Over the past few months, I have missed driving my car.

And when I say this to local Chicago people, they laugh at me. “Why would you want to drive a car when you can jump on public transportation? Trains and buses all at your fingertips with the help of a CTA pass!”

Public transportation is amazing, don’t get me wrong. It allows me to people watch and get to know my new city better – without all the hassle of traffic and jay-walking pedestrians and crazy Chicago drivers. But as a Midwestern girl who’s been driving a car from here to there for over 10 years now, there are certain elements of the driving experience that I miss now in the Windy City.

Today’s topic, therefore: THE PROS AND CONS OF CARS IN THE CITY

  1. Parking: I never realized how much I took free parking for granted until it was gone. Back home in Indiana, public parking is usually in abundance, and if it does cost anything, the charge is minimal. Here in Chicago, a personal parking spot will often come with a price tag of $100 or more a month. Otherwise, street parking is available where you can find it. Just watch out for pedestrian cross-walks, parking too close to stop signs, bus routes, snow plow routes, street cleaning days, fire hydrants, and zoned parking ordinances.
  2. Personal space: This is one of the things I miss the most about driving my own car. When you are driving in your own car, you get to pick the temperature, the level of noise, what kind of noise, who’s traveling with you. You can throw your purse in the backseat with the clothes you still need to return to Old Navy. You’re allowed to have food with you. You don’t have to worry about the body odor of the person sitting next to you or whether or not you might take out someone’s eye with your backpack as you try to maneuver onto a train. In the midst of a hectic city landscape, a car can be your own personal bubble that helps you find some serenity.
  3. Radio time: You can tell me radio is a dying art, but there will always be something so right about combining radio and time in my car. I only lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, while I was going to college there, but in those four years, my car dashboard was personalized with my favorite radio stations for my driving time. Since I drive so rarely in Chicago, I still have yet to really get to know the Windy City’s radio waves. From NPR to big pop hits, even to the random Spanish mariachi channel, I miss flipping from station to station in my car.
  4. Cost: Then again, because street parking is a more risky investment for car insurers, my insurance has over doubled in cost since moving to Chicago. Plus gas costs are pretty high in comparison to other areas of America. An unlimited all-month CTA pass costs $100, and I know I get more for my dollar with public transportation. But public buses just don’t have that broken-in car smell…
  5. Flexible schedule: As great as public transportation is, it runs on a schedule. This means I now plan my morning commute around when the right bus will arrive at my street corner, instead of jumping into my car and getting somewhere whenever I want. It adds a level of dependency to my traveling experience that can sometimes get rather frustrating.
  6. Going home: At the end of the day, this is the real reason why I keep my car around. There will always be Greyhound buses or Amtrak trains for me to catch, but I love the freedom and ease of being able to jump in my car and head home whenever I want. Over holidays, in the midst of family emergencies, or just because I want a break from Chicago, it has been so enjoyable to be able to just jump in my car and go.

As is true with all adult processes, there is no one easy answer. I have come to appreciate time in my car as an unexpected treat instead of an underappreciated privilege, and riding the CTA always comes with its own set of adventures. But at the end of the day, I hope more and more for a life that allows me time in Galinda the Car, instead of the unknowns of a Red Line CTA train.

3 thoughts on “Riding with Cars in the Windy City

  1. So many things to weigh in on! I loved not having a car when I lived in NYC, but going to visit family meant renting a car or schlepping to the bus and not being able to bring gifts or laundry (Hi Mom!) to visits.

    Parking and maintenance and digging out the car in the winter were always the big three of my reasons for holding off. But I also found that I did a lot more sightseeing and weekend trips when we had the car. Trade offs!


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