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Carless in the Queen City 

Feb. 1, 2010, was a day that Teresa Hernandez, owner of the local retail shop Pura Vida Worldly Art, had been looking forward to for a long time. Nevertheless, she embraced the occasion with guarded anticipation and open reservation. It was the day her lease was up on her Volvo V50 wagon. It was also the day she would replace months of contemplation and planning with the uncharted reality of her new life without a car.

A resident of and business owner in Plaza Midwood, Hernandez lives, works, shops and dines all within a very small radius. That's why the nearly $8,000 price tag for only 4,000 driven miles per year was so painful.

"I was working to support my car like I would a child," Hernandez laments. "Was it clean? Did it have insurance? Was it hurt? Does it need gas? I felt like I was a slave to it."

She initially toyed with the idea of living without a car a few years ago when she totaled her Mercedes convertible that was completely paid for. At the time, she was still a relatively new small business owner, and she didn't want to spend the extra cash. But friends from her former career in corporate America convinced her that not having a car was a crazy and impractical idea. After a few months of the lease, however, she regretted listening to them. The payments, insurance, gas and maintenance were not only a stinging ding to her bank account, but they were also a suffocating albatross around her eclectic and easygoing lifestyle.

Last year, when the recession prevented Hernandez from traveling internationally, she was bummed. It was the first time in a decade she'd not had a chance to leave the country. She'd had enough. So she scrutinized her finances, analyzed her habits and considered her values. The entrepreneur wanted more out of her money and for her life than a car. So with her store and other frequented places, like the post office, being only a 15-minute walk from her home, she didn't take long to solidify her resolve.

Now, two months since handing over her keys, Hernandez couldn't be happier. She's cut her budget substantially and enhanced the quality of her life exponentially.

"It's been incredibly liberating, and I feel much more connected to my world," says Hernandez. "On the third day after turning in the car, I woke up and it was pouring. At first, I thought about calling a friend to get to the store, but I realized how lame that was.

"So, I put on a hat and covered my purse and laptop up really well, and rode my bike the five minutes," she continues. "It really felt good going down the street on my bike with rain hitting my face. I felt really alive. Like being a kid again."

Beyond her new habit of checking the weather almost hourly on her iPhone, Hernandez has made some other adjustments to her lifestyle to accommodate her new "carless" status. She has groceries like fruit, vegetables and milk delivered directly to her home, and she's taken to wearing jeans much more often than she used to. If she's hanging out late or wants to go somewhere a little further out, she has no problem catching a ride with friends or taking a taxi -- all small modifications compared to the benefits she says she's receiving.

"My greatest pleasure, which I hadn't considered at all, has been connecting with people on a deeper level. I see friends a lot more because I have a lot more disposable income. This has been such a gift."

 

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