people are depriving themselves of pecan pie at Christmas because of the fact that they are overweight (and don’t know why!)…
Because you know what. Kids are smart. Do we really want the embarrassment of being the most selfish generation that ever was? Or perhaps, our selfishness is the result of the selfishness of many generations…including the generation that so violently killed or kicked the Native Americans off the land that they praised and respected and understood…
From the Gayaneshakgowa, the Great Law of Peace of the Hau de no sau nee, the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy… “in our every deliberation we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”
I’m not sure we even think of the next one. Precious as they are. I’m not sure we even consider our own!
I hope we can prove Senor Penalosa wrong. That Americans don’t have to rely on our politicians to make our choices for us… (Can someone say “scary,” and I think y’all know what I’m talking about.)
This all being said, I need to impress upon you the following…
Extremes don’t work. This experiment has been a complete extreme, moreso that I had foreseen. The result has been a strange sort of backlash, where I cannot wait until the 80th day at midnight where I will more than likely get in a vehicle, behind the wheel, and take to the highway and drive as far as that baby will go. Out to the desert maybe. Or down to Baja. Or maybe to the moon.
I will probably be criticized if I do that. Go guzzle lots of gas once I’m done. It’s like a diet, where the person has deprived themselves of goodies for too long, so that they gobble up two tubs of Ben & Jerry’s simply because they can.
When the pendulum swings one way, it goes back the other.
I will try not to drive to the moon, but I will drive when I want and need to. And I will not feel guilty…
Guilt serves nothing. Being hard on oneselves or others because they are harming the environment or whatever else serves nothing!
The other thing I have learned: I can’t force anyone to do anything. It is exhausting to even think about trying to talk someone into taking public transportation with me. I mean, I’d be happy if they did, but again, if someone doesn’t want to do something, if they didn’t make the choice themselves, then the action is watered down and futile.
I had a goal at the beginning on the film on Day 1 when one of my good friends here in L.A. said, “Katie, you know I would not get on a bus. It’s not my world.”
Oh, how I wanted to prove her wrong! How I wanted to get her on the bus, just to say I had gotten her on a bus.
Would it have made her start taking public transportation all the time? Highly doubt it. Would she have realized it was not so bad? Probably.
The point is, it’s not my place to be responsible for the actions of others, whether it be that friend., Paris Hilton, or my next-door neighbor.
It is my place to be responsible for myself…and speak up when I see a need.
I decided to drop the goal of getting that friend on the bus. Shifts in consciousness do not come in a day, or in a word, or by convincing someone to ride a damn bus. It is possible for it to happen that way, sure. But it is not my duty to TRY to shift consciousness. But I can allow consciousness to shift, beginning with my own.
I am lucky. I have had the amazing experience of undergoing a true shift in consciousness. I made a choice, and it yielded results. And as a response to my friend who says the bus isn’t her world, I say this…
Put the Lotus down, now, sister. And start remembering…
Is “home” really behind your windshield or in your neat little apartment or at your cocktail parties? Because you’re right. It’s not your world.
It’s all of ours.
We’re in this together, dear hearts. Let’s rejoice in that! It’s all of ours, and what a rich and lovely species we are…
I’m so happy we’re waking up.