Lessons I Learned Spending One Month Without A Vehicle

Pickup truck image by Valder137

Early this month, my truck broke down far from home, and it turned out the damage was so extensive that it needed a whole new motor. I decided to express my frustrations by recounting my experience here on Cat Flag. At the time, I figured that I would get my newly-repaired truck back in a few days. That’s not what happened.

First, the repair shop couldn’t start working on my truck until the new motor arrived from the dealer. That took about a week. Then, it took them another week to put the new motor in. Removing and replacing an engine is a huge, laborious process. Not helping matters, it turned out that the new engine they got from the dealer used metric connections, while my truck was built with connections using U.S. units. That was a huge source of frustration for the poor mechanics. Then, when they got it installed and started the engine to see if it worked, two of the valves were busted! They had received a defective engine from the dealer!

That was when they decided to call me and talk over the options. I had been without a vehicle for two weeks already by now, but the mechanic and I both asked each other, “If the valves are defective, what else is wrong with the engine?” Rather than simply replacing the valves and hoping for the best, we decided to take the defective engine out and install yet another engine. This meant even more waiting, and it wasn’t until just yesterday that I finally got my truck back.

You would hardly believe how excited I was to finally have wheels! Going a whole month without a vehicle was such an immense annoyance, and I learned quite a few lessons from the experience. Lessons such as…

Cabin fever starts to set in before too long

Blizzard image from Wikimedia Commons

It probably seems obvious that having no vehicle limits one’s mobility. However, there is a big difference between knowing something rationally and dealing with it emotionally. I felt the lack of a vehicle.

I couldn’t so much as go shopping for groceries without either getting a ride from someone who would go shopping with me or limiting my purchases to what I could carry by hand on the walk home. I sometimes had to ask co-workers for a ride home after work. No more going to hang out in Cayucos or Downtown San Luis Obispo on a whim because it was a sunny day.

That last one smarted the most – I am practically solar-powered; when it is sunny and nice out I generally don’t want to stay indoors all day. Yet, that is exactly what I had to do. I tried to satisfy my itch to get some sun with long walks, but that just wouldn’t do it for me. Besides, there is only so far I could walk, and often by the time I got back I was hot and sweaty. It felt like I was cooped up, tethered to my house.

Of course, I still had to get to work, vehicle or no vehicle. So, I took to walking back and forth to work.

Walking can be nice or it can be miserable

Crosswalk image by Alex Proimos

Sometimes, I had to be at work very early, so I had to get up at 5 a.m. to give myself enough time to walk there. I was surprised how easily I got used to getting up before the sun. Sure, I was really tired at first, but once I started going to bed early the night before to make up for it, things evened out and I was up and moving when the alarm went off.

The most surprising thing was that walking to work at that early hour was actually quite pleasant. I liked the quiet, traffic-free streets, the cool morning fog, and the exercise. However, there was still the small matter of getting back home after work. That was not so pleasant.

This summer, the weather where I live has been very sunny and hot. Great for tourists visiting the beach, not so great when trying to walk home after a long and exhausting day at work. Remember when I said my sunny day walks would get me hot and sweaty? Well, after walking for about 45 minutes in my work clothes at the hottest time of day, I needed a shower when I got home.

Even that was bearable, though. The real struggle walking home in mid-afternoon was the traffic. Crossing the street when the roads are full of tourists who don’t know where the stop signs are is not fun. I was almost constantly having to dodge cars in practically every intersection. I took to figuring out what path would take me the furthest away from the busy streets. Even intersections with traffic lights weren’t safe – cars that want to turn right on a red light are supposed to do so only when they have room, but often inattentive drivers would ignore the fact that a pedestrian was trying to cross the street and turn right in front of me.

Lesson learned: once I start driving again, I will be paying extra attention to any pedestrians who may be trying to cross the street.

Public transportation isn’t very convenient or pleasant

Bus image by Shadowlink1014

Before I got my license, I took the bus absolutely everywhere. I was just used to it, I guess. As soon as I started driving, though, I found that I was driving absolutely everywhere, and just stopped using the bus. Driving to where I needed to go and parking was just easier.

I was reminded of just how much easier when I tried taking the bus while my truck was being worked on. I looked up the bus schedule, and planned out how I was going to get to where I needed to go. The problem is that the Central Coast of California isn’t exactly some hopping metro area, so there aren’t very many buses or bus stops.

Only one bus stop connects Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo. Of course, this stop was about a 45-minute walk to my house. There is a small bus that drives around Morro Bay, but it costs an extra $1.50 to ride it. This is on top of the $2.50 I had to pay to get to San Luis Obispo and the $1.25 I had to pay the completely separate bus system that takes passengers to various stops in San Luis Obispo. By the way, each of these is the one-way price; I had to pay the same amount to get back home, too.

If I were to take the bus all the time, as I had before I started driving, I could cut my costs a bit by buying a monthly bus pass. Unfortunately, I would have to do that for each bus service I used, because again, I wouldn’t be dealing with a single bus service but several. Luckily, Cal Poly has a deal with SLO Transit, the bus service that takes people around San Luis Obispo, where the university pays its students’ bus fare. That’s great, but I graduated from Cal Poly already. I’m not a Cal Poly student anymore, and therefore don’t qualify for free bus rides. Not only that, but Cal Poly doesn’t offer its students any similar deals on bus fare on any of the other bus services.

Yet even with all of these different bus services charging different fares to go on different routes, there were still only stops in the busiest parts of town. If you have to go to somewhere that’s in an unremarkable corner of town, you have to pick the nearest stop and walk for 15 minutes or more to your destination from there.

At last, we get to the bus ride itself. Here is where the “public” part of public transportation starts to appear. Most people are nice, of course, but all it takes is one rude, noisy creep to ruin the ride for everyone. Not only that, but as hot as it has been this summer, every bus smells like body odor. What’s more, the further back you sit on the bus, the more graffiti and holes you will find on the seats as teenage riders try to see what they can get away with when nobody is looking. I have to wonder how some of these bus drivers put up with it all.

Still, all that matters is that now I have my truck back! I can finally start driving again. This experience has really made me appreciate the freedom that comes with easy mobility, and I intend to take very good care of my truck from here on out.