Afterthoughts: Auto Anxiety

To ride or to drive in Honolulu—that is the question.

illustration: daniel fishel

I’m not usually one to overthink things when it comes to shopping, but, for a few months now, I’ve been dragging my feet on one purchase in particular: a car.

For the past 10 years, as long as I’ve lived on Oahu, I haven’t owned one. Instead, I’ve gotten around town with the combination of a bicycle and, rarely, a scooter. I bike to work, I bike to the grocery store, I bike to the bar. I’m a two-wheel kind of guy.

It might sound weird, especially in Hawaii, which has the 12th highest household car ownership rate in the nation, but not having an automobile has been great.

For starters, the amount of money I save on transportation every month is ridiculous. No loan payments, no parking fees, no cringe-inducing maintenance or repair bills. My scooter’s no-fault insurance is $100 a year.

More important might be the number of things I don’t stress about. At this moment, I have no idea what the current gas prices are, because it doesn’t really matter. I never buy more than $5 worth at a time, every couple of weeks. Getting to work in the morning takes 12 minutes, none of which are spent stuck in traffic. I spend zero time circling for a parking spot. I never worry about breaking down on the side of the road. There’s no taking friends to the airport, or helping them move.

All that, just by doing an activity I enjoy anyway. It feels like I’ve been getting away with something. I suppose I have. Admittedly, I’ve got a few advantages that make it easy to be so cavalier. I live and work in town. I have a job that doesn’t require large equipment or frequent intraisland travel. I don’t have kids—that’s a big one.

Still, I’ve been starting to feel the gig might be up soon.

As a college student, and then as a 20-something writer starting out at the magazine, riding a bike seemed to be a pretty standard move. A lot of my friends were doing the same thing, for similar reasons.

Now, at the age of 33, the magazine’s managing editor, I’m feeling, more and more, that I’m entering stranger territory. The older I get, the more the decision to remain carless gets loaded down with meaning. People think I’m making a Statement.

One perception I encounter is that full-time cyclists must be aimless losers who can’t get it together. I still remember a friend of mine referring to a nearby, shabby convenience store as, “a very adults-on-bicycles kind of place.” It was a perfect description. I laughed. It wasn’t until later that I stopped and thought, Waaiiit a minute. I’m an adult on a bicycle!

Of course, my friend wasn’t talking about me specifically, but I’ve noticed other people get a certain look when my transportation situation comes up in conversation. Let’s just say that not having a car can make it harder to pick up girls, in more ways than just the literal.

If I’m not written off as a slacker, I’m hailed as a bike-obsessed eco-warrior, the type of person who bangs on car hoods in traffic. Which is a persona I’m not quite ready to adopt. I don’t wear spandex, I don’t lobby for more bike lanes, I don’t spend much time thinking about upgrading my ride with the latest Shimano components. My bike isn’t a statement about my carbon footprint, or an accusation about yours.

Squeezed between two stereotypes, suddenly a car is sounding … reasonable. Nothing fancy, just something with which to haul groceries and take friends to the airport. The idea isn’t firing me up, exactly, but it’ll be nice to be normal (or closer to it, at least).

I haven’t started shopping yet. Soon. Maybe one more bike ride before I head to the dealership?