Some people trade in their old cars for the latest model. Last year, I donated my 1993 Honda, swapping it for a new car-free way of life.
Fourteen months later, I’m happy to report that stepping out of the driver’s seat suits me.
The best part of being car-free? I see the Twin Cities as bigger and more diverse. Outside the metal and glass bubble of an automobile, I’m less insulated and more connected. I talk and ride with people from more races, ages and classes.
This summer, as I stopped at a red light on my bike, a young African-American skateboarder rode up and started chatting. We commiserated about the lack of a bike path, and the pros and cons of riding on sidewalk. That pleasant commuter conversation between a 20-something black man and a 56-year-old white woman wouldn’t happen if I was driving solo.
Sitting on an East Side bus bench, the woman next to me drinking a midday malt beverage chatted me up. “Baby Girl,” she said, “I like your hat.” We talked a bit and she patted my hand, then leaned in closer, to exchange an air kiss. When her friend arrived, she invited me to join them for a drink. I demurred, and they wandered off.
For years, I’ve dreamed of living in New York. I crave the big city. This year of car-less commuting shows me that the Twin Cities are more urban than I had appreciated.
I’ve ridden crosstown busses packed with people speaking Spanish, Somali, and languages I don’t recognize. I hear what’s on the minds of more Minnesotans, not just what’s on MPR.
Walt Whitman exalted, “I Hear America singing… the strong, melodious sounds.” I hear America on the bus: Other people’s music, singing, chatting, laughing, muttering and fighting. I hear an irate man yell at a young mother to get her stroller out of the bus aisle or he’ll report her. I hear small civilities—the chorus of riders calling in unison alerting the bus driver to stop so some frantic latecomer can board, the passenger who digs for change to pay another rider’s fare. I hear– and am part of– city life.
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