I haven’t driven a car in sixteen years. Before you get all excited, I should admit, I did not quit the car habit for selfless environmental reasons. The decision was made for me when I was in my mid-20s and I developed a form of epilepsy that prevents me from driving. Bicycling turned out to be a good alternative, as well as buses, trains, and light rail. As I’ve gotten older, the seizure disorder has for the most part subsided, but now I can’t imagine myself ever wanting to own a car.
Bicycle culture and public transportation are a magical gateway into public life. Riding your bicycle, you get to take in the sights and smells of the city—the gentle scent of bread rising at the anarcho-syndicalist bakery, the setting sun offering itself up to you without a screen of glass between you and it. When you’re on a bike, you’re there. Wildly, radically there. And riding the BART train is like that too. Crammed into one of those wailing sardine can cars you might unexpectedly bump eyes with a dear friend you forgot you’ve been missing, or maybe you’ll encounter some wingnut from the infoshop who will talk your ear off about 9-11 conspiracies the whole way to the Mission District, but either way, it’s a far more meaningful and personal experience than sitting alone in a traffic box listening to some bottled form of “connection-like-substance” such as the radio or a podcast.
Riding on public transport, you get into the rhythms of the city, into the strange respirations of leisure and labor and resistance. Your BART experience will be radically different depending on whether there’s a Raiders game going on, a protest in the city, or it’s just the typical Tuesday commuter crowd. Sometimes you’ll find yourself in a packed BART car next to that barista from the anarchist coffee shop as she leans in to tell you that next week she and some other very brave ladies are going to take their shirts off in public and step into an Oakland intersection to block traffic because #SayHerName. God dammit, say her name! Because you’re on BART, and you’re in community, and the train is just so damn loud going through that tunnel under the Bay there’s no way in hell the NSA is going to be able to parse that shit, and also, damn, I will not lie, as she told me this I was blushing. (That’s probably my second favorite random BART experience, second only to the Valentine’s Day I rode with a lover to the annual pillow fight in the San Francisco Embarcadero—the entire BART car was filled with people hugging pillows, everyone chatting like old friends, as we all got ready to burst off the train and begin walloping each other with pillows! What a fun day!)
Driving would have robbed me of ten-thousand hours of connecting with my community, of emergent, spontaneous interactions and connections that helped make me feel at home on this planet, moments that have defined by 20s and early 30s. Yeah, having epilepsy is shitty, but every time life shits on you, there’s at least compost; there’s at least some new dirt where things can grow.
Life without driving is a grand and beautiful adventure, and for those who want to let go of their carbon-emitting activities, there are a number of amazing alternatives out there, if you’ll just take a chance.
Get out of that box, yo! It’s really nice out here.
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Slingshot Collective would like to acknowledge that this article reflects the author’s experience and not all people with disabilities are able to ride bikes.