I say it every year, but this year I mean it: It’s too hot to live. Seriously, screw Philadelphia. I’m getting out of this insufferable furnace of a city and joining the closest nudist beach colony. Or maybe I’m going to the mall, to sleep at the Sharper Image.
Whatever the breezy destination, all that’s on my mind during the summer is escape. Of course, escape has gotten complicated. I am now two years into my carless existence, and every summer, I grapple once more with being stuck inside this hotbox metropolis. Unless I can get a ride, the Shore might as well be Florida. The Mega- and Bolt Busses are fine, but my urge to flee the city can’t be satisfied by a quick jaunt to equally godforsaken D.C. or New York.
I want seclusion. Cool air. Quiet, with maybe a chapter or two of Mindy Kaling’s new audiobook. The rare gift of solitude in scenic motion.
I want a goddamned car.
Before I came to Philly, everyone said the same thing: “You won’t want a car. You don’t need it. Parking’s a pain, and so is insurance. You can walk everywhere.”
Still, I was nervous about giving up my darling little Toyota Corolla when I got here. And not just because of standard, Zip Car-solveable concerns like getting an IKEA haul back to my house, or transporting heavy grocery bags home after buying a lot of ice cream and canned soup. (What?)
For years, driving has been something of a therapeutic indulgence. When I was a kid, my parents and I would go for drives on Sunday nights — winding through the local forest preserve, or taking laps up and down the lakeside road where the fancy, gawk-able houses were. We never had anything to do, of course, it was simply an exercise to stave off the anxious boredom that comes with Sunday nights. The tradition fizzled as I got older, as gas prices climbed, and we realized how impractical a habit it was.
But today, the association remains: To be in a car is to put off life for a little while. To be off the grid. When I lived in North Carolina, and was therefore driving between 12 and 15 minutes to buy so much as a lightbulb, I got my driving fix plenty. I had a long-ish commute, but it never felt like an inconvenience; rather, it was a peaceful pause during the day. I never texted or talked on the phone while driving, not because of safety concerns, but because I just wanted to put everything on hold for a little longer before pulling into a parking spot.
Of course, new city, new chapter. This is Center City Philadelphia in 2013, where the pedestrian reigns supreme, and the biker fights for her right to an unobscured lane. Where (at least for the next 30 days, anyway) we don’t tolerate road rage. Where we share bikes. Where we say things like, “I don’t miss having a car at all!” whilst twirling on carbon tip-toes. My colleague Christine Speer wrote a column last year wondering if cars in Philly aren’t on their way out completely. And both out of necessity and in that spirit, I’ve adjusted: I feed SEPTA my tokens. I dutifully pay Philly Car Share’s — excuse me, Enterprise’s — exorbitant late fees. I even own a bike whose tires I’ll soon learn to fill with air.
But you can’t get very far on any of these, and while I relish walking or biking around the city on sunny fall days or even drizzly spring ones, this time of year makes me nostalgic for the possibilities that car ownership allowed. (More generally, it also just makes me cranky and belligerent.) My next car is a ways off, I’m sure, so for the time being, I’ll just have to poach in the mid-Atlantic summer swamp with everyone else. That said, if you’re heading to the Shore tomorrow afternoon with the rest of the weekend exodus, and see a tuckered-out blonde hitch-hiking on the Ben Franklin Bridge with a red rolling suitcase, slow down; she desperately needs a ride.