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Val with the Gemini Giant Muffler man's helmet at the Launching Pad Drive In in Wilmington, Illinois on Route 66.

Living without a car.

I’ve been living without a car for years now.

Really, I don’t need a car living in Chicago. During the day I can get anywhere by public transportation. By night, Uber and Lyft are an app swipe away. And, yeah, OK, I’ve even been known to take a bus home at 3am to save a few as well.

Sure, there are times when having a car would make life more convenient. It takes me at least two hours and ten extra dollars to get to anyone in my family by taking two trains (and even then I either have to walk or be picked up from the station). I can only grocery shop for one or two meals at a time. If a friend in the suburbs is having a party I either have to find someone else who is driving to take me or decline the invite. And forget about any notion of buying essentials (or Swedish meatballs) at IKEA.

Daily, though, I don’t miss having a car in Chicago. I don’t have to deal with searching for parking on busy streets. I don’t have to worry about tow zones or street cleaning schedules or Cubs game restrictions. I don’t have to pay extra for a parking garage or insurance or tolls or meters. And I don’t have to shovel out my vehicle from a mound of snow when a snowpocalypse hits.


Val with the Gemini Giant Muffler man without his helmet on at the Launching Pad Drive In in Wilmington, Illinois on Route 66.

I used to have a car.

It was a 2006 Saturn Ion named Black Pickle (my friend had a green version of the same car named Pickle so she gave its ebony counterpart the moniker). Having a car in Chicago definitely made life more convenient at times. I could get to my family and friends in half the time and on my own schedule. I could buy an entire Thanksgiving dinner worth of groceries in one go. I could go to IKEA.

I had a parking spot for my car, back behind my apartment. It made it easier on me to not have to search for a spot or get the necessary permit to park on my block during baseball season. I still had to dig it out every winter though.

But, really, outside of those specific times, I never drove. Because, even with a car, I hated driving in the city. It was congested, crowded, and I didn’t trust other drivers or myself. So I would still take a bus or an “L” or a taxi or walk anywhere within the city limits.

The Gemini Giant Muffler man without his helmet on at the Launching Pad Drive In in Wilmington, Illinois on Route 66.

I kept my car when I left to travel the world and only ended up selling it when I returned home (the first time).

It no longer made sense to hold onto it if I was going to be traveling abroad again. It was costing too much in maintenance after long stretches of inactivity. It got towed, which gave me a slight panic attack (luckily it was just towed to a different block to make way for construction and not to a pricy lot). And I knew that I rarely used it, even when I had easy access to it at home.

So I took my Saturn to Carmax, and let it go.

The Gemini Giant Muffler man without his helmet on at the Launching Pad Drive In in Wilmington, Illinois on Route 66.

Most days, I don’t miss having a car, I don’t need a car.

Sure, those times when I need to get out to see my family I bitch and moan about the long commute. But, at least I don’t have to worry about driving in snow for Christmas. And sure it might be nice to not have to base my grocery shopping on what I can carry in a backpack. And yeah it might be nice to go to IKEA whenever I wanted.

But, for the most part, living without a car is great.

The Gemini Giant Muffler man without his helmet on at the Launching Pad Drive In in Wilmington, Illinois on Route 66.

There’s really only one time in life when I really miss having a car: when I get that itch to hit the road.

I used to love road tripping, taking off on a grand car trip and hunting down the weirdest roadside attractions in America. Let’s just say I love the world’s largest anything: catsup bottle, Abraham Lincoln, ball of twine. I love that shit.


I’ve taken road trips around Illinois, to North Carolina and Virginia, to Mount Rushmore, to Alaska. I’ve driven through over twenty states, visited over 200 roadside attractions, put tens of thousands of miles on that car.

But, now, without a car, I no longer have that freedom.

The Gemini Giant Muffler man without his helmet on at the Launching Pad Drive In in Wilmington, Illinois on Route 66.

If I want to take a road trip I have to rent (or be gifted) a car (I took road trips to Ohio for a wedding and on the Great River Road that way). Or I have to find someone else to drive.

I’m taking a road trip with a friend later this summer and I’m more than excited to get to drive somewhere new again. We’re taking nine days to drive through Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Our ultimate destination is to sleep in the Big Idaho Potato Hotel AirBNB. Yes, I’m sleeping in a potato.

And a month or so ago I convinced my sister to drive on a mini Illinois Route 66 road trip. We drove to Wilmington to see the Gemini Giant Muffler Man (a famous Route 66 roadside attraction) who was getting revamped and, therefore, had his helmet removed for the first time in over 50 years.

Trust me, it was a big deal.

Val with the Gemini Giant Muffler man's helmet at the Launching Pad Drive In in Wilmington, Illinois on Route 66.

On our way back we stopped at Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket, another must-stop on the Mother Road, and ate fried chicken and fried blueberry pie and fries.

Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket a Route 66 restaurant in Illinois.

Famous Fried Chicken in a Basket - half fried chicken, French fries, homemade cole slaw and freshly baked biscuits at Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket restaurant on Route 66 in Illinois.

Fried Blueberry Pie at Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket restaurant on Route 66 in Illinois.

Someday I hope to take a longer road trip and drive the entire length of Route 66, stopping at every quintessential diner, every strange roadside attraction, and every iconic motel along the way.

Of course, I’d need my own car for that. And I’m not quite ready to live with having one again.

 

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1 Comment
  • Ali
    July 2, 2019 at 8:52 am

    I haven’t had a car in 8 years, and like you, I almost never miss it. We have backpacks we pretty much only use for grocery shopping, so that helps us be able to buy more stuff at once. The Ikea thing is tough, but we’ve decided having the bigger items (anything too big to lug onto public transport) delivered is still cheaper than owning a car, so we just deal with it. Do you have something like ZipCar in Chicago that you could use on rare occasions when it would be really helpful to have a car? I don’t have a German license, so I can’t even do that here, but there are a couple of similar companies.

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