How many cars have you owned in your life? How about your family? If you had to estimate the number of cars you have only ridden in, how many would that be? In the tens, hundreds? Where are all of those cars now? Especially those first few family cars- do you think they’re out there somewhere, still on the road , or have they been turned to junk, sold for scrap, or simply left to rust? Imagine the height of all those cars if you stacked them on top of one another, a junk tower, casting a long shadow. How high would that tower be? Now imagine not only the cars you have owned or ridden in, but all the cars you have ever seen. Have you ever considered where those cars will go when they become obsolete? For in decades the newest car is a junk car.
I imagine that if we keep building cars and turning them into junk someday we will run out of empty space to put them. Already, junk cars are recycled into other products. We might hide them in a new and recycled form but someday soon we will live in houses made of junk cars. We will drive junk cars on roads made of junk cars, over junk car bridges, under which pass junk car boats, over which fly junk car planes. We’ll eat at junk car restaurants with junk car forks and junk car knives. We’ll go to junk car movie theatres, like a drive-in in reverse. All those cars. Someday there will be so many that no matter how far you drive your new car you’ll not be able to escape the feeling that it too will one day be junk. Or perhaps it already is?
I recently watched Zipcar’s founder Robin Chase’s TED Talk on TED.com (www.ted.com/talks/view/id/212). If you haven’t heard of Zipcar you should check it out. It’s called a “carsharing” company, and the idea is that cars are parked around dense urban areas and are available to share by the hour or by the day. This way, says Robin Chase, you are only paying for a car when you need one, instead of paying for it when it is sitting outside. (Chase says that the average American spends 19% of his or her income on a vehicle.) Instead of driving 12,000 miles per year, a Zipcar customer might drive 500.
I was skeptical when I first heard of the company, due especially to my living in the car-aphilia city of Los Angeles at the time. I loved the freedom my car afforded me, even if it was a sort of junk car. But when it broke down I could no longer afford that freedom. My little junk car would be too expensive to repair so I decided to donate it. In the days and weeks that followed I discovered Los Angeles’ public transportation system. I rode busses, my skateboard and I walked a lot. I could have used Zipcar I think, but I was getting around fine. Before I knew I would be moving to New York I caved and bought another junk car, which I donated the day before I left. Now I live in New York where owning a car would be extremely ridiculous. The public transportation is obviously much better here. And with companies like Zipcar around I know that if I need to go out and make a big purchase, or shuffle some friends around the city, I can use a car when I need it. The good thing is that I won’t be paying for it until then.