One of the extra-ordinary blessings of my childhood was what my Dad called a “company car.” When Dad was given some management responsibilities in addition to truck driving, his firm provided him with an automobile. Our family didn’t have a lot of material things, so a new car was luxury. But the best part was that Dad asked ME to pick out the color. I felt pretty important at the time; such a grown-up decision for a little kid! I can still picture Dad bending over to show me the auto color chart. I couldn’t believe that my favorite color, powder blue was an option! Even more surprising, my Dad agreed to my color choice. (I always thought this light blue to be a “girl color.”)
Obviously, for low income and no income people that are not so fortunate the color of their car is irrelevant. In my work at church, I spend time with a population that’s between jobs, struggling to pay bills, and sometimes homeless. I’ve learned that transportation is a huge stressor for these folks, especially in a small town like Ashland where we live. No buses to hop on, no rapid transit to get one to the workplace. For those even fortunate to have cars, gas prices and insurance rates take their toll due to very little or no income.
In all my sixty years, I’ve never worried about how I was going to get to school, dentist and doctor appointments, friends’ homes, or the grocery. A mode of transportation was always available to me. Insurance was paid. I could fill my gas tank. Transportation was a given. In my upper middle class existence, I’ve neglected the gift of how easy my life is when it comes to depending on a car for daily excursions or long vacation trips.
A woman who lost her job and consequently her trailer, appreciates spending the night at our church. We’re “in town,” so she can walk to the grocery, to her rehab appointments, and to the fast food chains where she hopes to get employment. She is thankful she is in walking distance of the places she needs to go. Walking is a way of life for people without cars. In decent weather walking is a welcome solution. But this past Ohio winter wrought great discomfort for our community of walkers.
I am shaken by all the people that seek our church for help due to the difficulties of just getting to where they need to go.
Rarely can our homeless guests that stay at our church afford to buy and maintain a vehicle. And when that glorious day finally comes of owning a car or truck, their joy is quickly squashed. Tires need replaced, radiators leak, and on and on.
A single Mom in her mid-twenties with three kids called me for a ride for her daughter. An out of town dentist agreed to help with her daughter’s orthodontics issues, but Mom couldn’t trust that her car would survive highway driving. Even though Mom held down a full time job, no money was left at the end of the month for car repairs. Mom rejoiced that she found a specialist to attend to her daughter’s physical needs, but became anxious on how to get her to all her appointments. A problem solved often creates another problem when transportation is unreliable.
Just recently, Jim and I were reminiscing with my step-Mom about all the different cars we have purchased as a married couple. As I look back, I’m a bit alarmed at the thousands and thousands of dollars we’ve spent. Living without transportation has never been our experience; nor a point of marriage conflict, or inconvenience for our kids.
I just get in my car and go without thinking much about it.
An unemployed man walked over to our church from the local drug and alcohol recovery building in the next block across our street. He was providing rides for his girlfriend to therapy, but didn’t have gas money for her next appointment. He shared with me that the counselor was helping her get off drugs and didn’t want his friend to discontinue treatment. The counselor was so determined to keep helping this young lady that she called my office to see if we could provide a gas card. The complexities of transportation are often roadblocks to building a better life.
Although car problems are the reality of an economically challenged population, these reoccurring issues require more than an everyday fix. Like all of us, these folks need support, encouragement, problem solving, and healing. The first step to offering the possibility of change is about me: my awareness. I’ve found the more aware I am of a person’s plight, the more approachable I become. I’m less likely to say something stupid, or leak out judgement. And the more approachable I become, the more likely someone who feels economic shame will allow me to come alongside him to work toward a solution.
A desperation for transportation exists in my community. I imagine it does somewhere close to you, as well.