Going Toe to Tow with Food Justice

When I first got to Boston, I had just come from a week of vacation followed by a week at national orientation and had been allowed a small duffel bag and backpack as luggage for these two weeks. Since the transition between vacation to orientation to Boston was so quick, I was unable to get a residential parking pass for our street before I left. Our Site Coordinator, Sarah Goodloe, graciously let me park my car, filled with the rest of my belongings, at her house until we got to Boston. 

Even after arriving for good in Boston, I was still unable to get a parking pass because I hadn’t yet received a piece of mail to prove my residency. So the car stayed at Sarah’s house for one more week. After three weeks of living out of a duffel bag and backpack, without access to my car, I had the opportunity to retrieve my car filled with the rest of my luggage from Sarah’s home. Once we finished our pancake breakfast on our first Saturday morning in Boston, I drove my fellow BFJYAVs to our new home. 

Even with this small triumph, however, I was still lacking a parking pass. Luckily, one isn’t necessary on Sundays so, I decided that I would park in the grocery store that is across the park from our house and move it to the street first thing on Sunday morning. Yes, I know, I can practically hear the “oofs” of people reading this. Looking back, I realize this was a mistake! But anyway, I took a small load of things from my car into our apartment since it would be easier to do the rest in the morning. 

Fast forward to 9 am Sunday morning: I made my way to the grocery store to move my car and as I neared the lot I noticed, Huh, I can’t really see my car. Then I got a little closer…. Huh, it looks like there’s another car in the spot that my car was in. A few steps closer. Oh no. My car isn’t there! 

I took a few steps forward, unsure what I should do; turned around and took a few steps back to the house; changed my mind, turned around, and walked back to the parking lot for a few steps. I finally decided to look around the parking lot and noticed a sign that said, “4 hour parking maximum. Strictly enforced.” I know, oof. 

I called the towing company listed on the sign and confirmed that they did have my car and that I would need to bring a substantial amount of cash to retrieve it. After church I started the process of getting my car back. Ultimately, it would entail taking trains both inbound towards Boston proper to get to an ATM, outbound to make a bus connection to catch another bus that ended up never coming, which led to a brisk walk to another bus stop and, finally, to the towing company to retrieve my car. I handed over the cash and received my change along with instructions to walk down the street to their remote lot where they hold on to towed cars. 

Following this series of events to retrieve my car, I had to park my car in a lot 45 minutes away via public transit for a week until a gracious offer from a family at the First United Presbyterian Church of Cambridge came into my life: They had a spot in their driveway a short walk from our house. 

During this time, I worked to get a parking pass for my car. This was a process that involved strings of one step forward followed by two steps back over and over. I was also extended grace from my site placements in their understanding of my being late or asking for shorter hours so that I could make it to the various necessary offices that would eventually allow me to park near my residence. Finally, a month after getting to Boston, I was able to park in our neighborhood. Success!

Let me take a few steps back to look at this experience as if it was more than just a series of ‘oof’s. While certainly not an ideal experience with my car, it has been soaked in a lot of my own privilege. Throughout this process I kept reminding myself, with the help of Sarah during periods of more intense frustration, that I had a lot going in my favor. I tried to keep in mind people who would not have been able to afford to pay the towing company and would have to leave their car, only for it to get more expensive to retrieve. What about the person that could lose their job because they needed to take time off from work to retrieve their car, but doesn’t have a way to get to work without their car? Thinking about folks that would have more serious implications of similar car troubles to my own was a humbling reminder to be thankful for the privileges that made my experience go much smoother than it could have gone. Sure, it was a bumpy and frustrating road, but I had a program I could trust to make sure I wouldn’t have to choose between eating for a few weeks, keeping my job, and getting my car.

Reflecting back on my experience, I realized that there was only one moment that I felt actual nervousness. This was when I first realized that my car was no longer where I had left it. I had initial nervousness about whether or not my car might be damaged or if somehow it had been stolen. These concerns  turned out not to be the case. After developing a plan of action to retrieve my car and prevent this from happening again, the main feeling that I had was frustration. Frustration towards how difficult it was to register my car; frustration towards how difficult it was to prove my Massachusetts residency; frustration towards the processes to get a parking pass. 

Despite these frustrations, I felt little to no fear about being able to overcome this issue. I had no fear of having to trade transportation for food. What if I lived in an area in which I wouldn’t have access to groceries without my car? Everyone needs access to food and the honest truth is that, according to the USDA Economic Research Service, there are millions of people in the United States alone that live in food deserts (https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-access-research-atlas/documentation/). Having access to a car is a massive luxury that, among other benefits, allows for more access to healthy food. While many folks are not able to afford the costs that come with a car (actual cost, gas, insurance, maintenance, state inspections, etc), those that benefit from having one within a food desert, would have felt more fear in addition to the frustration I did. 

This experience as a whole has come with many lessons and food for thought. It has been a practice in resilience, in working through the systems in place, and trying to not be overwhelmed and frustrated in ways that would be unhelpful. It was a lesson in gratitude for the many things I have going in my favor, despite feeling at times like it was impossible to make any headway towards a solution. It was food for thought about what many folks may go through when moving to a new city. Gratefulness and resilience in the face of challenges is a practice that I try to incorporate into my daily life to remind myself to be thankful as well as to strive to use my privilege to advocate for change in favor of those who are silenced by the systems that ignore them and work to their detriment.

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