Sunday, December 18, 2005

Riding Around

Though it's a bit ironic that I'm choosing to sing the praises of public transportation on the eve of the imminent MTA strike (which will leave 7 million people -- myself included -- unable to get to work), I was pleased to see that Cleveland has made just a little more progress in the car-free department.

Some of the reasons I used to like public transportation don't really apply to my current situation. For instance, having some quiet time to sit and read: though I'm near the end of the line, I never get a seat, so my hourlong commute from central Queens to 34th Street is spent clinging to the same infectious pole that the little kid who just sneezed into his mitten has been clinging to. It's hard to read while you're lurching around, trying not to touch anyone else in a blatantly invasive way, while also trying not to think about how much of a mess someone with a stick of dynamite in their North Face vest might inflict.

Taking the subway there's also no pleasure in watching the urban landscape pass by. Taking the 75X from Fairview Park, and then the 23 down Clark Avenue, and then the 45 up West 65th, and the the 55X from Edgewater was probably what got me interested in urban revitalization in the first place. Without trying to sound too melodramatic, I wonder if young people zipping east-west on I-90 across Cleveland could ever truly come to appreciate what's there, what they're missing, what they're wishing they could move away from.

But there are a few pleasant things that, in the last five years that I've been car-dependent, I've forgotten (and a few that I've just discovered).

1. Time means something different when everyone relies on public transportation. If you're late to work because of a breakdown underground, chances are you're not the only one -- and you won't be singled out.

2. Walking through subway underpasses and up many flights of stairs per day is good exercise. It sounds like a cliche, but you really don't see many fat people in New York. People in New York just look healthier. Sure, it's been bandied about in the news that living in the suburbs makes you fat, but I'm not just talking about fattitude. There are probably some who would say, what New York have you been living in, but I'll venture to say (and I'll back this up in a future post, if you'd like) that I see less physical stress in people's eyes, in people's posture, here.

3. When you rely on public transportation (or, indeed, walking) to do your grocery shopping, you buy less. And I find that when I buy less, I use more of what I buy -- there's not as much danger that I'll buy more than I need because I only buy what my two little arms can carry. Sure, I have to shop more often, but that means the food I'm eating is fresher. And grocery shopping just takes a little more effort, too -- you might be hauling that bag of potatoes, that sack of kitty litter, and that pork roast for 5 or 6 blocks. Also good exercise, and a lesson in appreciation: there's no rotting cabbage in my crisper because I don't want the walk I took uphill in 27-degree weather to have been for naught.

This is something that, in my 5 years of car-dependency, I had completely forgotten about. I had forgotten that when I used to take the bus from Edgewater out to the now-defunct Danny Boy's on Lorain Road, I'd spend exactly $36 on enough groceries for two weeks, and I'd never throw anything out that wasn't a peel, stem, core, or packaging.

4. Hmmmm...I suddenly have more money. I'd had many moments over the last 5 years where I'd vaguely wonder, "how could I have more money when I was only making $800 a month versus when I was making $40K a year?" Certainly, relative deprivation played a part, but having a car - even a car that had been paid for outright in cash - is a huge moneysuck, and huge moneysucks don't equal freedom. Not to me.

5. When you have a car, there are things you have to expend mental energy on. Is my car going to get stolen if I park it here? Dented? Can I even park here, or is there some ancient yellow paint on the curb that I can't see? When was the last time I got an oil change? Was the engine making that noise this morning, or is that new? Does my back tire look flat? Should I shop around for some better insurance? Oh crap, did I just hit that guy? I have one thing to say in the face of all these potential ulcer-causers: no freaking thanks.


Blogger Chox said...

You could not be any more correct. Since I haven't had a car in years, I totally didn't notice my driver's license expired on my birthday back in September. So now, when I go back to Cleveland tomorrow, there is no way I'll be able to drive Dad's Caddy, Mom's Oldsmobile, or my sister's New Beetle.

Honestly, that's fine with me. The 7-Monticello RTA bus stops at the bottom of the street and will take me all the way to Public Square. And I don't have to worry about drinking and driving...because I'll be taking an AmeriCab home. :-)

Love the blog...been a fan for about a year.

5:44 PM  
Blogger Kossuth said...

Wonderful post. Piggy-backing your point, I would add that car-based culture presumes or has implicit in it the kind of civic engagement that we currently suffer the consequences of here in Cleveland: with people who feel disconnected from each other and able to take in only simple messages, like signs at the side of the highway.

12:34 PM  

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