Drive Nowhere Day

I hear on the radio that despite high gas prices the roads are going to be clogged and Americans are expected to drive 1% more than last year this holiday weekend, which gets me thinking: do we really need to do this? It’s a holiday. Why does every holiday inevitably involve getting in our cars and going somewhere? Why do we want to spend the holiday stuck in traffic? What if we stayed home for a change? What if we spent some time experimenting with where we can go without the almighty automobile? Perhaps in the spirit of Buy Nothing Day (the Friday after Thanksgiving) we should pick the Saturday before Memorial Day and declare it Drive Nowhere Day. The goal should be not merely to stay home, but to travel without personal automobile.

Honestly, this isn’t such a big deal for New Yorkers like me, many of whom don’t drive ever. But for most of the rest of the country this could be revealing. What might you do for a day without your car?

For example, you might take a walk around your neighborhood. It’s astonishing just how unusual this is in many suburbs today. Whenever I’m visiting my parents’ house in Metairie, I make a point of walking around my old neighborhood. It is not uncommon to walk two or three miles without encountering a single other person walking; and this is in a densely populated suburb, not farm country. I sometimes return from these walks with a list of interesting things I’ve seen within a one-mile radius of their house that my parents have no idea is there and have never seen, because they always drive by it too fast to notice.

Sometimes walking takes me places cars never see at all. If there are railroad tracks or canals passing through your neighborhood, explore them. Get a field guide to local wildflowers from the library, or bring binoculars and look at birds and butterflies. The edges of our population centers can be amazing habitat for plants and animals. In some areas of the country, they’re highways that coyotes, pumas, racoons, bears, and more follow to move around when and where we aren’t looking. You know those stories that show up on the nightly news every few months where a bear or a mountain lion ends up in someone’s garage? These creatures weren’t magically teleported there from a national park. They walked. Why not try to find out how.

If you aren’t a big hiker, and a three mile tour feels challenging, stay even closer to home. Visit your neighbors. Introduce yourself to the new family that moved in half a block down. If we aren’t meeting on the street any more, maybe we need to knock on a few doors.

Here’s another idea: get on a bus, any bus. Take it to the end of the line. See what’s there. I sometimes do this in strange cities, but I also do it in my hometown of New York. I’m still finding unusual neighborhoods here I didn’t know existed. Or just ride the bus until you see something interesting. Then get off. Either way you’ll find things you don’t notice when you have a laser like focus on the road and traffic ahead.

Or get on your bicycle and ride somewhere. If you live in a city like Montreal with good bike paths, this can really get you places. Many U.S. cities have been expanding bike lanes and paths recently. In most of the country, Spring is a wonderful time to ride.

A few lucky people may even have options to ride horses. They’re still a mode of transit in some parts of the country, and horses can take you places four-wheel drive vehicles can only dream of.

Many cities like Boston and New York are far more aquatic than most of their citizens realize. Take out a canoe or a kayak and follow the waterfront. See what your city looks like from water level.

However you do it, take a day off and don’t drive. Don’t fill up the SUV this weekend. Relax. Move a little slowly because you choose to, not because holiday traffic makes you. Explore what’s around you rather than what’s around somewhere else. I expect you’ll be surprised and maybe entranced by what you find.

2 Responses to “Drive Nowhere Day”

  1. Mark Says:

    Hmmm, radical humanism… Interestesting tack to take. I admire your perspective but can’t help wondering what “threat level” NSA’s computers will assign to your posting…

  2. rico Says:

    We were thinking of a national drive nowhere day and found your post while looking to see if there was one, there is a day to buy no gas, which is trying to get the point across that if we go a single day without buying gas then oil companies will lose millions of dollars- however, we just buy our gas th’ day before or after, and it doesn’t really matter– but, if we don’t drive on that day, then we don’t need to buy gas for that day, and we really do make a dent in the amount of $ we give to oil companies. So i propose that drive nowhere day and buy no gas day should be th’ same day.

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