Coded violet.

Tuesday 22 August 2000

Sand road

Pic of the day: The road goes ever on and on ... but this one goes on and on without a car. And so also do I:

Man without a car

Norway is a sparsely populated country. In length, it covers half the distance from the Arctic Sea to the Mediterranean. The cities are fairly small and far between, and the terrain that separates them is often sheer wilderness. Like back in the Roman empire, roads are signs of civilization, connecting the parts into a whole. For some island or peninsula to get their bridge to the rest of the country is not just a question of economy - it is a matter of the soul. It is about being accepted as part of the country.

It is no surprise, then, that the car is important to your average Norwegian. Most of us have an almost American relationship with the car. Much of Norway is so sparsely populated that train or even bus is not really viable. Unless people work at home and grow their own food, the car is pretty much a necessity. But it's also your home away from home. Your car is your castle. And for the men at least, it is a symbol of adulthood. Or even of masculinity, if you choose the right car. It fulfills the role of the extravagant codpiece seen in old costumes. I'm man enough, I've got car enough!

That's not exactly why I don't have a car.


It all started in the rain-drenched dales of the Norwegian west coast. I grew up mostly in the 1960es, when changes were sweeping over the country. Standards of living were rising steadily all around. New inventions were popping up in home after home: FM radio, TV, and your very own telephone line. The private car had already conquered most of the country. But in the poor, rural backwaters there were still some who did without. The farmers rarely left the farm, except to visit a neighbor. The workers took the bus to the factory, unless they could bike. But as earnings rose, the lure was irresistible.

I was just a boy when my father secured an old, worn-out van. It had problems starting in rain, and this in one of the most rainy patches of Europe. But when it ran, it was a miracle. So it roared like a small plane, and it shook you like a milk shake. The two seats were plain and rather hard, and any other passengers had to sit on some random object in the cargo hold, in a dark prison peering through the bars to the front or through the two small windows to the back. But it was a car, and I loved it.

Wherever the car went, for whatever reason, I was likely to try to go with it. It wasn't much of a car, but it was a car. And I was a boy. What else is there to say?

But somehow, this has all changed.


When I was 18, I was a poor student. When I was 20, I had a job, but I was still so poor that I considered bread with jam the main meal of the day. My furniture came out of flea markets and the generosity of friends, and was about my own age. My parents have never been wealthy by any stretch of the word; much as they have tried to help me financially in my youth, it never amounted to much by today's standards. So a car and a driver's license were not really a possibility quite yet.

At some point during my 20es, I actually bought a car. A good friend was a master at repairing old worn-out cars, usually selling them at a moderate profit to help feed his large family. Out of the goodness of his heart, I believe, he also fixed up an old car for me. I got it really cheap. So what if I had to bring along some wire for repair on the road? Now all I needed was a driver's license so I could drive it alone.

I was taking a course preparing for that certificate when it collided with something that interested me. (An activity in our church, actually.) Without a second thought I dropped the preparations for the DL, and have never resumed them. I wasn't all that good a driver anyway, but more importantly: The love had died.

I don't need a car. I work in a city that is quite well connected; wherever I have lived during these last 20 years, there have been buses nearby. In fact, the place I live now is the most remote in that aspect: I have ca 10 minutes to walk for the bus. All in all, I guess I walk around half an hour to work and back, and ca 20 minutes in the lunch break. I need that exercise, and appreciate it. And I spend the time on the bus reading up on stuff I don't get through at home: Books, magazines. For longer travels, I typically use the train, which has the same benefits.

But these are all rational arguments. And humans are not rational. I know that I would have had a car - or rather, a series of steadily more expensive cars - except for one thing: The love has died. The magic is gone. The boy that I was, is no longer. I am someone else now. I am me.


Of course, I could still need a car for some other purposes. For instance, the car is essential to impress the chicks. But then again, do I want that kind of chicks? I think not, because I'm not that kind of cock.

The car comes in handy as the family grows, at some point it becomes cheaper than bus and train even with the ridiculously high taxes on cars and gas (petrol) and the mandatory insurance here in Norway. I guess I just haven't thought of myself as a breeder for quite a while. Don't get that wrong. I like women, but a family is simply not something I consider realistic. And as some great thinker said: "What a man truly believes can not be ascertained from his creed, but from the assumptions on which he habitually acts." I habitually act on the assumption that I'll never have a "normal" family life, with wife and car and two kids. While the thought of such a family no longer makes me physically sick, it certainly doesn't make my heart beat faster either.

To sum it up: I don't have a car, but that's not really a political statement or some such. I just don't want one anymore.

(This "Shrink-ing Violet" is a new type of entry, which may appear sporadically in the future, if any. It's kind of an extension of the FUQ, the frequently unasked questions. Those are frequently unasked because you assume me to be like the majority. A reasonable assumption, but sometimes not quite on target.)

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