In honor of the upcoming Earth Day, meet some of my Asian American friends who live in Los Angeles sans carbon emissions.
In college, my guy friends proclaimed that import car culture was a strictly Asian American contribution to mainstream pop culture. For someone who hasn't owned a car in Los Angeles for the last three years, fast, ostentatious cars are far from my Asian American reality. People ask me all the time how I survive, and insist that I will "die" without a car. And to them I say, "Meet two of my Asian Americans friends who don't even have driver licenses!"
Tru Nguyen, 27, Retail worker
How do people react when they find out that you don't even have a license?
People reassure me that driving is easy and it just takes getting the hang of. My sister likes to say that if it were hard then there wouldn't be so many stupid people driving on the road. A couple of people have told me that they can't believe that anyone walks in L.A. but in my opinion drivers just act like there is no such thing as pedestrians.
Do you want to learn to drive?
Not particularly, I only got my first driver's permit last year. I've been meaning to schedule driving lessons but it isn't a priority of mine. On the other hand, my siblings got their permits and licenses as soon as they were old enough.
How do you think your life would be different if you owned a car?
I'd have more flexibility regarding where I can live and work. When I moved last year, I wanted to be within a 30-45 minute bus ride of work with no more than one transfer if necessary. This meant I had to dismiss certain neighborhoods to live in. Getting home at night can be an obstacle since some buses run less often or change their routes at night. If I had a car, things would be easier if I wanted to drive somewhere on a whim or had an emergency.
When I travel less familiar routes and neighborhoods I have to do a fair bit of planning so I don't become stranded. It is a nice way to get to know the lay of the streets. It amazes some of my friends that I know the downtown area and Chinatown so well, but I've been taking long bus rides there since college (was an hour from UCLA/WLA) to check out bars to party or restock my Asian groceries. I'm no help in finding freeway on-ramps or remembering which streets are one-way there though.
What's great about being carless in Los Angeles?
When I am on the bus I love watching the neighborhoods change as I ride through them: glossy boutiques and fancy iron gates give way to cozy ethnic storefronts and everything in between before I am swallowed by the soaring buildings of downtown, and eventually, even those give way to strip malls. I feel like I see more of the city rather than being forced to go around it by taking the freeways. You used to be able to see a little bit of L.A.'s character in the old murals along the freeway but many of them have been painted over rather than maintained. To me, the freeway is just a crowded expanse of asphalt bracketed by sound dampening walls. When I'm on foot in the neighborhood I can focus on taking in the sights and sounds and smells. I don't have to worry about making sure my meter is fed or moving my car every two hours, and can meander about and pop in and out of shops and markets.
What do you think of the Import Car Scene?
I'm all for letting people follow their passions but it all seems pretty ostentatious when people load up their cars with oversized sound systems, excessive (illegal) window tinting, or gaudy trims and accessories. It is just adding more distractions to inattentive drivers anyway. I think that money could be better spent. I don't really care about how fast a car can get to 60 mph or if it can break the sound barrier like some people do. For me cars are primarily a means to get from point A to point B. This is not to say that I can't enjoy a car ride; for me it has to do more with the company and sights.
Kiyoshi Parker, 32, Crime Fighter (sometimes entertainment industry)
(Kiyoshi has many reasons for going carless and here are some of them....)
MECHANICS, MONEY AND THEORETICAL PROSTITUTES
If numerous news stories by David Horowitz (severely dating myself) are to be believed, it seems like mechanics are all out to get your money and if you're as ignorant about cars as I am, they can get you for a lot more then you initially brought it in for. I can only imagine that not having to deal with the rising costs of gas, insurance and potential repairs, that I am saving thousands of dollars not owning a car. Thousands of dollars that I can spend on other, more important things like candy or prostitution. That's not something I do, mind you, but it's nice to know that I have the money for it....
Some of the best people I know turn into a raging a**hole on the road, and since my philosophy in life is to be an all around pleasant and rational person, irrationally flying off the handle goes against my best interests. You'll get to your destination. Chill out. As a side note, I'd like to say that while some of my friends do get this way, I do absolutely appreciate the times they have picked me up and driven me around. They are wonderful.
I'm lazy enough on my own two feet. If I purchase a car, it seems to me that I will become infinitely lazier. I always hear how convenient it is to be able to get to places easily and quickly when you have wheels, yet, I also constantly hear people with cars complain that this place or that place is too far to drive to, or that they're too tired to drive. I have traveled by train and/or bus to places people hate driving to. Apparently, with a car, I will become even more unwilling to travel to these places. I fail to see the logic in that.
What's your funniest car story?
I don't think I have any truly crazy carless stories, but not owning a car has forced me to walk a lot, and while walking a lot, certain things can happen to you. One time while walking down the street late at night, a young, fairly attractive prostitute tried to make conversation with me by asking me the time or something, and just before she got into some guys car, she wished me a good night and, I think, sincerely called me "cutie." I hope the chubby Latino guy that picked her up treated her well that night.
Next week: Two more Asian Americans sans wheels stories!
Kristina Wong is a nationally presented solo performer, writer, actor, educator, culture jammer, and filmmaker. She'll be writing about Asian-American topics during the month of April here on SoCal Focus.