I remember my first vehicle well. It was a 1990 stick-shift Nissan truck with no power steering, a radio that only worked if you were going in reverse or if Terra Posten Sanderson slammed the door hard enough, and you had to get out and physically lock the wheels to put it into four-wheel drive. It got great gas mileage, and the truck bed held just the right amount of my friends as we cruised the backroads of Jackson County.
Since most of my friends also had a vehicle, I never thought too much about the people who didn’t have a car. If they didn’t, no big deal, they’d hitch a ride, or borrow one from their parents. Having a car or not having a car was really more of an organizational challenge than it was a social detriment, because depending on whose curfew was when, trying to get everyone to and from O’Brien Lake could require the kind of precision only taught in military invasion courses.
So when you are not faced with a hardship, it becomes laughably easy to assume that no one else faces that hardship. It was college before I realized that not everyone has a car, access to a car, or a reliable way to get home. Can you imagine getting dropped off some place, hundreds of miles from home, and knowing that there is absolutely no way for you to get back there until a major holiday? And even then, it will be a struggle to hitch a ride or find money for a plane or train? Let alone the struggle whenever you need supplies from the Walmart in that college town?
And that’s a struggle we have now, in Jackson County. It’s hard to believe, but we have a large population of people who do not have any sort of reliable transportation. They don’t have a car that runs all the time, and can’t afford to fix it or get a new one. They may not have a car at all, and have to rely on family or neighbors to get around. Or they don’t have family or neighbors that can help, and have to rely on their two legs to get everywhere.
Our community’s lack of real public transportation means we have a lot of people who are simply stuck. They’re stuck at home because they live too far to walk to anywhere. They’re stuck looking for whatever work that’s near their home because they can’t take the chance that their unreliable vehicle will cost them a better job.
And if they’re stuck, so are their kids: talented, hard- working, excited kids who don’t quite understand why they can’t join ballet, or theater, or baseball, or football, because mom, dad, grandma, or grandpa simply do not have a way to get them to practices and lessons and games. Kids who know they better not miss the public school bus because picking them up isn’t just an inconvenience; it’s a complete wrench in an already-stressful day.
Think about when your car goes into the shop. If you’re a two-car family, you’ve got to rearrange your family’s entire schedule to make sure everyone gets to work and to school on time. If one of you works in Ripley, and the other person works out of town, then someone is stuck waiting for someone else to pick them up, or hoping a friend will drop them off at the house. All this adds up to two to four days of annoyance, then absolute relief when you get your vehicle back.
But if you have no reliable transportation ever, that annoyance and stress never goes away. If you or your kid gets slightly sick, you’re scrambling to find someone to get you to a clinic. If you need groceries, you’re only buying as much as you can carry, or hoping you can get a ride into town with someone else going to the store. If there’s a special school play, or an after-school activity, you’re either reaching out to anyone you can for a ride, or just choosing to skip it all together, because the hassle is just too great.
I don’t have an answer for our public transportation problem. When I was younger, I just thought the school buses could be used all day for anyone who wanted a ride. Now I’m older, and while I know that solution is not possible, the concept is one that’s becoming more and more necessary. As more and more of our kids are raised in homes that have limited or unreliable transportation, we need a better way for them and their parents to get around in our rural area.
Let’s work together as a community to figure out a way to help people become unstuck, be it with a better bus system, a better sidewalk system for our walkers, or even a better community car-pooling system. You never know when you’ll be vehicle-less, and need a little help from your friends and community to keep you from getting stuck.