Why I live where I live

Mar 20, 2014 - 10:53 am

By Charles Meyer

Three years ago I moved from my hometown of Kansas City to Austin.  When I’d visited, it struck me as the city of "Yeah, OK!”

Growing up in the suburbs, I always felt forty-five minutes from anywhere. For my new life in Austin, I wanted to try a new way of living – to walk, bike, or take transit everywhere I went. I knew I could do it; I just had to make sure I would. After using my car for initial trips to Target, I parked it on the street. Eight months later it was still there, annoying the neighbors. I hadn't used it and hadn't wanted to, so I called KUT and donated it.

My day-to-day experience has become localized; I’ve figured out how to live inside the range of bicycling, Car2Go, and transit. My Austin is functionally bound by Loop 360, 183, and 71 – and that’s fine.  But living car-free does take a little more thought.

Every morning I run through a quick list of preparations, especially when I’m bicycling. How cold or hot is it? What do I need to wear for the ride and what clothes do I need to pack for work? Will I go anywhere after work? Trying to predict what I’ll need throughout the day, and having everything with me at all times, is probably the most cumbersome day-to-day aspect of not having a car.

To make living car-free workable I’ve chosen to live in Clarksville, only about a 15-minute bike ride from work on South Congress. Luckily, these walkable neighborhoods also offer endless nearby places to eat.  Walking and biking daily, I know I’ll work off all the pastries I can handle.  Going straight out to dinner after work does yield awkward fashion moments – like walking through the restaurant carrying a big bag and a helmet, with a forgotten rolled-up right pant leg.

One thing I notice is how differently people communicate, when walking vs. driving. When two people on foot or bike (nearly) collide, they say “Excuse me!” or “Whoa! Sorry!”  For drivers, there’s only the vocabulary choice of a quick, short, or (irate) long honk. No driver ever says “Excuse me, I’m sorry.” As a cyclist, I try to catch the eye of drivers, always alert to the possibility that I might get run over – whether the driver was wrong or I was.

Living car-free in Austin has been a very liberating experience, so far. I’ve become healthier and fit, without gym fees. In some ways it’s saved time and stress, but in other ways it’s added them. When I got rid of my car I wasn’t sure what would come of it, or how long it would last – but so far the advantages have outweighed the challenges.

I was attracted to the Austin of breakfast tacos, homeless celebrities, “don’t move here” t-shirts, running trails, quote-a-long movies, parks and festivals, and mustaches.  Now that I’m an Austinite, I’m proud I looked at the unusual idea of living car-free and added to the local weirdness by saying, "Yeah! OK!"