This is the first car I can truly call my own; I saved up the money, put in several hours of research, and met with the previous owner in a Dollar General parking lot to exchange my hard-earned cash for a set of wheels.
When I first got my license, my trial vehicle was our beat up baby-blue family van that eventually stuttered to a permanent stop on a back road in my hometown when I turned 17. Dad gave me his work truck after that, which was totaled when a middle-aged woman T-boned me on 16th street. I then acquired a retired police Chevy Impala with the insurance money, and later sold it when my meager bank account began to dwindle.
I took IndyGo bus 25 from home to work to school and back home for half a year. I thought of my bus rides as hour-long adventures, prime people watching. I made friends with the regulars; I became a regular. However, I grew sick of the hard, plastic seats and the lack of air conditioning in many of the buses. I hated the way some businessmen and women looked at the bus stop with loathing—some even crossed the street to avoid us. And I couldn’t help but to feel like a stranger to the people who stood waiting with me. Here were people who pushed old grocery carts with their belongings around the city. Here were young mothers nursing their crying babies in the middle of a crowded bus. Here were middle-aged women with aprons who went to work an hour early every day and left an hour late every evening. I, on the other hand, am a student from a lower middle-class family who will likely never know the true struggles of a poverty-level life.
So this weekend when I took my beloved car to the auto shop and they told me the repairs might cost upwards of $800 dollars, I lost it. I make under poverty-level income as an AmeriCorps VISTA, and that $800 dollars is a full month of pay. How can I afford to fix my car and pay my rent? Groceries? Utilities? My phone bill? Many of my days begin at 8 a.m. and end at 9 p.m. with school and work, and I can’t fathom how a bus will fit into that equation. Plus, I love my car. I love the freedom of driving it to my buddy’s place on the weekends, and my favorite picnic spot for lunch. My mother sent me a text earlier that said, Please tell us how much this will cost. We can help pay. In the meantime, we can drive you to and from work. My boyfriend’s family offered to let me drive their extra Ford Focus while my car gets repaired. Everyone I talked to this weekend offered up their support in one way or another, sometimes at the expense of their own comfort.
Here’s the bottom line: I work as a VISTA because I want to decrease the disparity between classes. I know firsthand the struggles of being without a car, and I don’t want to go back. Many Indianapolis residents have no choice.
How do you help? Sometimes a simple smile will do, or any small show of support. If you find yourself truly passionate about making a change, I recommend looking up AmeriCorps VISTA, whose mission is to break the cycle. Here’s a link: www.nationalservice.gov/program/americorps/americorps-vista