Adventures in Car-lite from a Car Guy
by Matt Baker
I love cars. I once stayed up into the wee hours of the morning to watch the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Regardless of which dictator Berni was schmoozing, I haven’t missed a Grand Prix in 5 years. I attended the Pike’s Peak Hill Climb and stayed up all night to be first in line to watch from Devil’s Back Bone. I’ve completed my own motor swap using a rare Japanese import and I’ve completed one of the toughest Colorado high-clearance, 4-wheel drive trails in a stock Grand Cherokee, just to show it could be done. Okay, street cred established.
Project Shift is about shifting mindsets and I had a rude awakening a while back in grad school when I lost a car. Given the minimum grad stipend, I figured that I could hack alternative transit for a while. This was a temporary plan until I could save some cash and find a suitable replacement. I chose to commute to the office by bike and bus, depending on weather. At first, it seemed inconvenient just by the amount of planning it involved.
Within the week, however, my professor commented on my improved attention, responsiveness to emails and general happiness. I had not noticed this change myself. Others had. While on the bus, I was answering email and on the bike I was burning off the morning dreariness and showing up ready to go. As for my happiness? The list of factors is too long but two points stood out. Firstly, I was more engaged with the world around me. I was able to see more of it: wild raspberry bushes on a back trail, weekly changes in wildflowers, and I even started to be able to identify some of the birds and trees. Secondly, biking felt more like racing than commuting. To be in a car world on a bike is far more visceral than being encapsulated in a five-star crash-rated cocoon of safety.
I have since realized that my version of being a Car Guy means I love driving cars and racing cars. It does not mean sitting bumper to bumper with minivans and non-Car People. I did not miss DMV hazing, creepy car salesmen, or government-mandated insurance payments to companies who spend all that money on bad caveman ads and still charge a deductible after a crash. From the outside looking in, I felt as if I had escaped a brainwashed cult who claimed the car was a source of eternal “freedom” when it seems to embody everything but.
I’ve heard it said that private cars will go the way of the horse; vehicle ownership will be emotional and not practical. I hope that turns out to be true. One day the idea of driving stoplight to stoplight will look as silly as dressage. Motor sports won’t die off either but Formula 1 might be like the Kentucky Derby and drag racing could become as relevant as jousting.
As for the Car Guy in me, I have a new project in mind. A weekend warrior that doesn’t need to be a reliable daily driver. It will be built for the love of driving and not for a love of commuting.