853 Things About Not Having a Car

If you live in the suburbs of South Florida and walk to the grocery store, you’re kind of a weirdo, standing on the swale of the road, while everyone gapes behind their sunglasses and steering wheel. You look like you’ve hit hardest of times and you might in fact, actually get hit. Not every place is Portland or a woodsy Vermont town. Not every place has a safe sidewalk you should be on past 7 pm.

If you want to be in a position to ditch the car, you ought to move yourself to a city, preferably New York, for the transit system. You’ve really got to either ride a skateboard, live in The Big Apple, or move to Tokyo (especially if you want a clean train).

Only then will it not be weird that you cart carrots home in bushels, underhand, or fill double bike baskets all day long. Here, you can walk. You can take Tokyo’s gazillion on-time, clean, and quiet trains, walk to any of 2,210 train stations (no joke, and this doesn’t include or account for the shinkansen. Go ahead and say “adios” or “sayonara” to the idea of a car. You’ll also be saying “tata” to insurance, to papers, to a loan or lease hanging overhead, and you won’t be weird. You’ll be on-time and in shape. You can put that gas money towards new shoes.

Okay, you’ll get wet sometimes, and snowed on, but you’ll have cheap transport and a clear connection to the climate and people. Mostly, you’ll love it.

You’ll become a “City Person”.

Here is a partial list of why living the “no car life” is cool:

The air becomes so delish with blossoming flowers, you can’t stop inhaling. Air. (Take now, April in Tokyo. It is the freshest, the time before summer sweat, all the air before mosquitos. It is the month of sakura and new beginnings, cute kids walking towards their beginning of a new school year. Or September when these itty flowers the color of goldenrod, called

Air. Take now, for instance, April in Tokyo. It is the freshest, the time before summer sweat, all the air before mosquitos. It is the month of sakura and new beginnings, cute kids walking towards the beginning of a new school year. Or September when these itty flowers the color of goldenrod, called kinmokusei, make you want to chew the air and grow your own fields of the stuff. It’s elysium. Think of all that oxygen.

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You can see your neighbors, actually know them more. Without a windshield of glass and a personal sound system, there is no limit to how deeply you may view and interact with your world. It’s like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but without chrome. Just the pedals, baby. I practice real face-to-face interaction that much more with our kiddos.

We know so many more neighbors without the bubble of a car. We know the old, the young, the shopkeepers, the new moms, and recognize the dry cleaners on their way home from errands. We know so many of the people who make our part of the city feel smaller. It’s connectivity.

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Beyond the “Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood” fuzzies, you can cry or curse and no one really hears you. Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe keep that drama for the car.

Everywhere is your gym and nowhere is the cost. Simply by roving from point a to point b, you are more in shape. No gimmicks, just movement. You will become adept at biking while holding an umbrella or pedaling through flashes of rain or even sleet. You will be your own version of Iron Man.

In this city, if you’re not on your own wheels, you’re on a train track and that has its own advantages. Train people get so much more done. It’s like having the time-equivalent of a finished basement. It’s not cheating, but you have so much more room to do things. Learn a new language, write fifteen poems, braid lanyard key fobs, again! Sleep. Zone out. Nurse your baby. Whatever. No stress of finding a parking spot or making that light; your conductor has got it under control. Just get off at the right stop.

Plus, did you know that you can drink beer on the train in Japan? Or sake, whatever. You can get smashed if you want. No one is driving drunk. They’re all asleep on the train, leaning on you, and hopefully not getting sick. Every single day and each glittering night can be a party. You’ve got the train.

Okay, that’s it for now. I realize I haven’t come near my 853 Things, but I’ve scratched the surface.

PS My kids are home with me today because I just can’t fathom getting us to their school via bike or puddle-laden walk in the torrential rain that is ALL DAY. For good or bad, there’s that–something called weather. Sometimes, and this may be the one drawback, city people have to sit one out.

How about you? Do you wish for simpler time or schedule without the expense of a car? Wish your city was safe for biking? Or would you continue driving and paying for the parking required in a big city? 

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Catching Up with Spring

I am pleased to report that I have been so taken up with all of our recent blossoms that I have not kept up with this blog. Sakura season in Tokyo is mythic and a simple day or weekend of rain and wind can dash all of those little blossoms and the picnics we anticipate and plan the whole year long. They bloom and I just have to be outside. It is imperative.

I have been caught up with opening buds, with every sign of spring.

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And living. And running towards the playground with my kids, their legs longer than I remembered. My son won’t wear pants. He wants every inch of skin out, even in rain or wind. My daughter is now throwing her own tea parties, setting the table and moving every grain and clump of sugar where it belongs, in the dainty pot for her to move with a dainty spoon.

We are observing and planting and seeing each bud open.

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There is a sadness, too. Cherry blossoms are fleeting. In fact, this is part of their beauty long admired here in the land of the Rising Sun. This is the poetry. Even the young kamikaze were compared to the sakura. For a moment they live and then, the season is gone.

Last year our Grandfather passed from life to death. He made his circle, a beautiful, beautiful life. And that morning, the morning after I sang to him on Skype, just 15 minutes or so before his death, there was a moment just for me. A clasp, a kind of delicate closure. I rode my kids to school and as I stopped our bike to admire the sakura, one perfect flower dropped from its limb and helicoptered down, perfectly into my hand. Not bruised, not missing any petal or stamen. It spun on the wings of the wind and landed in my hand, a hand that wasn’t even prepared to take it.

Here we are, a year later, new flowers. I’m pregnant with another daughter and just this past weekend, on a cloudy Shabbat, we met under the trees and chanted the Mourner’s Kaddish, the Jewish song when grieving a loved one. It is all there, like a sakura. Life full of promise, a life so revered you cup that person in the heart of your heart, where your hand cannot unclench. The uniqueness of this chant is that through our sadness, in the midst of our grief, we praise the Author of Creation. We acknowledge His Holiness and the continuation of His Glorious Kingdom now and forever. Somehow praise rises up.

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I cried and still sang. Tears can fall just as the heart balloons with a new air, a clean hope. Spring is this, isn’t it? The old still falling away while the new marches on, taking with it every nutrient, every bit of oxygen and peace it can.

The next day we were back. All day Sunday for falling petals that rained on our tarps and stuck to our April skin. Soft white, almost pink. Petals in my daughter’s hair, petals on the seats of our bikes. Petals that streamed past our faces and felt glorious. Even though they passed. Petals even lining gutters. Even though it means less puffs, less beauty on the trees, those moments of pink wind and soft petally rain, I herald and take in this spring.

Every day looking up, expecting beauty and yet, shocked by its power, simple and diaphanous. Every day looking through seashell pink petals and the wind that moves. And the next and the next and on and on until pale pink clumps of dried stamens, petals, all crunchy, lay on the street.Flexibility and the trust to keep growing, to keep pedaling through that wind.

This must be spring’s song.