Nothing like not having wheels to make you realize how much you need them.
When the world's (and, therefore, my) financial situation sank lower than the stub of a black candle at a wake for a snake (an image I freely admit to stealing from author Tom Robbins, and whom better to steal from?) I put the best face on it I could.
"We'll just squeak by if we cut a lot of corners," I told my wife, "but one major car repair or medical bill and we're in trouble."
First came the medical bills. Co-pays add up and a small percentage of a large number is a large number.
But that was okay and we even found a few bucks to take in a movie when the rest of my "as long as" list surfaced.
As we waited for a wrecker to pick us up, I reflected that it was going to be a long, boring year. The repairs at first added up to $30 to replace a radiator fitting and then escalated to more than $1,000 for a blown head gasket (whatever that is), cracked cylinder heads and a blocked radiator.
Worse, almost, than the money was the time element. My van chose, of course, to blow up (almost but not quite literally) right before New Year's Eve, which has left me, as of this writing, without a vehicle for five days.
Residents of civilized countries with mass transit systems don't have to worry about such things. I have relatives in the Netherlands who have never owned a car. Florida, however, is designed not only to not accommodate people without cars, it is designed to punish them.
My theory is that the state's building codes in the 1940s, '50s and '60s prohibited really tall buildings because of their vulnerability to hurricanes. So the basic construction philosophy was to build out rather than up. Instead of walking two blocks to a 15-story store, you just drove 3 miles to a nice flat shopping center. As building materials improved, buildings got higher but they remained farther apart.
Add to that a problem that makes it difficult (temporarily, I hope) to walk long distances and I suddenly began feeling as if I lived in a cave.
It's only a few blocks from my house to downtown Dade City, and I can negotiate that. That gives me access to a coffee shop, a couple of restaurants that serve food I can't eat, a bank and a library.
The pharmacy that is accepted by my insurance company (you know, those people who write you every couple of years to tell you how much more they are going to charge you for how much less coverage) is out of reach, and the nearest movie theater is 9 miles away.
There is a bus service which runs, usually, about once an hour, but which requires exact change and stops running before 8 p.m.
There is no bus service to the Lakeland mall or to the Shops at Wiregrass mall, or, as far as I can see, to west Pasco or Wesley Chapel. If such a ride does exist, it is a fairly well-kept secret.
The last two times I have called taxis I have waited nearly two hours before finally giving up and walking or calling a friend.
During this most recent breakdown, a AAA dispatcher said she called all of the cab companies listed in Dade City. One, she said, told her they didn't work on Sundays. The others, she said, just picked up the phone and hung up. She was trying Zephyrhills when my wife, who sometimes deals professionally with cab companies, said a cab from there to where we were broken down would cost about $130.
Again I was gratified at having kind neighbors.
All of that makes me wonder what it is like for financially disadvantaged people who don't have, and probably will never have, cars. What is it like for old people (okay, other old people) whose walking distances are limited?
All these conditions for me are, I hope, temporary. If they weren't, I can only imagine the desperation I would feel. This county — this state — really needs mass transportation.
On a light note, however, I did manage to break down in a van loaded with anti-Bush, antiwar, pro-gay rights, pro-Obama, and Grateful Dead bumper stickers — right in the entrance of a subdivision that proudly announces it is "deed restricted."
Several residents passed by, most of them in cars bearing McCain-Palin stickers. All of them, graciously, offered assistance.
Maybe we can all really work together.
Yes, we can.