Becoming "That Guy:" Why I Sold 4 Wheels to Ride Around on 2
As I mentioned in my post about how I chose the bike I’m riding and the upgrades I made along the way, I said I’d write about how I sold my car and “that whole thing.” And it was certainly a “whole thing.” But first I gotta go back in time a bit. In high school I had a Gary Fisher Hoo Koo E Koo (that’s just an image of what I had off Pinterest), a heavy ass triple butted steel frame mountain bike that to me, was everything. It was 850 bucks, more money that I could imagine a bike actually costing, and a gift from my dad. I used to take it on a three mile stretch of single track and I considered myself a “mountain biker.” I’d also often go to bike shops and just look at the bikes (something I still do to this day…it’s like going to an art show for me). On one of those visits I was talking to this pre-hipster (before hipsters were a thing) bearded hippy guy
who was just raving about the bike he had. “I mean, I sold my car to get this bike,” he said. Back then, I still hid my emotions a lot so I probably just said “Oh wow man, that’s cool!” But in my head I can still remember thinking, “That’s crazy.” So, you know, I wanna be transparent about that.
I LOVE driving. I’m not a car geek…when a Lamborghini drives by I don’t look twice and I certainly don’t take pictures of it. I don’t have a dream car. Though my dad did have a grey Series 2 1981 Mazda RX-7 that I think is one of the sleekest and most timeless cars from the early 80’s. And I will say it has certainly left an affinity for Mazda in my heart, which means I’ll be a life long Mazda customer.
When it comes to driving, I love probably the same thing most people love: the physics involved…suspension and acceleration around tight turns, re-enacting the drive by scene from Friday
and then fleeing from the cops…the (alleged) convenience. However, I live in the Washington DC area. For those who don’t live in DC, everything I just described about my love for driving means fuck-all when you live in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia around the Beltway. DC has the worst traffic in the United States.
As infinitely more condos go up there’s more cars. It’s fucking impossible to find parking. There are certain main roads that you pretty much have to avoid between the hours of 6:30 am and 8:30 pm. Otherwise…you are trapped (like a rat in a cage?).
In addition to the absurd amount of traffic, we have a completely non-sensical and inefficient traffic light grid. The feeling of helplessness is absolutely pythonic when you’ve waited in your wheeled prison for a light to turn green, only to move one block and have the next light turn red. Why? Why do they do this? It’s exasperating to feel so helpless and trapped and duped.
Beyond that, there’s the condition of the roads. Washington DC is one of the wealthiest ares of the country and the roads are like that of a “shit-hole country.” That’s just a matter of fact. Because of the ice and snow we get in the winter, trucks come by and douse the roads with salts and chemicals and sand to make driving safer. Consequently though, all that shit destroys the roads, as do the snowplows that come through. In the spring, you’re pretty much driving through a minefield of scourged concrete, trying to avoid the crater-sized pot holes that have opened. The last car I owned came with low profile tires, and after a particularly brutal winter, I had gotten three flats in 4 months. And you know you can never replace just one tire….you gotta do two at a time. So 1800 bucks just on tires in that short time….all because the taxes I pay don’t do anything for maintaining the roads as much as they need to be maintained.
This feeling of helplessness continued to mount…a struggle against an invisible enemy hellbent on making my life miserable. There was an anxiety…a feeling of edginess that burned in my stomach and filled my heart with a hatred so potent that everyone around me was my enemy. The things that came out of my mouth about complete strangers are appalling. I’d sit in my car blasting Rage Against Machine and screaming at the top of my lungs, sometimes punching the steering wheel but usually the roof. Most of the time I wasn’t even screaming any sentences…just yelling “FUUUUUUCK” at the top my lungs, holding back tears.
Other times I’d be having existential conversations with myself….”HUMAN BEINGS AREN’T MEANT TO BE LOCKED UP IN METAL BOXES WHILE THEY DIE ON THE FUCKING HIGHWAYYYY!!!!!! WHY GOD, WHYYYYYYYY?!?!?!”
I’d have fantasies of driving down to Baltimore harbor, sneaking onto some ship and jumping overboard whenever we were close enough to some deserted islands. I did find solace in classical music…I will say that. And often that solace was shattered by a collision with a crater in the road. I’ve been punched in the face before. Twice in fact…sucker punches both times. I think hitting a pot hole is worse. Even when you’re sucker punched, there’s usually at least some kind of tension in that moment…you have an elevated sense of awareness and some adrenaline.
But a pot hole….a pot hole comes out of nowhere and takes whatever you were thinking about, fist-fucks it right in the face, and then discards the shattered remains, leaving you shocked, furious, and without dignity.
It was around March of 2016 that I was getting to the point where I was considering more and more that I might sell the car and just get a bike. I knew I wanted to be riding more and more anyway…the mountain bike just wasn’t cutting it. I live near some pretty great trails like Schaeffer Farms, Fountainhead , and even the short but fun Cabin John Trail, which was right by my house, but it was not only a hassle to drive out to those places, but it also meant I had to drive. How can you really enjoy something when it’s sandwiched between periods of complete misery? With a road bike…you just step out and go. And for anyone reading this that thinks a bike is a bike…riding a mountain bike on concrete is like putting on a pair of cleats to go jogging, except the cleats weigh 37 pounds. Not to mention, it was frustrating to be riding…pedaling my ass off, and have people on road bikes fly by me when they weren't pedaling half as hard as I was.
Then one day it happened…I hit a pot hole and had a meltdown…a rocket propelled assault of foul language and a promise of “SELLING THE MOTHERFUCKING CAR FUUUUUUCK.”
And that was that. Three weeks later I sold it to CarMax for six thousand dollars. I probably could have held out a bit longer and gotten more (despite the damage to the right side) but I’d reached that point. In my own personal revolution and boycott against everything that was bringing me so much misery, in this loser’s game against the elements, broken algorithms for controlling the flow of traffic, and the never ending quest to find decent parking, I was done. And there was also that feeling of “You know, fuck it….if the roads aren't going to be maintained…I’m not going to drive on them anymore. I quit.”
I got the bike about three weeks later (it’s not like a 62 cm bike is readily stocked in most shops for people that are 6’6”), and started clearing a 100 miles a week. In three weeks, 20 lbs just evaporated from me.
It was remarkable. And I swear I’m not exaggerating…90% of the stress in my life just disappeared. The time it took me to get to work was halved. I would literally get to work twice as fast, have energy the whole day, and then go riding afterwards. And soon the legs…my longer slender beauties evolved into long, slender toned beauties. Little lines appeared just inside my hip bones (which were also now visible). Clothes I couldn’t fit into before suddenly were back in the rotation and looked better than they ever had before. It was just an overall transformation for the better, both mentally and physically. And financially there was a huge benefit. The two most obvious differences were no more car insurance and no more spending money on gas. Gas usually came to about 50 dollars a week. Car insurance was pretty low, maybe another 100 a month I think. And let’s just say another 50 of car maintenance a month between oil changes and miscellaneous stuff. That was about 1800 bucks a year I was saving. That’s excluding any money I paid for parking or red light cameras.
The unexpected difference was also at the supermarket. When I had the car, I’d just load up on food because I could throw it in the hatchback and go home. Now I was just putting the essentials that would fit into my backpack. I was spending about 30 bucks less each week at the supermarket as a result of this.
For me, giving up the car was quite easy. In fact, my friend Kristina had come with me to Carmax when I sold it, and as I was filling out the paperwork for the sale, she kept saying things like “I can’t believe your doing this. I can’t believe you’re so calm about this. I can’t believe you’re not hesitating at all.”
There’s a number of things that made the decision much easier for me that it would have been for other people. First and foremost, I think not having kids is the biggest one. I don’t have the sense of urgency where if something happened to my kid, I need to have a car for the inevitable emergency room visit. I also happen to be about 20 minutes walk away from a metro, and by bike, 5 minutes away from home depot and two different supermarkets (which pretty much covers any immediate needs I might have). I’m also a member of Amazon Prime. And lastly, the availability of Lyft (Uber can go fuck itself) is extremely convenient for when I have to show up to a place where sweat and spandex are frowned upon (I know…ridiculous).
I’m not writing here to tell people what to do. I’m too self centered for that; I’m here to write about what I did and why. If that helps you somehow, the things I wrote about are some of the things you might expect.