Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Living Without a Car in Berkeley – RhondaJo Boomington

Since moving to the Bay Area, for the first time in my life, I am living car-free. I love riding BART though I don’t particularly love AC transit and MUNI. I feel deeply grateful to live in an area that makes car free living relatively painless much of the time.

Car free (from vancitybuzz.com)

And bless the hearts of my friends, with cars, who help out occasionally with some of the heavy things I can’t negotiate without a vehicle.

In Berkeley, however, I have become accustomed to a certain degree of discrimination when people learn that I don’t have a car. Often there’s a certain look that comes across their face. A judgment.

And, incredibly, it’s often the most vocal environmentalists who seem to have this reaction.

Last year, I was at a well attended meeting at a church that I had attended regularly.  A very middle class, “oh so environmentally friendly,” progressive church who “welcomes diversity.”  A drenching rainstorm began.

I had injured my ankle that afternoon, and for the first time ever,  I asked if there was anyone who may be able to give me a ride home. I lived about a mile away.

There was absolute dead silence.

I was very wet by the time I limped home in the torrential rain.

Drenching wet (from cbsnews.com)

Maybe their disdain was simply because of my Southern accent, the fact that I’m not slim, not hip and am happily frumpy?

But now, I have witnessed similar reactions in various places – to others who live a car free life.

And, right before it went out of business , I was in the beloved Elephant Pharmacy, and my worst fears were confirmed.

While buying my monthly AC transit pass, the guy working behind the counter asked if I had a car. I said “no.” He went on a pained, quiet tirade about the discrimination he experienced in Berkeley because he didn’t own a car. And the most blatant slights seemed to be from the most fervent environmentalists.

Hmm. And – he had no accent, was quite young and slim and hip and styled perfectly for Berkeley.

I wonder why (from info.gtilite.com)


RhondaJo Boomington is a Southern transplant from North Carolina. She landed in the haven of Berkeley six years ago and never plans to leave. Formerly a fundamentalist who voted for Jesse Helms many times, she now relishes her liberal lesbian life in the Bay Area. She has earned a J.D. and a Masters of Divinity, and  enjoys performing in the Bay Area as a stand up comedian and solo performance artist.

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7 thoughts on “Living Without a Car in Berkeley – RhondaJo Boomington

  1. I notice more car creativity than ever. Partly driven by the need be more frugal. Partly from the realization that a car sits idle for more than 95% of its life.

    I know a divorced couple who share a car. I know two people who lived independently in the same retirement home who own a car jointly. I know a man who lives and works in San Francisco and uses public transportation during the week. He parks his car at a friend’s home in Berkeley which he retrieves for weekend excursions.

    Less dependency on cars equals smaller carbon footprints, less energy consumption, and the hidden bonus of lower stress with fewer freeway miles.

    AL, Ride with me and Lightnin’ on our Year on the Road at http://allevenson.wordpress.com/

    • Rhonda on said:

      I like the term car creativity. Indeed – such arrangements make much more ecological sense than the traditional ways that we currently utilize vehicles! We have such a focus on being greener — yet often shun practical ways such as these to reduce our carbon footprint.

  2. It could be that people fear that you have that most dreaded disease… If you don’t have a car, you must be – poor. Where are you going to ask me to drive you? Skid row? If you don’t have a car you must be flopped in a sleeping-bag on skid row, right? How else could you not have a car?!?
    I’m only half kidding. People are afraid of poor people. Especially if they have the kind of conscience that will make them feel guilty. What if they give you a ride and you tell them some sob story about how you lost your truck, dog, and double-wide mobile home (like in your average country song) because of a divorce/stock-market crash? A Berkeley environmentalist type would feel guilty for not helping you. But they don’t really want to give you money, so it’s easier just to avoid anyone who makes them feel guilty!
    After all, there’s no way you could CHOOSE not to have a car, now is there? That would be as unacceptable as choosing not to wear a wool-knit cap, pulled way down over your ears, in the middle of summer.

    • Rhonda on said:

      It’s quite interesting. Of course, we “Berkeley types” feel judgmental towards those who intentionally create large carbon footprints. Yet also seem to judge those who intentionally minimize those footprints by not owning a car. And yes — the issue of class is certainly an “untouchable” frontier. Could it be that only the wealthy can be considered true environmentalists?

  3. Rebecca on said:

    Good insight I think

  4. “happily frumpy” – love it! Seems there isn’t much anymore that isn’t judged one way or another, is there?

    ~ Kymberlie

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