You're right George Bailey, you crazy son of a bitch—it IS a wonderful life!

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Where have you been all my life?
  • Where have you been all my life?
There's nothing original about becoming introspective this time of year. For about a week, we're all prepared to scale mountains of personal truth and finally obey the Nietzschean dictate to become who we are. In the restraint and relative sobriety that follow in the wake of holiday bacchanalia, we're ready—yep, really ready this time—to become vegans, yogis, patient and attentive partners, and speakers of conversant French. We're ready to embrace the nonsmoking, trans-fat-avoiding teetotaler inside of us who wakes before dawn, always takes the stairs, and does not know anything about the lives of Bravo's real housewives. But after a few days—or in some cases, hours—we inevitably tumble down the mountain of personal truth into the valley of daily reality, becoming, once again, the same person we've always been.

But this year—I dare say, fingers crossed—things are different. Not because I willed them so, but because I didn't really have a choice.

When my boyfriend and I broke up right before Thanksgiving, I became carless for the first time since getting my license at 16. It's not an exaggeration to say that for one, horrifying moment, I felt like my world had collapsed, its borders now defined in blocks rather than miles. How would I get groceries? In my last hours with the car, I went to the store and stocked up on nonperishable goods like some sort of crazed survivalist. How would I get home from work? How would I get my hair cut? How would I get to spin class so I could enclose myself in a tiny, sweltering room and ride a stationary bike next to mouth-breathing strangers while terrible dance music played at deafening levels?

And it was then that my true self spoke, raising her voice to be heard above the din of uncertainty and fear: get a real bike, asshole—one that moves. And maybe a CTA card while you're at it? Jesus.

So I did. And it's not an exaggeration to say that my world not only got bigger, it became better. A car is its own little world, and while driving one, you are its tiny, vengeful god. You control the weather, the sound, the lights, the warmth of the seats. You set your world upon a course and then go to war with all the other gods navigating their particular worlds in the exact same direction at the exact same time. And there in your own little world, you are all but completely oblivious to the wider world beyond. When I visit places like New York or Paris, I always come home missing the sense of connection and wonderment I felt in those cities. I assumed it was because other places are better than here—that people in Paris and New York are somehow living more authentic, fulfilling lives. But then I realized it's because I'm walking in those cities—or figuring out how to navigate the metro or subway—and that's where the feeling of connection is coming from. I'm directly, physically engaged with the environment around me. Finding myself without a car was not unlike the moment in a sappy movie—also popular this time of year—when the heroine realizes her soul mate was right in front of her all along. All the love I felt for other cities, I suddenly felt for my own.

I live in Logan Square, and you know what I've figured out? This is going to sound trite, but 'tis the season: if I can't get it around here, I don't need it. I finally understand the whole local thing and am becoming the environmentally responsible and community-focused person I've always wanted to be. Is it possible for people in every neighborhood to meet their needs locally? No, absolutely not. But if you can, why wouldn't you? Logan Square has its own little food co-op (The Dill Pickle), wine shop (Provence), bakery (La Boulangerie), hair salon (Sparrow ), collection of bars and restaurants(Longman & Eagle) and brand-new coffee shop where beans are roasted in-house (Gaslight Coffee Roasters. I was able to do the entirety of my Christmas shopping at Wolfbait where all of the merchandise is created by local artists and designers. And because these shops are independent, they're manned by the people who created them—people who not only can answer your questions, but actually want to.

I feel foolish for not having figured this all out before. And I'm truly pissed at myself for wasting untold thousands on gas, insurance, city stickers, parking meters, parking tickets, red-light tickets, speeding tickets, one-inch-too-far-away-from-the curb tickets (yes, that exists), and, of course, das boot. But beyond the money, it's the time I've lost in a car that upsets me. Yes a car can get you there faster, but I would argue that what you gain in convenience, you lose in experience. On the blue line to work the other day, I bought a candy bar from an adorable little girl raising money for her school. On the way home, I saw a man brushing a doll's hair with a rake. That shit is priceless. And it was right there in front of me all along.

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