MY FATHER reminded me recently of the angry response he received when, some time in the late 1970s, he taped a small sign, handwritten in ink on a 3- by-5-inch card, to the front door of our house.
He wrote, "No tobacco, please." Even though his friends were mostly progressive professors of history and English, some found his sign to be inhospitable: How could a host deny his guests the right to smoke?
The norm then, of course, was that it was entirely permissible to smoke everywhere, in restaurants and concert halls, schools and churches. Even in your friends' houses.
But times change, norms change.
Nowadays, for example, most of us think that life without a car would be "abnormal." In the Alameda of today, the average household, according to Alameda's Transportation Commission Chairman John Knox White, has 1.5 cars (on Bay Farm the per-household average is slightly higher, at 1.8).
I was perhaps inspired by my father when my husband and I last sold our cars. First went the 1998 Honda Civic. Then we sold the 1999 Volvo station wagon for slightly less. (Good mileage is in high demand.) We're lucky: We're healthy, the kids' school is just across the street, I work at home and my husband commutes on the bus or BART.
Could carlessness be the wave of the future?
Or maybe we're just foolishly adding a lot of extra hassle to our lives.
Lucy Gigli, president of BikeAlameda, says she's seeing an uptick in the number of people cycling around town.
"In the last year there has been a big increase," she told me. "And there are way more parents and trailers out there."
She says she knows of many families who have gone down to one car.
I have on my shelf a book called "Farewell My Subaru," and the news is full of people turning to alternatives to big cars. The Prius is hot. So are little electric scooters and cars.
Maybe we're part of a teeny-tiny trendlet.
In our household, we now rely on our feet and bikes. And for trips too challenging without a car (visits to my mother-in-law in Palo Alto), we're using City CarShare, a nonprofit that offers dozens of autos for short-term rental around the Bay Area.
So far one positive is that I have integrated exercise into my day. Last Thursday, I walked to the orthodontist at Towne Centre, and then later I ran back and forth to the Fruitvale BART station, picking up and dropping off a CarShare car. Six miles by foot! Not bad for a day.
If you tell a New Yorker you're going car free, they don't bat an eye. Theirs is a city of subways, taxis and buses.
We humans are social animals. We take our cues from what people are doing around us. When other people's pants start to taper in at the bottom, we tend to want ours to taper, too. When brown is the new black, we usually want brown.
People are going to say all sorts of things about our new abnormality, I told my children. And, too, I have been so in the habit of the car. I am lazy! When it was there, I used it for all kinds of trips — to pick up the kids at a friends' house, to go the half-mile to the grocery store. But putting it in perspective, I know burning fossil fuels is bad for the planet we share. And I know we don't need huge metal vessels to travel short distances.
How will our family of four do without a car? Stay tuned for further reports on the experiment.
Eve Pearlman also writes the Alameda Journal Blog. Look for news, impressions and opinion at www.ibabuzz.com/alamedajournal.