Life on Foot
One man's month without a car in Fairfield County
Live in Fairfield County?
Then you know a car helps, big time. However, it’s not a must-have.
That said, though public transport works, it turns out the best vehicular option for the carless is the “11 Train," better known as: your legs.
My story of “life on foot,” getting to “The City That Works” (for my Stamford job), from Norwalk, (where I live as “One Out Of Many”), arose because my license was suspended for 30 days. No—not from a DWI. Krike! EVERYONE leaps to that conclusion. Email me if you want an explanation…it’s all rather blasé.
However…the fact was I had to pay a fine and endure 30 days of “Making It Work.” “Making It Work” meant a quilt of Metro-North transport; CT Transit bus rides; biking (not without hazard); walking; running; and car-pool transport.
Ask yourself—sans whip—how do you get groceries? If you use a Wash & Fold, say, then, how do ya lug that laundry? If the train station’s distant, then what? Social life: dating, the beach, bookstore, a restaurant/café/bar, or even the library? What of procuring a simple bottle of wine? WINE?!?!?!?
Some solutions, briefly…
Your best friend is the 41 bus, running from the postmodern Norwalk hub to the Stamford Train Station (path here; Norwalk local routes here). The Post Road (Route 1) has all ya need, from Whole Foods to The Love Shack (DON’T ask). At $1.50/ride, it’s cheaper than NYC; a day pass costs $3.
Another option is Metro-North, of course, and as many companies now offer commuter shuttles, getting to the workdesk is easier. That said, my experience of carlessness was simultaneously empowering and infantilizing (a bit funny, too), because I usually preferred my feet over the train.
Ahem! First, though, came humiliation: Explaining to a charming young woman that, alas, I can “meet you here…” (within walking distance of home) for an evening out. Then, the postprandial backpedal: No, I had no wheels, just two bicycle tires.
The solution? She was an understanding young woman.
So I realized what I took for granted: a car is a luxury, not a right.
From now on, when I hop out of my Chevy at Fairway, I’ll remember this scenario: on a Sunday morning, a family of four gets into a cab after overloading the trunk with groceries, then they cram in among foodstuffs within the back seat. They paid someone to drive them home, and had paid for a cab to get there, too.
Yeah. That’s what some of us have to do. It’s the crux: the problem of inflexible immobility. Of course, you are immobile, but—everyone makes it work.
Basically, I stocked up on dry goods (an Everest of coffee; pyramids of canned goods; battalions of eggs; milk; and other sundries for at least three weeks). Buying in bulk saves a lot of scrilla, and basically, short weekly buys included what was fresh and green: spinach, fruits, veggies, etc. I jumped off the bus at the Stop & Shop and stuck them into my backpack every Friday, then walked the mile-and-a-half home.
Such functional exercise is invaluable. It defines urban life: New Yorkers, especially, own the city with their feet; we, usually, do not work the ’burbs that way.
For example, one blazing June morning, I’d run out of feta for my omelet. I had to hit the gym that day anyway, so I ran to the shop, bought some Mt. Vikos, and ran back. Exercise complete, three-and-a-half miles, with detours, then ready to tuck into an omelet.
The experience was a test. Since it was a success, I then decided to stretch things.
A week later, I brought my sweats, sneakers, nano and emptied pack, to work. I left my leather brogues under the desk at closing time, and that day, I ran home—7.2 miles. (Note: I run distance regularly, so I wouldn’t recommend this for everyone!) I stretched a sprawl of Route 1 on a hot, sun-soaked day, and it took me just over an hour.
I could have biked, but honestly, I don’t recommend functional cycling for a few reasons. For one, riding in the road, traffic can kill. Two, though cycling’s brisk, if you’re like me, you enjoy music—and you need a helmet. Unfortunately, with “Fancy” and then “Supernaut” cranked at full, one day I didn’t realize that my gears needed more oil than I’d administered, and I skidded out, hitting pavement (my second fall: and this time, without driving gloves, I scraped my palms).
So I reasoned that I’d rather just give myself that extra hour, avoid getting hit by a car, or be my own worst cycling enemy, and enjoy the cardio.
That is the other carless component: time is a completely different experience. On laundry day (Friday morning), I’d compress my clothes into a beach bag and walk to my Wash N Fold. Often, on the way, I did hammer and biceps curls, then changed the grip to work my triceps with the bag (it weighed 20 pounds). A decent workout and medium-length walk: 300 calories burned, easily. I gave myself extra time, and was picked up by a colleague for work.
Once, a gloriously dry beaut of a Saturday morning led me to three hours of laundry retrieval and shopping. I walked a green little circuit in Norwalk: the jeweler (watch repair); the library for audiobooks; then to the laundry—before that, I’d bought a 20-pound barbell while thrifting, which I put in my backpack. Then I carried my laundry home, stopping only along the way to purchase wine locally.
Later that day, I put my evening duds into a messenger bag and walked to the SoNo station, changed in the restroom (ugh), traveled up the Danbury line, and upon my return, walked home, late, after a lovely evening.
By this time, I realized I enjoyed the challenges of not having a car. And also, my priorities had been organized for me. Need clean clothes? Better walk and get them (or literally take matters in hand; more on that, below).
No groceries? The motto is, “the sooner you start, the sooner you eat.”
Ecologically, benefits abound: I began handwashing garments—Dr. Bronner’s—and with an indoor drying rack, the solar power saved energy, money and generated no excess summer heat; I saved on gas (with a lowered carbon footprint); I was walking, running, biking, exercising, no longer stuck carrying a clump of car keys, and became very interested in uncovering new places around me.
And I was able to remain “connected,” while happily staying disconnected, too. Social media will ALWAYS keep us in the loop (I have an Instagram problem, I readily admit), but I realized that my #fomo greatly declined. Life’s unimportant ancilla were swept away: I rediscovered a (deafening) love of music, leisurely watching tennis and the World Cup, reading poetry, writing and, indeed, sitting and thinking—which are two underrated, quiescent, supremely meditative and sustaining activities.
Let’s face it: we love our cars, but traffic—especially our commutes—are a constant source of irritation each and every day. One irrefutable solution, though, is to just get off the road.
Thankfully, someone helped out by taking away my keys.