On December 30, 2009, I put together my first blog post on the trials and tribulations of being car free in Indianapolis, Indiana, a city known for its auto-orientation (need I say more than the Indy 500?) and poor transit service. At the time, I was not sure if I would last in this Midwest-as-Midwest-can-get city without auto wheels supporting my mobility, but I nonetheless vowed to periodically write about my experiences walking around town and riding IndyGo until I caved in. And after my bike was stolen the very first day I gave up driving, I was sure I would cave quickly. But one year later, here I am, still car free and still writing about what I’ve learned and experienced. As Barry Manilow would say, looks like we made it (cue awful background music).
I’d first like to thank my apartment location, without which none of this would be possible. Your central location and accessibility to work, the grocery, and countless restaurants and bars has ensured my ability to stay car free for one year. I’d also like to thank the friends and significant others I have met this past year. I moved to Indianapolis 1.5 years ago not knowing a single person and unable to rely on anyone for a ride when I needed it. Thankfully, I have met some great people who have often been willing to drive me places, pick me up, or take me home. You know who you are and I appreciate your support.
In terms of lessons learned…well where do I start? Well, I guess the biggest thing I learned right off the bat was not to trust others with your bike or they might ‘accidentally’ leave it in the alley behind your building. I won’t soon forget the feeling in the pit of my stomach as I went to hop on my bike for the morning commute only to find my sole mode of transportation lost and gone forever. Lesson learned: don’t trust your ex.
For quite some time, I opted not to buy a new bike so not only was I car free, I was bike free as well. I started walking my butt all over downtown Indianapolis – to and from work, to and from the grocery, to and from Mass Ave – you name it. Ok, so maybe my walking patterns weren’t the most exciting part of my car free lifestyle, but many perks quickly became apparent from the large amounts of walking I was now doing. For one, my legs and butt whipped themselves into super-shape in an instant, something that was welcomed by my former too-tight-fitting skinny jeans. Lesson learned: walking is a great substitute for cardio at the gym.
Because I no longer deemed it necessary to frequent the gym as much as I had been, I quit my gym downtown and opted for my scaled down gym at work. The way I saw it, I was still getting a similar work out for a cheaper price minus all the fancy cardio equipment the other gym offered. But hey, my walking patterns, no matter how boring they might be, were more than making up for not using those machines. Goodbye overpriced gym membership.
With all this walking around in the middle of Indianapolis’s public realm, I soon became more aware of how I looked and carried myself. In no time, I ditched my gym shoes for my walks to work and opted for the more stylish dress shoes. I used to change in to them once I got to work anyway, so I simply cut out a step and simplified my morning commute, which was an added bonus. On the down side of things, it wasn’t the smartest decision I’d ever made, as the heals became worn down and my pinky toes became inundated with blisters. I didn’t care though as I was sick of being two large shoulder pads away from looking like Melanie Griffith in 1988’s “Working Girl.” Plus, I liked strutting when walking to work, with my stylish work attire (I love me a cardigan or two), skinny ties, sharp sunglasses, and the ‘I’m urban and better than you’ swagger. Quite simply, the gym shoes were holding me back. Lesson learned: style over comfort, no matter what.
After walking to the ends of the earth, one might assume that I would jump at the chance to drive a car and feel the comfort of pushing a pedal to get me where I need to go. The truth of the matter is that when this opportunity first arose, I quickly found myself more annoyed than relieved at the ‘convenience’ a car brings. My first real bout behind the wheel came around week 31 in my year long adventure when my sister and her family flew out of Indianapolis (Cincinnati’s airport is still too expensive to fly out of) to San Francisco to visit my brother-in-law’s side of the family. Instead of parking the car at the airport, they decided to leave it with me and in doing so, saved them some money while allowing me to take care of a few errands I might otherwise not be able to do. Well after two days of driving to the north side and back for errands I thought I had to complete, I decided to ditch the car and leave it at my work’s parking garage downtown, and quickly resumed my pedestrian lifestyle. After being used to walking everywhere and the ease of mobility that brought, I found driving offensive, annoying, and a pain-in-the-butt. What’s worse was how I constantly worried about the damn thing, thinking to myself ‘is the car ok, is the white still pearly and gleaming, did someone hit the big back-end?” Needless to say, every time a family member or friend came to town for similar reasons (which happened twice since) I opted to leave the car parked on my street and continue my walking ways. Lesson learned: road rage is real, stick with what you know.
Perhaps my most consistent experience during the past year has been my never ending need to ride Mega Bus. Let me first say how incredibly grateful I am for their service to Cincinnati, Columbus, and Chicago as these are the only cities I need access to on a regular basis and the availability and route times have proven beneficial to my schedule. Having said that, my Mega Bus experience can best be described as a mega pain-in-the-butt due to its repeated mega lateness. I’ve waited anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours for the bus, sometimes in the hot blistering heat and others in the freezing cold. And yes, the bus even left early – without me. Once I boarded the bus (those I actually caught anyway), the mega oddities continued – anything from running into old friends on my way to Chicago to a woman getting arrested for refusing to get off the bus in Cincinnati to a woman throwing a fit (and by fit I mean temper tantrum) for accidentally catching the bus to Chicago when she meant to catch the bus to Cincinnati. And need I even get into the bus break downs and the horrible thoughts of being stranded in the middle of nowhere? But despite these mishaps full of frustration, they have kept my experiences mega interesting and so I will continue to ride the Mega Bus. Plus, let’s face it, in the Midwest any form of real inter-city transit is non-existent. Lesson learned: Mega pain-in-the-butt or not, it’s the best thing I have going for me transit wise.
Well clearly I have learned quite a lot this past year while being car free in Indianapolis. While the aforementioned ‘lessons learned’ have been important for my daily survival on the mean sidewalks of downtown Indy, there are two lessons that stand out above the rest. And ultimately these two revelations have made my car free experience worth the walk. First, walking around the city has truly opened my eyes to my surroundings, piqued my curiosity, allowed me to see things I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed by car, and thus inspired me to write many of my blog postings on urbanOut and urbanIndy. Second, my adopted lifestyle has taught me to hold an extremely flexible schedule since I depend on external sources for transit trips every now and then. With this increased flexibility has come increased patience and tolerance when situations have gone awry in life or at the workplace. And at the end of the day, who knows, I might have these new found personality traits to thank for maintaining my job in the down economy.
So for these two reasons alone, I am truly grateful for my choice a year ago to give up driving all together and hit the concrete in full force. Here is to hoping this coming year is full of lessons and surprises as rewarding as this past year. And with all the new experiences and interesting observations urban life brings, I am not expecting anything less.
For the complete car free story, check out my other postings below, starting from week one.