Let the Experiment Begin!!

Dents and dings: I bite my thumb at you!

About a week ago, I gazed upon the supposed reward (that would be my semi-monthly paycheck) for my last 2 years of misery (that would be  graduate school and interning for a pittance) and proceeded to throw a fit for the next 9 hours.  I had subconsciously been dreaming about this day for a long time, and the numbers in my bank account just didn’t live up to my imagination.  Obviously, I had known what the exact number of my annual salary was; I just neglected to take into account things like Social Security and MediCare and 401K – you know, all those things for which other adults had been responsible for years.

Not that I was planning  on living super large or anything, but after 2 years of subsisting on borrowed money (AKA student loans), I’ll admit I wanted to treat myself a little bit.  Nothing big, but, you know, like buy a pair of work shoes without experiencing heart palpitations.  The reality was, after shelling out all the necessary and responsible expenditures like rent and food and loan payments and retirement savings, there was pitifully little left to be psyched about.  Yes, readers, please feel free to call me spoiled.  I know I should be grateful enough that I am able to afford all those aforementioned expenses, especially in today’s economic climate.  And I’d be the first in line to express my thanks to whichever god bestowed upon me a full-time job.  But, alas,  a lot of the last 2 years sucked and, to my childish mind, I needed to justify that misery somehow.

Something had to give in my budget, and it became clear to me what it had to be.  Once the apple of my eye, this thing (that would be my Prius) had become a symbol of an activity I despise (that would be driving) as well as all of its associated annoyances.  Since I stopped making the drive to school mid-May, I had little need to get into my car (I am fortunate enough to be able to walk to work).  Often the only driving I did do during the work week was to move the thing for stupid street cleaning (on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Post-Its and cell phone alerts and Google Calendar littered my life with constant reminders to “MOVE CAR!!!”).  And then I was constantly asking myself – as I’ve had to do for as long as I’ve lived in Santa Monica – if I remembered to hang up my residential parking permit (I don’t really know if this is a ridiculous practice or not, for those who don’t reside in this city, but I often run back to the car, after I’ve already left it and entered my apartment, to make certain I displayed my permit).

Finally, there were: the $400 payment I forked over at the beginning of every month for the privilege of driving in LA, gas money (though this became progressively less), DMV registration fees (which I always failed to pay on time), insurance, random maintenance costs for problems I didn’t care to understand, parking fees, parking permit fees, parking violation fines, moving violation fines (very occasionally), and blah and blah and blah.  All for something I could not stand doing and didn’t need to do on a daily basis anymore.  The more I thought I about it, the more shocking it became that I didn’t try to quit this addiction sooner.

Which reveals an interesting mentality that I believe is uniquely Americans: cars are a huge part of our culture as well as personal identity.  I certainly remember feeling surprised (and a little awkward), during my twenties, when I’d find out that someone I knew didn’t have a car.  And that reaction didn’t even have to do with the status symbol quality automobiles have taken on; it was just that I didn’t think it was possible to live in the States without one.   As a newly immigrated child to the U.S., I was actually quite enamored with cars and always imagined that a Mazda Miata would complete my grown-up life.  I always figured I would be attached to cars for my entire existence and generally deemed them a permanent and necessary item on my budget.

Thus, it was not without a good amount of hesitation that I eventually bit the bullet.  Many concerns flashed through my mind, some legitimate, many absurd: what if there was a giant flood/earthquake/epidemic/War of the Worlds-style alien invasion and I needed to flee ASAP!!!, what if a loved one needed me at 2:05AM, what if my job moved to a non-bus-able/bikable/walkable location, what if I wanted to indulge myself with a shopping spree at Ikea, what if my cat/future dog needed to get to the vet urgently, what if everyone I knew was gathering at a magical beach picnic in Malibu, would my ma think I’ve gone insane (this one turned out to be moot because she already does), etc. etc.

Ultimately, none of them justified the amount of money I was hemorrhaging every month.  For me, my once-beloved Prius had become a luxury item.  And, in truth, there was a solution for almost all of those what-ifs above that didn’t involve a monthly payment.  In no particular order, I could always: call a taxi, rent a car, take a bus, get delivery, or beg for rides.  (And, in the event of an alien invasion, a boat or a drill for digging a hole underground may actually prove more helpful.)

So, 2 days ago, I did it.  Got it appraised at CarMax, signed some papers, and pocketed a small but unexpected amount of positive equity.  I actually rented a car from Enterprise to help me do all this and still get back home.  Already, I’m a fan.  I got to drive a brand-new whip and got picked up and dropped off before and after.

It remains to be seen whether my car-less existence is sustainable.  I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of having to crawl back to the car dealership with my tail tucked between my legs and, consequently, having to take this blog post down so as to not  appear a fool.  For now, it feels AWESOME to lovingly caress my newly rescued Benjamins (OK, just kidding) while NOT worrying about whether it is street cleaning day and NOT paying any attention whatsoever to car/auto insurance/auto accident attorney commercials + gas prices.