Some things gained and some things lost: the dilemma of the second vehicle

Posted by on May 18, 2015

SecondVehicleLast year I learned that I should never say “never”. A year ago, I bought a second vehicle. For all my adult life I was fiercely determined to either have no vehicle or to only own one vehicle. I didn’t even get a drivers license until I was 26 or 27. I lived in cities where I could walk or take public transportation to all the places I wanted to go. When we moved to Goshen, we chose to live in a location where both of us could walk to work, so that we would never need a second vehicle.

But, when I saw a pickup truck for sale last March, it did not take me long to send an email expressing my interest. Within days I was the owner of a second vehicle.

We used to own a small pickup truck, a Chevy S-10. It was our only vehicle, perfect for living in the semi-rural neighborhood of north Vashon Island in Washington State. We used it for hauling all sorts of things – furniture, mulch, compost, manure, wood. We spent nights in the bed of the truck, hoping to see meteor showers in August and November. We got a cap for it and used it for camping. On the way to Burning Man, our 17 year old pickup truck, packed full of all the gear we would need for a week in the desert, catastrophically died in a small town in Nebraska. We hastily replaced it with a Chevy Suburban, the only vehicle we could quickly find that was large enough to fit all the stuff that had been packed in the S-10. Though the Suburban was disturbingly appealing (it really did ride well) we could not see keeping it once we arrived back home. A huge gas–guzzling vehicle didn’t fit with our self–image of nature loving, small–carbon–footprint type of people. So, after only a month, we traded the behemoth Suburban in for a cute and tiny Smart Car.

Then I decided to quit my teaching job and become a small–scale urban farmer. I had romantic, though totally unrealistic, notions of doing all that I needed to do using only the tiny car and my bicycle outfitted with an Amish cart. After doing restaurant deliveries for Clay Bottom farm, I knew the Smart Car fit a remarkable amount of produce. I also already knew that I could haul quite a lot in my bicycle cart. So I happily told people that I had plans of, one day, having a bicycle–delivered CSA program in Goshen.

But I had reservations. Would a bale of straw even fit in my cart? And, even if one bale of straw would fit into the cart, how many trips to Tractor Supply Company would I need to do every fall to get sufficient straw for winter mulching.

Then I saw the ad – a used Toyota Tacoma – another small truck. I knew how useful a little truck could be. Realism won over romanticism and all determination to remain a one–vehicle household disappeared within hours.

As expected, the truck has proven its usefulness. I transported long pieces of pipe for the greenhouse project. I weighed it down with duck manure for the garden. I fit many bales of straw into the spacious bed of the truck. We brought home twelve foot long fence posts to build a hops trellis.

Along with the gains of convenience that a second vehicle affords, there are also some losses.

I’ve lost my self-righteousness. That is a good thing.

But I’m not so sure about some of the other losses.

I’ve lost some creativity. In pre-pickup truck days, I had to work out inventive ways of hauling things. I had to solve a packing problem in order to fit six wooden chairs in the Smart Car to take to the resale shop. I had figure out how to strap a tall bookcase in the cart so it wouldn’t topple over when I was taking it to my mom’s place. As yet, it hasn’t taken much ingenuity to load things into the truck, though strapping in twelve foot long fence posts did require some creative use of bungee cords.

I’ve lost some spirit of adventure. A cart loaded up with 120 lbs of compost still obeys the laws of physics, in particular the law that states that an object in motion tends to keep moving. My heart skipped a beat when that cart pushed my bicycle into an intersection at a stop light. Another time my bicycle–cart combination threatened to jack–knife when I brought home eight short fence posts. I don’t get the same adrenaline rush now when I put fenceposts and bags of compost into the back of the pickup truck.

I’ve lost some of the need for negotiation and compromise. With a household of two and only one vehicle, we sometimes needed to be in two places at the same time. Figuring out how we would accomplish that brought about many discussions. Could we put off one of the trips? Was there an alternate mode of transportation we could use? Could we somehow combine our two trips? We used to be more intentional about the trips we made and when we made them. But now, we don’t need to negotiate. We usually just go our separate ways in separate vehicles.

I’ve lost some built–in exercise. Sometimes, when we were traveling in opposite directions, I opted to go by bicycle. I still walk and bicycle a lot, but it is way too easy, especially in less than ideal weather, to instead choose to take the second vehicle. So I’m not getting as much exercise as I used to get.

I think that I am glad I have the truck. But sometimes I’m not so sure. Maybe in some other universe, I kept to my resolve and continued with an adventure of urban farming with a tiny car and a bicycle-cart. But not here and not now.

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