This post is less about driving and more about retirement but the question is a real question. It arises out of a lifetime spent behind the wheel. As life changes how much really do your habits change? In our case, we seem unable (or unwilling) to reduce our driving below the 20,000 miles per year marker.
Once in a while you come upon a stone or concrete mileage marker alongside an old road. They don’t exist near any of the “new” roads because modern roadbuilding wipes away entire hills, a tiny little mile marker isn’t going to stand in the way of an extra lane or two. You won’t find many many of them here in the U.S.; I’ve seen them more commonly in Europe — but they do exist.
A mile marker is a substantial reminder of time and space. The rotating dial in an mechanical odometer or the stationary digits on an electronic odometer give you information but they don’t convey distance in the same tangible way that a real marker does.
All my life I driving has been a rather big thing for me. I grew up with a father who said he “relaxed” when he drove and it was nothing to go for a “fun” drive on any day off. I grew up with the concept that driving was something to enjoy, not something to be shunned and drive I have. In my teen years we were known to drive Milwaukee to NYC for a weekend. Driving vacations were the routine. And, if I’m completely honest, I suspect I get the same kind of trance-state high from driving that some people get from music or drugs. Driving puts me into an altered consciousness.
During our working years we were lucky enough to have 2 cars for much of that time. Peg drove her pretty-consistent 10,000 miles a year back and forth the same route everyday to the medical center where she worked faithfully for almost 34 years. I had a variety of jobs and my odometer often turned over 40,000 times a year even when I wasn’t driving commercially and when I did the number was easily well over 100,000 miles a year. It was a way of life.
As my dad and as Peg’s dad aged we dreaded the day when we might have to have that “CONVERSATION” with parents about giving up the car keys. Fortunately for us that day never came. Both men passed away before actual inability became an issue. They might have been getting close — but neither of us actually thought the time was right … yet.
Since retiring I continue monitoring our mileage, if for no other reason than annually reporting it to our insurance company. It seems, however, that whether we are living in sticks and bricks, or gallivanting around the country in an RV, we have never been able to reduce our total mileage below the 20,000 mile level. When RV’ing it seemed we were always at least 25 miles from the closest grocery, and there were new things to be seen and sounds to be heard and places to go. Now that we are living in Milwaukee again we are crafting a new and different life — but it’s a life that takes in all the things we actively “missed” when we were in S. Texas and around the country. Things like gardens, and art, and lush forests, and rolling agricultural fields. We get out to take our walks in the fresh air and even though we live within 1/4 mile of a park/pond with a pathway around it the pathway is dirt/gravel and is often muddy — so we more often choose to drive a little further to the shores of Lake Michigan where we can not only enjoy the calm offered by the lapping waves but also amuse ourselves watching the parade of different people using the lakefront for a variety of purposes. We like to people-watch!
I think sometimes about whether we should not be driving so much — after all, we all have a part in this global warming thing. Our new (2017) car tells us how many lbs/kg of CO2 we are generating when we drive; I admit that it bothers me — a lot — when I look at what our pleasurable pastime creates. But then I think about people making a lot more money who hop on a private jet and create hundreds or thousands of times more CO2 than us and I don’t feel nearly as bad — or the companies what pollute with even more harmful chemicals and destroy wildlife in the bargain. Then I don’t feel nearly so bad.
We aren’t big drinkers — normally it’s 1 glass of wine per day for us both. And on the odd night we might have a little tot before going to bed. We aren’t druggies — aside from my pharmacy full of prescriptions. And we aren’t big on groups of any kind. Net result is that we live a pretty quiet life. Driving and the (typically) once or twice per week when we eat at a restaurant are our big amusements/entertainment. So I don’t feel like I’m being a bad citizen.
Still, they haven’t made electric cars that would suit our lifestyle. And when it comes down to it, there are still a lot of coal fired electric power plants in this country being used to fill all those electric cars with go juice — so even the electric car isn’t a non-polluter…. until we have truly renewable energy we are just shifting the source of the pollution from the tailpipe to the smokestack.
I wonder whether we’ll ever get our annual mileage below 20,000 miles. I’m sort of past the time when I would drive 225 miles for breakfast — because I wanted something that I could only get at one restaurant — and I did that a few times. Nowadays I try to keep my driving for the whole day below 250 miles. I don’t always make it. I still push myself — (but if the truth be told it’s not the stress of driving that limits me it’s lack of stamina caused by the combination of my heart condition and the drugs I take to control it) — just in different ways — the driving is still relaxing.
I stopped off for gas the other day and a guy on the other side of the gas island was complaining loudly — I’m not sure he was talking to anyone in particular — about the cost of gas. I guess I’ve looked at petroleum costs differently than others. I sort of lump it together with “entertainment”. We don’t do rock concerts and we don’t buy tour t-shirts — an afternoon or morning in the car going to see the fall colors is better entertainment for us than listening to some band playing overly loud music while we attempt to make out the musicians on some jumbotron a quarter mile away! Oh, I liked it better when gas was $1.23, but those days are gone, never to return again — one might as well accept reality.
Still, accepting reality implies that we all out to change our behavior if we want this earth to do well, and maybe if we want to see animals and crops doing well in the future. It’s hard to be both conscientious about the earth and also to realize that my ability to impact global pollution is a lot smaller than some others. I can try to reduce my consumption of water, for example. But whether I use 100 or 200 gallons of fresh water a day is a little thing compared to the new factory that is being built not far from us. Foxconn has been licensed to take 7 million gallons of water per day out of Lake Michigan. While I may find that amount personally obscene — the Great Lakes are a one time gift of nature not to be squandered because once destroyed it can never be replaced — still I’m not the one who made the decision to allow it, nor did I vote for the polliticians who did. I can grit my teeth all I want about what has happened, but it IS a reality to be dealt by us all. In other words, I’m pretty much helpless to stop it. So, do I do my bit to save water or do I say the heck with the earth and do my best anyway.
I guess it’s a choice we all have to make, whether it’s water, or recycling, or how much we drive. Is it possible to drive less than 20,000 miles per year — and do I want to change my life enough to make it happen? I don’t know. I’m still figuring it out.