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Impressionism: Considering less motorized modes of transportation

I need a car, but how big is the need?
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I was walking to work the other morning, wearing a ball cap to keep the rain off.

I can’t say how my shoulder bag/convertible backpack ever got so heavy. The 2.3 km hike to the downtown is just asking for repetitive strain in my left shoulder blade.

On this particular morning, I got just past the school on the chaotic main drag and realized I forgot the keys that allow me to access my work place.

I stood like a man bewildered and displaced for a few seconds, like a big thinker stalled by a big thought. Then I understood there was only one option for me: I had to turn back.

There are benefits to having a car, but lately I don’t have one. It’s not entirely accurate to say I have no access to a car. I have borrowed my wife’s little Honda Fit a lot over the past three or so weeks, but have been trying to pepper my transportation life with more walking and biking. If I could, I would walk and bike a lot more, but I need a car, or at least I think I do.  

This whole not having my own car thing has contributed to a rethinking of the level of need I have for a petroleum-based mode of transportation. My “need” is actually artificially elevated by desire, imagination, and dependency. I hardly need a car as much as I think I do.

It’s about a month now since a woman in a big old pick-up truck plowed into my rear end as I sat innocently at a stop light contemplating how I might transform the groceries I had just purchased into dinner. And then, SLAM!

Apparently, she hit the gas instead of the brake. She smoked me, threw my car into the car in front of me, which tapped the car in front of it, and so on. My neck got thrown around and slammed into the headrest. It’s still a bit stiff, although the walking helps, as does the Taoist Tai Chi I got involved in at the beginning of the year.

I bought my metallic blue beauty of a Toyota Matrix new in late 2005, and drove it up until last month. I had it on the road for a few days after the collision, but it was ultimately deemed a total loss.

I got a $3,800 payout for a car that had reliably taken me everywhere I ever wanted to go over the past 11 years and 292,000 clicks.

And it hauled everything I need to haul over that time - canoe, kayak, bicycle, sizeable logs, five-gallon pails of maple sap, and an entire solo exhibitions of art.

To be completely honest, I had been seriously looking to replace the vehicle for about two months prior to its replacement becoming necessary. The most I was offered in trade was $1,000.

When I went to the body shop to gather up the contents of my Matrix, I found trinkets dating back many years. There was a small compartment with assorted turtle claws and tails, dried rock-hard on the dashboard and stored away.

I can’t quite remember the original impetus behind the dismemberment of road-killed turtles. It was some kind of ritual. Some found it a touch odd.  

Also among my findings in the car were a number of coins and pieces of cutlery flattened on railroad tracks across this great land of ours. Some travellers stop at the local tourist attractions as they make their way by car on an epic road trip, taking selfies with a giant Adirondack chair or freakishly oversized Easter egg. I like to get ahead of the trains and flatten pennies and spoons.

Over the last three weeks I have been desperately searching for alternative vehicular transportation. Maybe my whiplash has scrambled my brain, but I had simply not been able, until about a day ago, to decide what to get.

Everything I drove had some kind of deficiency, mostly related to cargo space and fuel efficiency. I came close to a Toyota Prius C, but it was a bit too much like driving a golf cart. I eventually settled on 2011 Matrix, but have yet to take delivery.

I tell myself I will drive less, walk and bike more, save more money, care more about the earth, contribute more to the general peace and security of my community by contributing less to the ever-increasing traffic in my city.

But my emotional and practical dependency on a four-wheeled vehicle is a longstanding one. It’s a hard habit to break.

I like the freedom to explore that a vehicle affords. But I find that walking and biking offers an entirely different kind of liberty, and a whole other way to explore where I live.

I’ll try to leave the car at home more often, but I make no promises.  



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Rob O'Flanagan

About the Author: Rob O'Flanagan

Rob O’Flanagan has been a newspaper reporter, photojournalist and columnist for over twenty years. He has won numerous Ontario Newspaper Awards and a National Newspaper Award.
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