Sunday, December 20, 2015


At the time of writing this description, December 2015, we approach our 5 year carfree anniversary – wheee!  It’s been quite a ride, mostly on 2 wheels.  Meet our family, enjoy our love story, and be inspired to quit driving (if your city’s infrastructure safely allows), get fit, and have fun traveling outside the box….
Our household is composed of
2 parents, 5 teens (no kidding, 5 kiddoes, ages 13-19) or …
3 earning income, 4 studying/supporting
4 adults, 3 minors
5 of driving age, 2 not
6 able bodied, 1 handicapped
7 suburban bike ninjas, 0 drivers!
We are employees, interns, volunteers, world schoolers, committee members, advocates, activists, actors, film producers, bloggers, bookworms, nature enthusiasts, dog lovers, dungeon masters, vegans, fun fanatics, and generally busy community members.  Not driving does NOT mean being stuck at home!

The biggest caveat to our story is LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION.  We moved from the Phoenix metro area to the Portland metro area in December 2009.  LOCATION was the ultimate factor that made not driving a safe and realistic choice for us – a location with decent sidewalks, good bike lanes, accessible mass transit, conveniently located community amenities, and a growing culture supportive of active transportation.  Not that everything here is perfect, but things are headed the right direction, and a darn sight better than what we left in AZ at the time.  From our minivan-dependent life in a sprawling car-centric metropolis where we sped along highways daily (often for an hour or more) and drove kids’ bikes to the park for a safe place to ride while parents had none to pedal themselves…

The first year in OR – call it year zero – our minivan’s gas consumption dwindles from weekly to monthly refuelings, in part due to conscious effort to keep outings/activities as local as possible and in part due to more walkable/bikeable grocery shopping.  Mom and kids enjoy a lot more exercise and outdoor time, and by the first hints of spring, Dad surprises everyone by getting on a bike.  Back in the early 2000’s, his doctor’s orders pursuant to a spinal condition were: “No standing for more than 10 minutes at a time, no sitting upright for more than 5 minutes at a time.”  That condition left him for many years with few options other than reclining, oxycodone for pain, and oversized portions of food to feed a growing depression.  Newly available microsurgery in 2008 was helpful enough to put an end to oxycodone, but was not a cure-all.  Could have been the wind on his first ride, but it was as if new life was breathed into Dad, who realized that biking hurt less than walking and remembered from his long-ago days as a bike commuter that it’s a lot more fun than driving too.  By fall, someone jokes about ways to save during family budget planning: "Well, we could get rid of the car." A pregnant pause, a thoughtful silence, glances exchanged, another examination of the numbers, more conversations, protests from some, long looks at maps, first attempts at mass transit, bike trailer shopping, gear check, a plan to ditch the minivan, and soon we’re parking at the bike rack instead of in the handicapped spot.  Although the minivan still sits in a parking space awaiting its fate, we declare December 25th our carfree anniversary after a successful convoy to the library with the new bike trailer and a sighting of two eagles on our ride home.

On hand-me-down and second-hand bikes, on foot, by bus and light rail, we learn to make our way around town and farther away to downtown Portland.  We bike on the sidewalk because the kiddoes are small-ish, Dad’s physical handicaps make him a bit unstable, Mom was taught growing up that the sidewalk was the proper place to pedal, and who in their right mind would actually want to share the same road space with large, loud, dirty, noisy, scary cars when the sidewalk is so conveniently and reassuringly separated from them?  Dad’s weight plummets by more than a hundred pounds, and Mom enjoys the best physical fitness of her life, and only getting better.  Before the end of the year, Oregonian reporter Casey Parks publishes a story (including video interview) about our car-free lifestyle, so even though we’re just getting started, we’re feeling pretty cool as well as stronger, healthier, and happier.

After everyone’s online and Mom’s on-road bike education from the League of American Bicyclists, plus a few close calls on sidewalks, we migrate from sidewalks into bike lanes.  And learn that bikes really can make left turns in traffic!  For some of us, this shift in self-confidence means faster and farther travel by bike, while smaller family members are less keen about getting off the sidewalk.  We are surprised to receive an Alice Award in May from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) for “outstanding achievements and dedication to building the future Oregon where bicycling is safe, convenient, and fun.”  For us, the award feels like a call to action, especially after being dubbed “Suburban Bike Ninjas” in the awards video.  We start posting more on social media, attending committee and public meetings about transportation system decisions, and delivering CSA shares by bike trailer as nonprofit volunteers.  Overall, 2012 is a 2nd year of getting stronger, healthier, happier, and more efficient in our non-driving travel.

Since using the bike lane on larger arterials is a bit spooky for some, we revise our routes to avoid traffic, taking longer, more creative routes on multi-use paths and quiet streets.  Turns out the longer rides not only feel safer, but also equal more fun and exercise.  We explore new, farther destination in addition to new routes.  The parents get a chuckle listening to the teens discuss polite ways to turn down car rides from friends because they actually prefer walking to being driven.  We sign up for the National Bike Challenge to discover that we’re averaging over 1,000 miles of pedaling monthly yielding an estimated >1,000 pounds CO2 saved by not driving, all while having an incalculable amount of fun.  Winning our independence from the minivan changes our perspective on everything.  We find ourselves with a growing intolerance for distracted drivers, a shocking outrage at the true costs of driving to the environment and public health, an unwillingness to accept the “acceptable losses” of a car-centric transportation system, and an associated willingness to speak up louder for safe and connected active transportation options.

Our viewpoints become more and more bike-centric.  The passing cars (and the cars we pass during rush hour standstill) seem somehow foreign and the idea of traveling inside one seems almost alien to us.  We can hardly fathom how much time we once spent driving and recoil at the thought.  As everyone is growing up and heading off in different directions with different interests and different friends, we wonder how we would have managed by minivan.  For years we had lamented the one car family dilemma, when the real solution turned out to be replacing four wheels with fourteen.  The kitchen never stops fueling our travel, and some days it’s difficult for some of us to eat enough.  There’s no thinking twice about seconds.  But who can complain about that?  We all feel a deeper connection to nature communing with the sun, wind, and rain, and listening to the music of the birds and the trees as we travel, to say nothing of encounters with coyotes, owls, beavers, raccoons, and more.  The mainstream acceptance of roadkill in the bike lane is inconceivable to us, and we ponder the role of the transportation system in an overall culture of violence.  Needless to say, it all makes for interesting dinner conversation in between many bites.  Did I mention how much we’re enjoying the vegan fuel as well as the fun of the ride?

We are all busy working, interning, volunteering, taking classes, being social, speaking up at advocacy events, grocery shopping, community gardening, doing basically anything and everything we used to think required a car to get there.  Quite frankly, we wouldn’t know what to do with a car if someone gave us one.  Our most frequent use of cars these days is checking reflections in a parked car’s window to make sure helmets are on straight before departing the bike rack.  We are experts at finding the safest bike routes, mapping mass transit trips, dressing in layers, and carrying enough extra socks on rainy days. We enjoy the most stamina and best physical fitness (yet) of our lives. More than anything we are grateful for biking’s role in Dad’s return to life from a gloom of pain, depression, and obesity – the biggest and most wonderful change from 5 years ago! And the most important reason why – in addition to falling more deeply in love with biking, nature, and fitness – our carfree family story is truly a love story!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bikes, Bites, Books...and BEYOND

When we learned about National Bike to School Day, it sounded like a perfect occasion for Resources for Health to reach out to homeschoolers.  In our experience, the term "homeschooler" is really a misnomer for students who learn primarily outside the school setting, but quite often someplace other than home.  In fact, it's not uncommon to hear talk of "car-schooling" from parents who manage lessons while taxiing kids to park days, music lessons, friends' houses, museums, sports, and so on.  So while the reasons for homeschoolers to bike (or walk) are the same as those for schoolchildren, there are so many more route options when the world is your classroom!
Being the first year and all, attendance included just the seven of us. We launched nonetheless from Evergreen Park, decked out for high visibility on the road. I'm not quite sure how seven cyclists could not be highly visible, but in addition to safety, the vests work like beacons to raise awareness of bikes as transportation options...for every family member or even the whole family all together.

While everyone cooperated for photos, a school bus conveniently passed in perfect juxtaposition for the shot at left (also providing an impromptu learning opportunity to discuss the meaning of the word juxtaposition.)  Wonder what those kids on the bus were thinking when they saw us? 
We changed the route a little from what was advertised and traveled to the library first, four miles from our starting point.  The public library has always been our primary resource for homeschool learning, not to mention community events, children's programs, and social and volunteer opportunities.
Hillsboro Main Library has the added advantage of accessibility via multi-use path through Dawson Creek Park, allowing us to travel the last half mile adjacent honking geese instead of honking cars.

Look how everyone stays in formation to share the path!  This single file requires more advanced coordination than a typical classroom line ...and it's lots more fun.   
Speaking of fun, allow me to point out just how thrilled we all are to have Dad bringing up the rear here.  A few short years ago, he was barely able to limp from handicap parking space to  nearby building to watch the kids perform in a homeschool play, let alone join us on a field trip - even traveling by minivan!  Of course  surgery played a role along with physical therapy and alternative pain management, but the bike has been his most effective tool for rehabilitation.  We're still saving for a recumbent trike to accommodate remaining physical limitations, but special adaptive handlebars from Hillsboro Bike Company are working as a great alternative in the meantime.

Next stop: fuel.  After exiting Dawson Creek, we rode about another mile to reach New Seasons Market at Orenco Station.  If you follow us on Facebook, you might recognize this location showing our bucket panniers or trailer brimming with veggies.  If we haven't met our needs at Sunday farmers' markets, we typically find the most local and best quality produce in town here to feed seven hungry (almost) vegans (except for honey from Dairy Creek Farm).

After a brief respite, re-hydration, and re-stocking of food-fuel supplies, we set out toward home with a side trip past the community garden.  Second only to the library, the garden is our next most important learning resource.  Coincidentally, this learning zone begins right about where an elementary school zone ends.  I really can't say enough about garden-based learning, so will simply include this one link for your further reading pleasure and enlightenment.
For the next section of our journey, we avoid traffic again by back-dooring it out the dead end road onto a path that leads to a back road that leads to another dead end road that connects to a multi-use path through the park to the next low-speed, low-traffic road.  Yes, indeed, this is why they dubbed us Suburban Bike Ninjas!  Here in the 'burbs it sometimes takes some extra planning, pedaling, and off roading to avoid high-speed, high-traffic streets for the benefit of everyone's comfort as well as safety.  Maybe you can understand how it's unsettling for a 50 pound kid to share the road next to a 5,000 pound vehicle traveling 50 miles per hour?  Not to mention buses, 18-wheelers, and distracted drivers.
We take one last break at Orchard Park along a short segment of Rock Creek Trail.  And indeed, Orchard Park also serves as one of our natural "classrooms," where we've applied science and math concepts to civic engagement.
At right, Mikal finishes locking up after the 8.7 mile round trip. Everyone else has already run inside to make food. 

It's always encouraging to see a crowd at the bike rack.  Still, ours won't be there for long, because after lunch comes recess.  It's a little over 3.5 miles to Pirate Park to meet friends, and the route is trail for almost the entire distance.

There were other bikes at the park besides ours, and ironically we arrived faster than our friends traveling by car who ran into construction and traffic delays on the road.  Just goes to show that biking can be a faster, more convenient choice as well as a healthier, more enjoyable one. 
Now to bring this long story to a close: we played at the park for two hours, with four kids and Mom (Dad and Viv opted out of this trip) rounding out just over 16 miles to that point. 

Still not finished, Mom, Viv, and Jacob rode 4 more miles that evening to and from Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.) training.  Ending the day on a symbolic note, our simulation exercise involved using wooden blocks and levers to lift a car pinning an imaginary victim beneath. It took good leadership, teamwork, and a lot of muscle for a successful rescue.  It may take the same type of community response to unpin humanity from beneath car culture.  But these victims aren't imaginary and we all need to take part in our own rescue.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

"Can I get to Jackson Bottom on TriMet or by bike?"

Jackson Bottom Wetlands, photo by Annee von Borg
Jackson Bottom Wetlands' 710 acres, "treasure of the Hillsboro community," offer trails, interpretive displays, panoramic views, bird watching, potential wildlife sightings, and a premier education center, not to mention "tranquil sanctuary" and thousands of homes to 200 species of animals.

In anticipation of volunteering there for two March tree plantings as part of our Roots & Shoots service-learning group, we were temporarily confounded by the Preserve's FAQ answer to this post's title:

"We don’t recommend it. We are located over a mile from the nearest TriMet stop, and Highway 219 [Hillsboro Highway] is not safe for pedestrian traffic. Only the most experienced and confident bike rider would likely be comfortable biking on 219, as well." 

Our first year in Oregon (2010) we visited twice: once with grandmother from Connecticut and once with local friends, berry stained after picking at a nearby farm.  And loved every minute there!  We had a car then and never questioned accessibility.  Now after more than two years carfree, it seems absurd that safe access to a free, health promoting, educational, and recreational community resource, no less a public park, should be limited, essentially, to people with cars, effectively excluding those without.

at the wetlands, 2010
not-yet-carfree kids & friend
Undaunted by memories of 219's speed limits, I (carfree mom) set about mapping a route from the nearest major mass transit stop, Hatfield Government Station, to check the validity of the FAQ's claim.

Google Map's virtual person helped me look for bike lanes, sidewalks, and speed limits from the comfort of my computer, all without interacting with a single vehicle.  Here's what Google person saw:

Points A-B: 25 mph speed limit on city streets, sidewalks with limited gaps, but no bike lanes for most of the half mile segment. Est. biking time: 4 mins.

Points B-C
: Speed increases to 40 mph for .3 miles heading out of town, bike lanes, no sidewalk.  Est. biking time: 57 secs.

Points C-D
: Now we're talking rural road, highway - 55 mph speed limit for .7 miles to Preserve entrance via designated left turn lane, bike lanes present, so sidewalks.  Est. biking time: 3 mins.

not-yet-carfree kids at the wetlands 2010 grandmother visit
Now I'm really wondering why you can't get to Jackson Bottom by bike.  My wonder is not because I believe every rider should necessarily feel comfortable with each segment of the journey, no matter how short the ride.  My wonder is why one more mile of road was not simply designed for lower speeds to accommodate safer access to a City of Hillsboro Parks & Recreation destination. 
ALGEBRA POP QUIZ: If the speed limit was lowered from 55 mph to 40 mph for about 1 mile on Hillsboro Highway, how much more time would drivers need to allow to reach their destinations? ANSWER:  About 25 seconds
mom's bike outside the Education Center
Again undaunted (or still nuts, depending which family member you ask), I loaded my bike on the Max last weekend in between errands, pedaled the < 10 minute uneventful route from Hatfield, and found the Preserve's travel warning to be both entirely true and entirely untrue at the same time.  It's all a matter of perspective.  While "experienced and confident" with two years' biking for transportation under my belt, I am by no means an expert cyclist.  While "comfortable" biking on 219 on a quiet weekend afternoon, I can't say I was enthralled by the speed of passing cars, although all allowed ample passing space.

Photo by Casey Parks, The Oregonian, 12/30/11
And while I successfully biked to the Preserve myself - in spite of some washed out, narrow, and damaged sections of bike lane - am I comfortable with the idea of our smallest child biking on the highway?  Or Moses with his physical handicaps?  Men twice my size have looked at me in awe saying how they bike only on the sidewalk.  And just over a year ago, we were mostly there ourselves.  Again - it's all a matter of perspective.

Jackson Bottom Wetlands, photo by Annee von Borg
My current perspective says there's no way 1.5 miles of road should prevent residents without cars from reaching a public educational and recreational resource. The route, while easily navigable by bike for some, may pose challenges or raise concerns for pedestrians, seniors, people with disabilities, and families with children.  And while we aspire as a family to be active transportation activists and to build "the future Oregon where bicycling is safe, convenient, and fun," we have no desire to become martyrs for the cause.

mom's bike at the north lot
A couple of email/phone contacts to Jackson Bottom staff revealed that there is actually a north parking lot entrance to the Preserve less than a mile from Hatfield Government Center.  It is reachable by bike before the the speed limit hits 55 mph.  There is sidewalk accessibility most of the distance, and wide enough shoulder to continue walking when it disappears.  From there, it's a one mile walk to the Education Center, although Bobcat Marsh Hiking Trail is usually closed from November through the end of March.

walk one mile through the Preserve to the Education Center
We've organized two events sponsored by Resources for Health aimed at "normalizing" active transportation while raising awareness of carfree access to the Preserve.  We're looking to minimize risk with enhanced safety in numbers (plus whatever other support we can wrangle from local enforcement and other bike/walk advocacy orgs).  One event will focus on pedestrian access, while the other highlight the bike route on a group ride.

If you're local and would like to join us, here's the details, sign up on Facebook!

If you agree that 1.5 miles of road should not separate the public from a public park, join us to help "normalize" active transportation in Hillsboro. Walk/bike from home/TriMet to Jackson Bottom Wetland Preserve's north lot. Bobcat Marsh Hiking Trail, closed Nov-Mar, will be specially opened for us to walk the last mile together to the Education Center.

There you can walk the trails or stick with us and volunteer to plant with Friends of Trees in partnership with the City of Hillsboro and Clean Water Services from 8:45am - 1pm. Gloves, tools, and all necessary guidance provided. Please wear sturdy shoes and dress for the weather. Rewarding fun and exercise guaranteed or full refund :)UPDATE: PEDESTRIANS PLANTED AT THE PRESERVE! SEE THE PHOTOS

Roughly 60% of citizens are "interested but concerned" about biking for transportation. Whether you're part of the majority, the 7% "enthused and confident," or even (especially!) the 1% "strong and fearless" please join us in "normalizing" active transportation in Hillsboro. Don't you agree that 1.5 miles of road shouldn't separate the public from a public park?

Meet at Hatfield Government Station to bike
the last 1.5 miles together to Jackson Bottom Wetland Preserve . From there, you can (1) continue along the 23-mile Jackson Bottom Loop (2) park your bike at the Education Center and walk the trails (no bikes on Preserve trails, please) or (3) stick with us to plant in partnership with the City of Hillsboro and Clean Water Services from 9am-1pm. Gloves, tools, and all necessary guidance provided. Please wear sturdy shoes and dress for the weather. Rewarding fun and exercise guaranteed or full refund :)

Just remember to follow the rules -- park your bike and enjoy trails on foot!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lessons from Beaver's Epic Journey

One benefit of commuting without a car is interaction with community. How often do you get to smile, wave, say hello to friends, acquaintances,  perfect strangers on your drive to work, brightening someone's day, maybe your own?  Active transportation facilitates these human encounters.  Non-human encounters can be pretty spectacular too.

After making returns at the library, Mikal and Mom stopped to visit with our new beaver friend. Beatrice (so named by Viv during our first encounter) clearly had her own agenda involving some tender clover, so we continued on for our own food foraging at New Seasons, hoping we'd see her again on the trip back to meet Viv after work for her commute home.

We were in for a surprise upon return to find that our flat-tailed furry friend had advanced from a clover appetizer to an entree of tender sapling.  It looked like she had just finished the job of taking it down.  In the first video below she seems to be assessing her next move, or perhaps scoping her overall route.

With decision apparently made, Bea sets to work diligently dragging the felled tree toward the curb, making several rest stops to catch her breath before continuing.

Going down over the first curb required a few attempts before successful navigation over the edge. 



Next came the journey across the driveway and an easier step up the next curb.  A few other folks began to take notice at this point.


What else can I say about this photo but EPIC.  We have magical encounters with nature almost every day just beyond our front door that we never would have seen on a routine car trip to the library and grocery store.  Why would we ever want sit in that cold steel box again and miss an opportunity like this one?


Next Bea made her way to the water's edge. She seemed to have a specific route in mind to get to where she wanted to be.


We filmed for almost 3 minutes - felt like an eternity - watching to find out whether the tree would become lunch or building materials.  So far, we haven't seen evidence of a lodge or dam anywhere nearby.


The tree proved to be lunch, starting with the slimmer branches.  It was so much fun to watch Bea gnaw off the bark while rolling the branch just like we humans would rotate an ear of corn.  We left Bea to eat without spectators and collected Viv and new checkouts from the library to tote with the groceries.



By the time we came back around on our way home, Bea was sectioning off pieces of the trunk to gnaw on. It was pretty amazing to watch the hand-like beaver paws in action.  You can really see them in the part 7 video below!

Here are a couple of websites to learn more about beaver, once hunted to near extinction in North America for their pelts:

Oregon Wild
Beavers: Wetlands & Wildlife

You might also enjoy reading about beaver medicine:  

Beaver: Power Animal, Symbol of Group Mind, Master Creator and Builder 

Beaver's epic journey offers us many lessons.  The excerpt below struck carfree mom as most meaningful.  Hope you have enjoyed reading/watching and will share and/or comment! 
I'm sure most of you will have had many grand ideas, and for most of you the getting idea part is easy, but the problems have begun only when you have thought about actualising these into physical reality…and then the ideas have faded, just like dreams often fade when one wakes up. This is where you will find beavers medicine to be of great assistance. The beaver is one of the leading creators in the animal kingdom. They get an idea of what their home and also dam should be like, then fell trees with their sharp teeth and build intricate structures with several entrances and exits.

The many entrances and exits signify the importance of pliability when in the process of creation. Often when we imagine something we'd like to materialise in physical reality, we focus only on this vision. By doing this we forget that creativity doesn't finish, but begins with the vision, and that in the course of making something real we too change and grow. Often improvements are thought up whilst making a dream/vision reality. If you push these thoughts aside, you may find yourself stuck mid creation. Instead, bear these thoughts in mind and if you find it an improvement restructure your design accordingly, as the end product may be more awesome than you ever dreamed possible.  --Ina Woolcott

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My (carfree mom's) Love Affair with the Automobile

Today I'm an Active Transportation Activist.  But that wasn't always the case. I loved my Matchbox car collection, visited car museums, enjoyed high speed car chases on TV, toured a car factory or two, and dreamed of driving a fancy car one day.

young me coveting some stranger's Rolls
Reflecting back almost two years after our breakup, I can date my early attachment to the car back to my potty training days.  The tiny bottomless chair would fit amid luggage in the trunk of the ’68 Olds on roadtrips from our Connecticut home to destinations south and west in preparation for emergency stops along the highway (where the roar of vehicles was thunderous enough to scare the crap out of any toddler.)  Shorter journeys north sometimes involved a family convoy of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to Vermont and New Hampshire for fall foliage, maple syrup, hand crafted cheese, and hiking boots.  My personal childhood favorite route ended at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, where, wearing the pioneer dress sewn by my grandmother, I journeyed back to a simpler time without modern conveniences such as automobiles.  Needless to say, we wouldn’t have made the 100 mile journey as often without one.

me at the print shop                   the blacksmith's                and the meeting hall
In the fond fogginess of childhood memories I can recall the wide expanse of the back seat, the blackness of the interior, the smell of the heater, the warm vibration of the driveshaft hump in the middle of the floor, and the sticky feel of the vinyl seat against the back of my legs in summer.  As an only child, I was ruler of the back seat.  Without as much public awareness about seatbelts or booster seats in the 1970’s, I could lie across the seat for a nap, lulled to sleep by the rhythmic clickety clack of the highway and the static drone of AM talk radio, only occasionally rolling to the floor upon stopping short.  Or I could find mischievous entertainment kneeling on the seat and alternatively waving or sticking my tongue out at the driver behind.  Sometimes I would keep a list of the different state license plates of our fellow highway travelers.  Since Oregon plate sightings were a rarity, I concluded that the state must but a great place to live since Oregonians didn’t bother traveling to east coast vacation destinations.

not my childhood crush, but a close likeness (click for Oldsmobile's 1968 "Youngmobile" ads)
There were other special adventures that helped me form a close childhood bond with the sky-blue sedan whose dent in the right rear fender (from backing into a tree) I would trace with my finger and whose smiley face scratched into the driver’s side window reflected the artistic genius of my toddlerhood.  Once, out of curiosity, I opened the back door while the car was moving, and was scared out of my wits by the power of the air pushing back against the door.   Another time I thought it would be amusing to play peek-a-boo with the driver (my father) by covering his eyes with the removable lid from the Styrofoam ice chest.  I remember climbing in and out of the crank rolled windows yodeling “yeeeeeehaaaaaw” like Bo and Luke on the Dukes of Hazzard while the car sat in the driveway.  One evening I sneaked out of the house during a driving rainstorm to use the windshield and hood as a high speed (albeit short) waterslide.  When the time came in the 5th grade to trade up to a more practical Datsun station wagon, I was sad to say goodbye.

What in taaaaarnation was I thinkin'? (click to be entertained)
By adolescence, the automobile was transforming from an icon of happy family memories to my sought after means of escape.  In (boarding) high school I didn’t even have a drivers’ license let alone a vehicle, but easily found off-campus misadventures with peers who lived within commuting distance.  My first driving experience occurred shortly before my 16th birthday in a friend’s father’s midlife crisis (red Corvette convertible) with a light tap on the accelerator nearly taking us through a neighbor’s stone wall, which would have been devastating for my babysitting career at the time.  Identifying friends with driving privileges became a top priority for summer vacations at home, where teenage life with the ’rents was feeling ever more oppressive and unbearable.  I didn’t much care about the destination or the driver’s safety record as long as I could get away from home.  I longed for fall, college, freedom, and roadtrips.

again, not the same car, but a good proximity
Truckin! (click for music)
Before leaving for the institution of higher learning, I earned my driver’s license but not the means to pay for a vehicle or insurance.  As an avid user of the Student Union’s rideshare board, however, I could be a virtual hitchhiker from West Philadelphia to almost anywhere I couldn’t reach by foot, mass transit, or Greyhound.   When my roommate wrangled possession of a mechanically functional clunker from her parents to keep near campus, life was good, bringing downtown restaurants and out of town Grateful Dead shows within easy reach.  The fun lasted until the car was stolen off the street, a situation that took the roommate some explaining to her parents, since she had redirected the allowance they gave her for secure garage parking to the college party fund.  With the mastery she exhibited manipulating the truth of that incident, it’s no wonder she became a successful attorney including a stint as Assistant D.A. in Manhattan.

Jaws of Life
On July 14, 1990, I found myself at life’s crossroads on the side of a Rhode Island highway, being extricated from a mangled car by the Jaws of Life.  Actually, I “found myself” about a week later in recovery following a memory-devoid stay in the ICU with only brief intervals of consciousness.  The driver, a “friend” who later admitted he was driving under the influence of prescription drugs (unbeknownst to me), had lost control of the vehicle on Interstate 95 and smashed into an abandoned, hippie sticker covered VW bus in the breakdown lane.  The unwitting Flower Power mobile had contributed to a violent event, pinning me inside with a pneumothorax, broken ribs, lacerated liver, and bilateral concussion that kept me hospitalized for two weeks.  At the time, I didn’t denounce the cars or the driver because I was too busy figuring out how to get back to Philadelphia without a ride and how to pay tuition now that my summer wages had hit the brakes too.

a different VW bus, artful and peaceful outside the library
Long story short, I took a leave of absence from school and moved in with a friend whose parents provided plenty of rent, food, and spending money (in addition to a vehicle) to cover living expenses for two while I got back on my feet.  Nearly dead in the passenger’s seat in July, by August, with just a few scars for evidence, I was in the driver’s seat of a full-size Ford Bronco, learning how to maneuver the massive vehicle through narrow streets, receiving instruction on highway intimidation of smaller vehicles, and reviewing the four-wheel -drive instructions before winter.  Because of the parking hassle, I usually chose walking for downtown destinations and the city bus for uphill trips to Cornell campus (where I transferred in ’91).  Even so, my allegiance to the automobile was stronger than ever, with the big bad black Bronco making me feel far more powerful than my diminutive 5’4” frame, a hero to fellow students struggling through deep snow, and a rock-star to families I worked with in rural areas.

don't miss the ice scraping
After graduation, my car dependence increased.  I commuted from New Haven, CT, to NYC for grad school because fueling the drive was less expensive than paying rent in the City or taking the train.  Even if I had used mass transit to get to class, a vehicle was required for the social work field placement that soon after became my full-time job.  I quickly racked up the miles driving to clients’ homes (families referred by Child Protective Services for Intensive Family Preservation Services), also providing them with transportation as necessary.  My ride, a white VW Jetta with a sunroof and the first vehicle under my own name and credit, was my noble steed, carrying me on a mission to stop child abuse and neglect, my partner in crime-fighting. 

Jetta & me pregnant with #1*
Or so it was until a 3/10/95 car accident brought me to yet another of life’s crossroads.  In the second accident as in the first, I was a victim.  The double rear-ending during rush hour seemed mild in comparison, but the impact left me with post-concussive syndrome (compounding the 1990 TBI) and a worker’s compensation case that didn’t settle until 2001.  In the meantime, I completed a second master’s degree, co-founded Resources for Health with Moses and assistance from Yale Law, and gave birth to four of our five children, bringing us to a mini-van dependent lifestyle.  By this time we had moved from CT to AZ, and other than some local walks with the stroller, could conceive of no other way to travel with little ones in the scorching desert heat than with full air conditioning.  When Moses hurt his back and knee in 2003, we certainly didn’t see any other options.  With his physical mobility severely limited for the next 7+ years, carfree was not in our vocabulary or thinking.  If not previously, we were officially car dependent then.  The minivan – a.k.a. the rolling shitbox – was a necessity.  
ok, sometimes it was a rolling citrus box donating 300 pounds of gleaned fruit in Phoenix
If you're still reading and interested, please stay tuned for the next episode to find out how our Carfree Family migrated from handicapped parking space to bike rack!  Like us and stay in touch on Facebook, too.

* at 2271 Ridge Road in North Haven, former home of Ruth Emerson and "Tommie the Commie," in whose class Hillary and Bill met