Carless in Los Angeles, The Wong Sans Wheels Chronicles #11: Face it. You’re home.

July 21st, 2009 → Leave a comment

I’m back in Los Angeles, which means I must face my problems.

I must deal with getting around this car-dependent city without a car.

In a few weeks, on August 14, I hit my one year mark of being a carless person in Los Angeles. That’s right. A year ago, I was on the side of the road watching my pink biodiesel car disintegrate into 50 foot flames. Why it caught on fire, I’ll never know. Traumatized by car ownership, I decided in that moment to see if it was possible to have a fulfilling life in Los Angeles without a car.

Yes, I can afford to buy a car. It’s not an issue of money. And I have been tempted by some of the deals to lease a car. But I think of slow money drain of cars… insurance, gas, MAINTENENCE, the carbon footprint, the exhaust from a tailpipe on a hot summer day… bleh. I think of the stress of tickets, of wondering if my car will be broken into, of the nicks and dents that accumulate over time, of will I get this car off the freeway before it catches on fire…. and I much prefer thinking about the money set aside for a new car growing interest in my savings account.

Admittedly, not having a car lit a fire under my ass to tour more and leave for residencies (like the recent three week stint in Florida). Because when I wasn’t in LA– I didn’t have to deal with the carless in LA thing. But now I’m home for almost three months. And I need to face the music. The bus music that is.

So far I’ve gotten around by bike, foot, bus, taxi, renting, borrowing, and catching rides. The biggest struggles are the mental hurdles of the Valley. Burbank and Glendale send shivers down my spine. Pomona? FORGET IT!

But I vowed to maintain a good quality of life and find ways to get around despite not owning a two ton car. I did an 8-week project in the Valley and got up and back every week without owning a car. I’ve also gotten myself to and from the airport, dated (yes, this cat lady gets hers), and moved across town without actually owning a vehicle.

I never even got to chronicle how freaking hard it was to move to Silverlake without a car. Just doing things like getting boxes to move was such an episode. I moved boxes over by hitching rides across town and borrowing my cousin’s car. This difficulty was compounded by the fact that I had to sort through 8+ years of stuff in the move which wasn’t very well organized to begin with. You know all those boxes you shove away deep in your closet to deal with “one day”? Yep, the month of June was that “one day.” Moving became a full-time job last month. Here in Silverlake, I’m still surrounded by boxes. But for the most part, I’m home.

I’m still trying to decide if I’m better as a carless person in Silverlake than in West LA.

The cons of being carless in Silverlake vs carless in West LA.
1. My bank is US Bank and there isn’t one for MILES. In West LA it was a 15 minute walk. I am holding on to checks now and have no idea when I can deposit them. I’m trying to look at what trips I have scheduled this week in other neighborhoods, and my bank is not near any of those locales either. The post office is far too. Does Silverlake even have a post office? Because I’ve had to walk to Echo Park or Los Feliz. And it’s such an epic walk. And lots of whistles from truck drivers (and other cars) the whole way.

2. It’s SO FREAKING HOT here in the summer. Like really really disgustingly hot. No West LA breeze out here. When I got back from my walk today there was steam coming out from my shorts.

3. The nearest grocery stores are carnicerias, and most conveniently, the 7-11. Not that I don’t mind carnicerias (In my West LA carlessness I’d buy fresh produce off of produce trucks) but a few weeks ago when I was buying ingredients for lumpia, some of the produce was actually rotten on the shelves! Major grocery chains are over one mile away. I guess I can use delivery in a pinch or catch rides.

4. I still don’t know how I feel about having so many neighbors who were born into this echelon of cool. If there are two American Apparels in walking distance of your home, what does this say? I walked into one today. Rags with zippers. Clothes for women without nipples. Are you working out or doing a kiddy porn? I don’t get American Apparel. It’s shit I could sew with my beginning sewing skills. And the biggest crime of all– they are selling gold pleather scrunchies for $6! Who is falling for this? My neighbors are. Apparently.

5. Still getting used to the available bus lines. There is a bus that goes to my place in West LA (the 704/ 4) which is going to be the major bus line I’ll use. I miss lines like the Santa Monica 10 which went straight from West LA on the freeway to downtown! So unbelievably convenient. And fast!

6. A little too hilly for my Toys R Us bike. I’m going to need to get a better bike to ride around here.

7. No Zipcar (Zipcrap?) carshare out here. So if I need a last minute car, I need to figure out someone to borrow one from, or rent one for the day. I am closer to the $6.99 rent-a-car now.

Pros of Carlessness in Silverlake vs Carlessness in West LA.
1. It is nice though strange to live in a walking neighborhood with people my age. It’s pathetic folks, but Silverlake and Echo Park is the closest that LA will get to having a taste of Brooklyn.

2. Because there are people here and so much walking culture, I can actually start taking advantage of Happy Hour deals. And there are quite a few…

3. The streets are my gymnasium. The hills and extra walking is great for giving me hipster bony legs so that I too can wear $40 American Apparel leggings with pre-cut holes in them (wtf?!).

4. New stuff to look at and explore. I’ve definitely spent time in Silverlake before but living here is a whole new angle at LA living. I feel like I’m starting all over in Hollywood again, but in a good fresh start way. I never realized it until now, but it does matter where you live. All my friends are much more receptive to hanging out now that I live in the same neighborhood. And my manager was like, “Good! Now you can be closer to your audience.” So weird.

One thing that I’m still trying to get over is the cabin fever of carlessness. I always worked at home, but even if I used the car less than once every few days, at least I left the house. I haven’t left the house as much since going carless. It’s also a testament to the economy. Auditions and productions have slowed WAY down for everyone. And I hate to admit it, but a lot of venues that have presented me in the past are at risk of closing down because of budget cuts, which has reduced how much I tour. So now I’m left at home trying to keep busy and get things going here… which means… trying to also figure out how to get around.

The most overwhelming part of being carless is the mental hurdle. Oh my god! It’s impossible to get around! You miss out on so much! It’s such a pain to have no car. But it can be done. There are plenty people in this town who don’t have cars and thrive. And I want to be one of them.

I guess while I have had to tighten up in the recession, not having a car has given me a lot of financial breathing space. I filled out a survey today about artists in the recession and while I’ve lost gigs, I haven’t fallen into debt or lost my home. If I still had that money suck vegetable oil car, it might be a different story.

I opened a “vacation fund” at B of A today. I used the money from the yard sale and will keep purging and put the money in there. They have a deal where you open a checking acct and make a few transactions and they give you $75. Then I’m thinking of moving that money into a Capital One Savings acct where I can get a slightly higher interest rate and get airline miles for the money that’s there each month. Then I will move it into a CD. Then one day, I’ll go on vacation! Yay!

Category: The Wong Sans Wheels Chronicles

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