Cars are boxes. They’re boxes on wheels with couches inside. They’re extensions of our living rooms, mobile privacy pods, where the driver gets to choose the music, company, temperature, and schedule.

So, for a newly car-less family like mine, one main change in shedding our box—the “car-coon”—is spending less time in private space and more time in public.

The effects include both gains and losses.

No Box means no insulation from unpleasantness: Amy saw a bus rider start screaming at the driver one day, and Gary actually had to call the police (on his car-less cellphone) when a rider got especially belligerent. My own pet peeve is the tobacco smoke I must breathe while traveling certain sidewalks—sidewalks where smokers take refuge from Washington’s workplace cigarette ban.

  • No Box means lacking a private retreat—a place you can compose yourself before a visit, sit out a rain squall, or stow the accessories of Northwest life (rain coat, sweat shirt, sun glasses, water bottle, snack food, first aid kit, lip balm, music player, child-distracting toys). No Box means carrying on your person whatever you might need, like a backpacker or a Boy Scout. It means planning your travels in advance.

    No Box also means witnessing routine acts of civility: strangers who stop the bus when they see an elder making haste to the stop; who give up seats for loaded-down parents; who make eye contact and smile as they pass on the sidewalk; who stop to inquire if you need help when your child is doubled over with a bellyache.

    No Box also means tuning in to the weather, ducking into coffee shops to avoid a shower, reading posters on telephone poles, noticing flowers and architecture and cloud formations and the quarter moon, discovering boutiques you’ve never noticed before, stopping to marvel at scruffy teenagers who can grind the entire length of a planter box on their skateboards, meeting neighbors (and bumping into them again and again) and not just waving through a windshield.

    Above all, to me, No Box makes me feel a little less control over my life, and a little more trusting that life will usually treat me well enough, if I let it. To me, so far, that’s been a pretty good trade.