Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Car culture

I have been up north at my parent's place near Thunder Bay for the past few days to attend a wedding and chatted with a few people there that I have not met before.  I ran into a recurring theme:  The dislike of the big city.  People up here who have visited my home in Toronto don't like it and have a really negative impression of the metropolis at the heart of Ontario.  The strange thing is that they all complain about the traffic and virtually nothing else.  They talk about how driving made them crazy and they felt hemmed in by the endless throngs of people.

It is completely true that driving in Toronto is awful but I don't see that as a significant obstacle to living in the city because I don't own a car and rarely drive. For me country living comes with the downside of having to own a car to get anywhere and the attendant maintenance, breakdowns, worries, and cost.  Of course when I do drive a car in the country it is a perfectly fine experience where I get where I am going in a stress-free and effective manner while driving in the city makes me fantasize about chucking grenades out the window and watching everything around me burn.

The difference between me and the country folk I hang out with here is that I make the assumption that a car is something other people own and that it isn't something you use on a regular basis.  Clearly there are some city dwellers who are psychically melded with their vehicles but that sort of thing is far more common when you are way out in the boonies because a car is required.  Up here not having a car is a disaster, a lamentable condition that must indicate some tremendous misfortune or catastrophic decision.  Back in Toronto not having a car is, to many people, a very good thing.

The trick for me is to try to make people understand how fundamentally different life is in Toronto.  It isn't like living in the country but with busier streets - you can have an entirely car free existence and that works out fine.  Our possessions really do define us though and people who have never lived an adult life without a car find it difficult to imagine how that works.  I, on the other hand, find it hard to imagine how people can consistently visit a gas station, spend seventy dollars, and feel like this is all fine and good.

They see the big city as an inconvenient place where driving is a pain in the ass.  I see the big city as an convenient place because you don't have to drive at all.

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