This summer, for the first time in our nearly 40 years together, My Lovely Wife and I were the owners of two automobiles. This brief display of convention was thrust upon us by our son’s unexpected embrace of the warrior-monk life — ditching all of his belongings and joining the U.S. Marine Corps. Off he went to basic training, leaving his 2006 VW GTI parked in front of our house and his car loan parked in our expense budget.
This was not part of our plan.
Neither MLW nor I have a weekday commute that requires an internal-combustion engine. In fact, we drive our 2010 Honda Fit so infrequently that we’ve been sharing it with our daughter (which is why it’s so seldom on the street in front of our house). But because we are parents and because bailing our kids out of financial trouble is part of the job description, we suddenly were stuck with four wheels more than we needed.
Our Young Jarhead (OYJ) would call this a “first-world complaint,” but the extra car presented a variety of challenges we hadn’t anticipated. Most vexing to me, at least, was the sad fact that we couldn’t just ignore the VW; if you didn’t start it up regularly the battery would die. And as long as you need to fire it up, you might as well drive it to wherever we might have otherwise pedaled our bicycles. Thus presenting a strong motivation against taking our two-wheelers out of the garage.
So last weekend, we drove it out to the VW dealer where OYJ bought it and sold it back to them. It was not a profitable transaction, but we drove away feeling immeasurably lighter, less burdened.
There’s been plenty of research — including this recent study at Columbia University — suggesting that geezers suffer when they get to the point where they can no longer safely get behind the wheel. Losing that sense of mobility and independence can disrupt their social networks, which can bring on depression and even lead to cognitive difficulties.
MLW and I are not what you would call great lifestyle strategists, but on the whole transportation front, I think we’ve made some good decisions. We bought a house within walking distance of my office and in a neighborhood where everything we needed — including a food co-op, a dozen or more decent restaurants, our credit union, a couple of hardware stores, a barber, a department store, a couple of bike shops, and even a pretty great movie theater — is less than a half-hour bike ride away. A car can certainly come in handy sometimes, but it’s generally not a necessity.
So, I’m not envisioning that much of a problem when the day comes when I’m no longer considered a functional operator of an automobile (MLW may argue that day has already arrived). But don’t even think about taking away my bike.