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The Stig: Adventures In Jaywalking

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Part of going carless is figuring out how to get all my Diet Cokes and other groceries from Publix the two blocks uphill to my condo. It’s too much stuff to carry, so I broke down and bought one of those carts you see city-dwellers use to transport their stuff. Now some of my “friends” thought this was just TOO embarrassing. So I’ve named my cart “The Stig” – short for “Stigma.” “The Stig” is probably better known as the anonymous test driver on the BBC’s show “Top Gear.” (I’ve only watched the episode with David Tennant.) But for my purposes, I’m claiming the name.

I don’t really feel any embarrassment using the cart. It’s just a tool. But I also have no shame about making a spectacle of myself. And you’ll agree that’s a good thing when you hear how this initial grocery run turned out.

I rolled The Stig down to the store still folded up. When you roll something, you quickly come to understand accessibility issues: curb cuts, broken sidewalks, ramps. But I got down the hill with no problems. I needed to run in the Walgreens for one little thing, and didn’t really want to haul the buggy in with me. I knew the security guard that was outside, so I left my folded cart with him on the bike rack while I ran inside.

And then it was on to Publix for the real test. I had to change up my pattern through the store, because I knew the 18 Diet Cokes had to go on the bottom. It would be nice if The Stig’s liner had separate sections where you could isolate items from one another, but as long as I think in advance about what order things need to go in the cart, I don’t think I’ll have too many problems with the frozen turkey winding up on top of the lightbulbs.

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It was also a little hard to maneuver because the front and rear wheel of The Stig are fixed, so if you have to turn a corner, you have to basically pop a wheelie and get the front wheels off the ground. And the handle is a little too low for me. I have to push from around the middle of my thighs. I would have a little more control if the handle came up closer to my hip bones.

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But other than that, it worked out well. There was plenty of room left in the cart when I was done shopping. The little boy bagging my groceries was smart enough to know the cokes go on the bottom. And I was feeling pretty proud of myself for getting close to checking off another box on the “I’m a bad-ass city-dweller, hear me roar” list.

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I got ready to push my groceries the two blocks up the hill home and was amusing myself by thinking about how I was in training to be a pusher in new uphill bobsled Olympic competition I had just invented. I crossed Piedmont at the light and as I went up the sidewalk I noticed that the traffic was stopped at both blocks I was between, Piedmont and Juniper. “Oooh,” I thought to myself! “If I hurry I can cross to the other side of North Avenue right here while the lights are red.” So I ran out into the middle of North Avenue. And The Stig started to sway.

Have you ever seen anybody driving down the road pulling a trailer without the stability stuff hooked up. The trailer starts swaying from side to side, and eventually it can turn the car right over. Um. Yeah.

Right in the middle of North Avenue, I feel the cart starting to get away from me. And I feel myself losing my balance. And the next thing I know, I’m laying in the middle of North Avenue with my overturned crazy old lady shopping cart. I am absolutely mortified by embarrassment, but worse, I know the lights are about to change and I’m about to be run over. What a way to go. Bless her heart. We tried to tell her.

I assume everyone there in their warm, comfortable cars were calling 911 to report the drunk bag lady who’d passed out in the middle of the street. Meanwhile, I’m peeling my 45-year-old ass off the asphalt as quickly as I can, righting my grocery cart, high-tailing it for the sidewalk and thanking Jesus for those kind drivers who changed lanes so they didn’t run over me.

I stood on the sidewalk for a minute to assess the situation. Nothing fell out of The Stig. Nothing fell out of my purse. The Stig was still OK. I didn’t break my sunglasses or lose my Braves cap. I didn’t tear a hole in the knee of my jeans. I just skinned my knuckles trying to hang onto the cart when I fell.

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I proceeded slowly the rest of the way home, cussing every pothole and crack in the sidewalk. Bashing my shins on the cart every time I hit either. And grumbling, I AM TOO OLD FOR THIS SHIT! WHAT WAS I THINKING???

But next time will be better. I will go more slowly and deliberately. The job WAS accomplished. Another lesson learned in living without a car.

And I realized it could’ve actually been worse. The Stig could’ve NOT fallen over in the middle of the street with me. I could’ve had to jump up out of the road and then chase my groceries down the street as they tried to make their escape. *cue Benny Hill music*

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Bye Bye, Betsey

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I sold my car today. She is still beautiful after all these years. She bears some scars. And the old ticker isn’t as reliable as it used to be, but hopefully she’s got a few good years left in her new home. I kissed her on the steering wheel, told her I loved her and reminded her to be good before we parted for the last time in the Walgreens parking lot this afternoon.

Last night we had our last substantial drive from the auto shop to Hudson’s for one last barbecue sandwich. Then down I-20 from Douglasville to Atlanta listening to Judas Priest and traveling a reasonable rate of speed, as opposed to the 80 to 90 mph that I frequently drive that stretch through West End. (Most fun stretch of driving road in the city!) After we got home, I cleaned out everything that had accumulated inside her. It was like a time capsule.

Betsey and I have traveled a long road together these past ten years. My life has done almost a 360 since I first got her at the now defunct Walker-Harris Chrysler in Covington. I bought her new and in my name in June of 2003 – my first new car purchase. I was still married – the eighth year.

Since then my dad died, I had an affair, I left my husband, I got divorced, I drank too much, I began and ended a five year relationship, I started a new job, I retired from softball, I got sober, I started running, I started back to church, I got depressed and anxious, I got help, I got better, I got hope, I bought a bike.

And oh the things Betsey and I experienced together over the last ten years!

  • We sat under Oxford’s magnificent trees and ate lunch and read books and took naps.
  • We were rear-ended at a light by an illegal immigrant who wound up being deported due to the accident.
  • We went to the doctor for appointments about fertility.
  • We listened to the first reports of a “small plane” flying into the World Trade Center and later Betsey listened as I cried out loud, “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON???” as we sat in the parking lot of Everybody’s Pizza at Emory and heard a plane had flown into the Pentagon.
  • We drove to every softball field in North Georgia – multiple times.
  • We took everything of mine I could get out of the house and from Stone Mountain to Conyers in five trips the day I left my husband.
  • We somehow never got a DUI.
  • We drove to Athens to see my nephew graduate.
  • We had a guy throw up in the back seat after a crazy-fun night in Macon seeing Blackberry Smoke.
  • I made out in her backseat with a very sweet boy on a cold, rainy foggy afternoon.
  • We have had someone naked in the backseat. (Had, not HAD….)
  • We listened to NPR and Neal Boortz and Z93 and DAVE-FM and 95.5 The Beat and V103.
  • We listened to Visit Venus and Massive Attack and Ben Folds and Andy Irwin and DJ Swingsett and Beanfield and Zero 7.
  • We listened to the Braves and the Falcons and the Hawks and the Bulldogs. (And on good nights, maybe the Reds or the Cardinals or the Zephyrs….)
  • We broke down on Stone Mountain-Lithonia Road, in the parking lot of Pierce Hall, in the parking lot at Pets are People Too, and in my mom’s driveway.
  • We drove to Ellijay for a romantic weekend.
  • We drove 100 mph on I-20.
  • We carried groceries and desserts and dogs and cats and Christmas presents and football equipment and softball gear.
  • We loved and depended on each other.

Betsey and I had some final moments together today. I gassed her up with premium. I took her for a wash and vacuum. We took a last trip to Krispy Kreme and Publix. And finally, we went to the bike store where she very graciously carried my new bike home. (In my mind, this is like asking your wife to go pick up your new girlfriend that you’re about to leave her for.)

At 2:00 this afternoon, she went home with a nice couple who I know will love her. I hope she’s good to them too!

So now the grand experiment really begins. For the next six months I’m going to try living without a car. I’ll walk, use MARTA, bike or use ZipCar. I’m excited to see what lies ahead!

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Got No Car – Transportation Alternatives: Walking

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Today I kicked off what I intend to be a six month experiment in living without a car. I decided the most appropriate way to begin was the simplest and cheapest. I walked the mile and half to work and back.

I like walking. It’s the perfect freedom for an introvert. No traffic. (Except stopping for lights to change so you can cross the street.) You’re free to listen to your music or NPR as you walk, or just listen to your own thoughts.

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I also adore the way walking allows you to see and experience the community in ways you can’t when you’re closed up in a car. You can enjoy public art. You can wonder how somebody lost that much of a weave on the sidewalk. You can read the signs in front of theaters. You can fret about what you just stepped in. You can watch the city progress. And you can engage with people. I think one reason I have the small feel I do for the homeless and poor community is because I spend so much time on foot around the city that I just see a lot more of it than most people do.

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Walking is also great exercise. It felt really nice to get a little fresh air and let my mind wander on the way to work. I was wide awake and feeling good by the time I got to the office. And the hour round trip walk burns 200 calories. That’s a Pop Tart or 2/3 of a Snicker’s bar or a can of Coke.

The 30 minutes it took to get to work was the same as my normal commute on the MARTA train. If I drive from home, which I do rarely if I have to go to the dentist or something, takes 10 minutes.

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The only real drawback to walking is the weather. If it’s too cold or rainy, I’d prefer to ride the train. I suppose the other concern would be how far it’s really practical to walk someplace and at what point do you opt for another form of transportation.

All in all, walking gets 4 out of 5 stars!

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Results of Experiment 1 – Walking

Pros: Free, Healthy, Independent, Community Engagement, Relaxing
Cons: Can be hampered by weather and a challenge due to distance.