My Parents take a Car-Free Vacation

Amtrak

Amtrak

My parents live in a small town in Wisconsin with just one stop light. In the heart of town, the roads are wide, and traffic is light. When they first visited me here a few years ago, Los Angeles traffic was a shock to them. How could traffic be at a standstill when our freeways have so many lanes? How could rush hour start at 2pm on Friday? Why do our Starbucks have drive-throughs? While here, my parents braved the 405 on a Friday. They wrestled with the 10/110 interchange. They learned the subtle art of repressing road rage. I think they were relieved to get home to their wide roads with ample parking when the visit was all over.

Last week, my parents came for another visit — their first since I’ve gone car-free. I sat down with pen and paper to figure out how we’d get around:

Plan #1: Rent a car for the week. At first, this seemed like a great option. We could drive from place to place and see the city, unencumbered. Then I looked at the rental rates for a person without any car insurance. Pricey.

Plan #2: Rent the car just for a few days, so we could see some sights. This turned out to be not much better than renting a car for the full week, though. Local car rental shops often close at 6pm and on weekends, so we’d have to do a longer-term rental whether we wanted to or not.

Plan #3: Use car-sharing (Zipcar) to get my parents and their luggage to and from the train station (my dad doesn’t fly), and give my folks an otherwise car-free vacation. This is what we ended up doing.

So, did we stay in my apartment watching old movies the whole week? Not at all! We got a roll of quarters from the bank and took the bus. We went to the Getty, the beaches, and a few museums. Once my parents got the hang of the fare boxes and the system, they rode quite comfortably — so comfortably that, when the time came to use the car-sharing service for the trip back, my mom kept proposing a bus trip instead. “Isn’t there a bus that can take us? That would be an easier way.” When, on the ride to the train station (in the Zipcar), we got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I asked my dad how this trip (without a car) compared to previous trips, when I’d owned a car. “Oh, this was much better, I think,” he said. Then, after a pause, he said, “I’ve been looking, and all these cars have just one person inside. That’s the problem.”

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