Thursday, January 26, 2012

Life Without a Car

I know I don't get too personal very often on this blog, and for good reason.  My life is often dull.  Additionally, I also don't want to burden you with my personal problems.  But when something is pertinent to the mission of this blog, I guess I should feel obligated to share.  It's also helpful to vent. 

I live without a car, in the most heavily car-dependent part of the world.  That is, the U.S. of A.  Unless you live in a metropolitan area, like Manhattan or San Francisco, getting around via car is pretty much non-negotiable.  I live on Long Island, which has public transit, but it usually isn't very good.  In fact, it can be downright unreliable, which makes it a real bitch if you are using it to get to and from work.  Not only do I not have a car, I also do not have a driver's license.  I have some disabilities, that discouraged me from trying to get a license.  In hindsight, this was a mistake, perhaps a fatal one.  

There are countless ways in which your life is affected without access to a car.  I'll share one story with you.  After a lengthy period of inactivity in terms of looking for work, I decided to get back on my horse and try to make a real effort once again.  A colleague of mine referred me to a state civil exam to be a legal assistant.  This was a good fit for me, as I had a certification in paralegal studies that I am hoping will come of some use.  So I ponied up the application fee, and began to study. 

The day came, and a lot of snow came down.  But not enough snow for the state to cancel their exams  (I don't think any amount of snow would have been enough; in any event, the state will still hold the exams, and hope that enough people will not show up, that way they can pocket the application fees without people taking the exam).  I live with my mom and brother, so those were my only two options to get to the school where the exam was being held (the bus wasn't an option; I would have to walk nearly 2 miles in the snow, and in any event, the stop probably wouldn't have been anywhere near the school).  My mom is getting old and does not feel comfortable driving in adverse conditions.  That left my brother.  Initially, he decided not to take me.  Of course, I felt dejected and withdrawn.  In the end, he relented and took me.  I know that my brother cares for me very much.  But in a lot of ways, I don't think that I'm understood very well by either him or my mother. 

He told me that he took me, partly because he didn't want me to sulk all day.  But it would have went beyond sulking.  I would have felt a profound sense of despair, it was already beginning to sink in when I woke up and saw the weather.  I want to do things and go places, particularly if it will help me from a career perspective.  I also know that a lot of these goals are next to impossible to meet without a car.  I have family, but they can only help so much. 

A few days later, my mom and father spoke.  A few years ago, they split and divorced, so he doesn't live with us anymore.  I don't think too highly of him; he never gave us a reason to be proud of him, and he would never sacrifice anything for me or anyone else.  Anyway, my mom told him that I took a state exam, and he said (according to Mom), "he wouldn't be able to get a job anyway, he doesn't drive".  My mom and brother were fixated on how cruel he was for saying this, and yeah, he does come off as a dick.  But I keep asking myself, "dick or not, is he wrong?"

A lot of times, I try to rationalize my ongoing failure in finding work by saying that the job market sucks.  That the U.S. economy is in freefall and that even white-collar jobs are moving offshore.  All of that is true.  But I also know that a key reason of why I haven't been able to find work, is because I don't drive.  A weak job market may hurt you, but if you do not drive, it is a death sentence.  I am competing with countless graduates who do not have the restrictions that I do.  Many times, I would see a job that would be an ideal fit for me, that would at least be worth applying to.  But it is either out of my way (also, outside the realm of either bus or train service), or it requires a car, since you have to travel to a courthouse or client's homes and so forth).  So I don't apply, and lessen my chances of getting work.  In this economy, again, between those two factors, it means career suicide.  I'm trying again, but I fear that I'm always going to hit this brick wall.  

But it's not just from a career perspective that not having a car hurts me.  It's also a huge social stigma.  I've told people this, in casual conversation, and I get looks; you'd think that I just told them that I have AIDS.  I come off as a third-world man.  Also, if I want to go out at night, to have a drink or mingle, again, next to impossible.  After 7 PM or so, the public transit stops running. 

So, one might say, "why don't you get a car now, if you feel this way?"  I answer this, with the mindset that I have to make decisions based on the life that I have, not on the one that I wish I did have.  I think this is how people get in trouble.  In any case, I don't think I can afford it.  I make $12 an hour at Target, and I work around 4 days a week.  I have some savings, but it's slowly depleting (I don't make enough to save money, and after rent and student loans, there's not much left).  If I buy a car, I have to pay the loan on the car, I have to get insurance, I have to pay for gas (which is inching back up to $4/gal).  I would be broke for sure, and I may not even get a job anyway. 

Anyway, I might write more on this later.  Just had to vent, thanks for reading.

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