A Car Accident Changed My Life … For the Better

The day Marina Shifrin became car-free
The day Marina Shifrin became car-free
Marina V. Shifrin

There's a man I've seen near the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Vermont Avenue who kicks his right foot out sideways when he walks. His whole body faces forward, except for that foot. It's probably a misaligned prosthetic, but I like to pretend it's an empowered appendage. "Why do I always have to follow you around?" it asks the left foot. "I'm not gonna do it anymore." I usually see him when I'm walking to the bus stop in the morning. I recognize his pendulum-like saunter from across the avenue and try not to mimic the swaying with my own restless body. For whatever reason, his routine appearances comfort me.

On the bus one time I saw a man check his watch. Normally this wouldn't pique my interest, but the man was holding a cup of chocolate milk in his watch hand. The cup was at a 90-degree angle before he realized he'd poured a couple ounces of chocolate milk onto his crotch. Later that morning I told the story to a coworker who cocked her head to the side and asked, "Why were you on the bus?"

It's such a weird question, but I get it all the time. People become incredulous when they find out I don't have a car in Los Angeles. "What happened to your car?" they ask, as if every person who lives in L.A. gets a car upon arrival — if you don't have yours, something bad must've happened. And OK, fine, something bad did happen, something that caused my head to whip back and my muscles to spasm. It caused my car to shatter into many pieces, some of which are still sprinkled across Interstate 405. As far as car accidents go, mine was pretty anticlimactic. A 23-year-old dude was showing off how fast his BMW could go and clipped a car, which proceeded to smash into another car. I was driving that other car.

Before the accident I was an unemployed, broke, depressed, out-of-shape girl-lady. Now I have a job, a little bit of money, and I'm ecstatic all the time — like a coked-up Chihuahua. (I'm still out of shape, but, you know, whatever to that.) It changed the trajectory of my life by inspiring me to do something I'd never done before: reach out about an interview I'd clearly bombed the month prior. I'd become scrappier. In the email I used phrases like "incredible opportunity" and "work my ass off" to show I was a fun-time professional still desperately interested in the position. I never would've sent an email like this when I had the material security of a car. With a car I still had options — so I sat around squandering my L.A. savings on half-finished ideas and parking tickets. Now I was pulling Hail Marys like the little Jewy football player I never wanted to be. The Hail Mary email didn't get me the job, but it did get me an interview for a different job at the same company. That interview also didn't get me the job, but it made me confident enough to apply again — which finally landed me the job, one that I still have and love to this day.

To get to work I take the Four (that's a bus!) which drops me off on the same block as my office. Every morning I'm greeted with questions like: How did you get here? When are you going to get a car? What's your name again? My steady schedule and close proximity to work are big factors in my decision to not get another car. Not everyone's so lucky, but it takes me 20 minutes to get to work by bus (regardless of traffic). It takes 15 minutes by bike and I'm not even a bike person; I'm just really working on that whole "in shape" thing. My life has gone from car-breakdown-related mental breakdowns to blissful cruises down palm-tree-lined streets. I've learned that the prevalence of ride-sharing apps combined with ever-expanding transit options makes owning a car in L.A. less of a necessity and more of an inconvenience. Sure, if you're rich and your car purrs like a kitten, then it makes sense to drive everywhere. But also, get outta here, Richy! Go read the Rich People's Magazine for Rich People by Rich People.

Of course going car free is not an option for everyone, but decreasing car use is. Too many people gravitate toward the comfort and convenience of a car without realizing that it can breed apathy. I was totally disinterested in this city when I had a car. I've always preferred the hustle and bustle of pedestrian cities. When I moved to L.A. I missed bumping elbows with strangers on subways, I missed seeing people give their seats to old ladies on buses, and I missed shoulder rats distracting me from crap days. Most of all, I missed the stories I'd accrue on my adventures through the city. All I felt when I moved here was a deep-seated isolation. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone how miserable I was, so I stuck to superficial conversations about the weather. I was a "Yeah, it is really beautiful here" broken record — until my car accident pushed me to walk, bus, train, and bike everywhere. Using public transit has opened my eyes to a different city. A darker, more interesting L.A. hidden under concrete roads and in metal tubes. Every day I'm faced with my privilege and my weaknesses. I see young mothers drag their sleeping toddlers onto the bus at 5 a.m. I've stolen glances at men who scare me and men who interest me. One time someone on my bus pulled out a gun and another time a man poured chocolate milk on his penis. It's all made me smarter about how I exist in this city. L.A. has a ways to go before it's known as a pedestrian city, but it's trying and that's good enough to keep me car free.

And one time, pre-accident, the window fell out. Screw you, car.
And one time, pre-accident, the window fell out. Screw you, car.
Photo courtesy Marina V. Shifrin

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