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Errands and Uncategorized23 Aug 2008 12:59 am

Rental car time again. Number One Son is heading off to college at Northern in DeKalb, Illinois.

A dear and long-time friend had offered to let me use his very large Ford SUV for the delivery. I’m tempted. I know it will swallow enough people and cargo to empty out half the North Side. Besides, I haven’t driven something this big since I drove that antique 1954 GM transit bus, all 40 feet of it, in Minneapolis a few years back. Let’s not talk about things from 1954 being antiques.

Just for the heck of it, I do some quick calculations to see what, if anything, I would save over a rental car. Even with conservative numbers, I would save possibly $10-15 over a rental car. The downside is time: I’d have to cycle down to West Rogers Park to pick it up. I’m grateful for his generosity, which he has in abundance, but decided on the rental car last night. And so, I picked it up this morning, a black Nissan sedan with a Bluetooth-enabled keyless start. I asked the young woman, “But what if someone hacks my car from his Blackberry?” She’s polite but doubtless thinks this is one geeky customer she needs off the lot right now.

I like the dashboard: Tokyo by Night.

Tokyo by Night Dashboard

If it weren’t for the distance to DeKalb and two other people riding along, I probably could have done with borrowing a shopping cart from Dominicks and pulling it behind my bike: a young male does not travel with as much stuff as a young woman. This is not a sexist statement. This is the way it is. The heaviest item was the lead-encased computer monitor, followed by the CPU. The rest literally filled a shopping cart provided on the campus by the moving staff.

“Guys are so easy,” said one of the girls volunteering unloading cars. “They move in with T-shirts and jeans and their computer and TV.”

“This is the lightest load I’ve had all day,” said the young man driving the mini-truck to which we transferred my son’s belongings for the trip to the dorm shopping cart.

Son\'s belongings in a shopping cart.

After I park the car in a parking lot that is in the suburbs of the parking lots, I walk back to meet my wife and son waiting to get up the elevators. Nancy says that some girls’ loads filled up the entire elevator car. I myself notice some very generous mountains of belongings at the curb with girls standing beside them. This is yet another epiphany on maleness that comes from having a son and a daughter. Our car was absolutely packed with her stuff four years ago. I’m surprised the door latches held for 900 miles.

I also noticed the bike rack by the dorm. There are quite a few bikes here but one sad specimen has been knocked down to the ground while still being locked to the rack. It seems an orphan: the cluster on the rear wheel is orange with rust and the wheel itself is “taco-ed.”

Orphan bike at DeKalb dorm

Eventually, we get his belongings into his top-floor corner room with a commanding view of the campus and a nice breeze. We prevail upon him to take care of administrivia, minor things like books and banking while he has us and our credit cards. He would rather have his fingernails pulled out with a Ferrari but Mom knows what’s up. Good thing, deeds done.

We take him out to a nice Mexican restaurant in DeKalb for a final meal before dorm food. A beer would be nice as would a margarita but I’m driving. I asked the waiter, a nice Caucasian man, if they had liquados. “What’s that?” he asked. I guessed he didn’t have them. “I’ll just stick with water.”

We dropped James off after dinner at his dorm, said our goodbyes, and headed off leaving him to fend for himself. Not quite like Johnny Cash’s A Boy Named Sue but he’ll just have to figure it out himself.

We drove home again through the cornfields and the soybean fields and the depressingly persistent marching developments around Elburn.

Route 38 east of DeKalb on the way to Elburn, IL

Will all this green get swallowed up by suburbia, too?

My wife in her opinionated moments contends that cars are the devil. If so, then suburbs are the spawn of demon seed.

Heaven help us.

Uncategorized22 Aug 2008 06:54 pm

I can’t call it cabin fever in the Summer but I am now more grateful to have reasons to get out of the house. Today, I have reasons. A story in three trips.

Trip #1: Meeting in the Loop.

A vendor rep I’ve dealt with generously offers to meet me and catch me up her company’s online ad serving tools. We’ve agreed to 9:30 AM at a Starbucks on Wacker Drive, so it’s almost like I have a real job and join the folks on the 8:35 train to the loop in decent clothes. Again, the train is late and I make it to my meeting a few minutes behind. She’s already waiting with her laptop open and online.

We talk and she gives me a great update in about 45 minutes before she has to get going. After we agree on next steps and part company at her building, I look at my cell and see I might just make the 10:35 AM train back north again. Should I try? Yep. No more business in the Loop and I had already planned a bike trip to the Botanic Gardens with my wife.

I do the commuter trot: moving with the Walk signs and diverting my route to keep moving when I get the Don’t Walk signs. I’m antsy like a runner when I get stuck at a light with no choices and prepare to blast off when the light changes. Light mid-morning traffic makes this a lot easier than at rush hour.

I make the train with about 4 minutes to spare.

It is surprisingly full. A bike is parked in my coach at the side fold-down seats. Will they get to ride? The conductor enters this end of the car and eyes the bike, looks up, and asks who the bike belongs to. Oh-oh, I think, but I am fortunately wrong. A man quickly gets up and asks if the conductor wants him to move it. The conductor politely reassures him it’s in the right place but tells him he has to secure it to the seat frame with a bunjee cord, which the cyclist does. OK, I’m relieved and happy the bike gets to ride Metra, unlike other times I’ve experienced.

The conductor runs a tight ship but politely so. A sleeping man has his large suitcase on the seat with him and the conductor tells him he has to put it in the overhead rack or in the handicapped space. I can tell the guy’s thinking about whether he will do this or not but he shakes out the sleep and finally does it. The conductor also gets a man with headphones and an MP3 player to turn it down. “I can hear it from here and that’s not doing you any good.” Nice way to phrase it, nice customer service skills.

I run into a neighbor in the vestibule as we are about to get off. He’s a lawyer in a suit and now works from home. He said he did the commute for 30 years. He likes the Loop but now only goes when he has to and tries to keep that during non-rush hours. We talk about the techniques and the discipline of working on your own from home and I realize I’m doing the same thing as he. I’ve been here before: Dot-Bomb made me learn things I never knew I could learn. It’s weird to be dusting these skills off…again.

Trip #2: The Chicago Botanic Gardens

One of my absolute favorite refuges during the Dot-Bomb era was the Chicago Botanic Gardens in Glencoe. When the phone wasn’t ringing and my mood was down, I mounted the bike for a long ride to the Gardens and it did wonders for me. It still does. It’s a stunning garden and we’ve been members for years. That allows us to breeze in past the guard house and not pay for parking if we’re in a car.

A bike allows you to do the same thing without a membership.

My trip start threatens to be inauspicious: my back tire feels soft and my wife concurs when we stop a few blocks into Wilmette. She goes on and I double back to pump it up hoping it will hold. It does and I catch up with her just past Indian Hill Station by New Trier High School.

The main bane of my bicycling existence: flat tires. I dodged the bullet this time.

It’s uneventfully pleasant after that and quite a few people are riding their bikes on the trail, along with some runners and roller bladers. Late summer is lush and vegetation pours out everywhere. In the depressed cut excavated by the Chicago North Western and the Chicago North Shore in the late 30’s, a patch of prairie plants has established itself north of Elm Street in Winnetka.

In a dramatic demonstration of phototropism, the tall stalks of the Prairie Dock lean hard over the fence, pointing their yellow flowers towards the western sun beyond the Metra tracks. Their big flat shovel-shaped leaves at ground level are minor players compared to this display, unlike earlier in the summer when they are so prominent. I decide that I will head first to the Prairie Garden.

Lunch on the patio at the Gardens cafe, another favorite activity of summer. We’re downwind from the outdoor grill and the sparrows are dive-bombing crumbs thrown by a brother-sister team but it’s still a pleasant place to be.

My wife has business in Northbrook and heads out on her bike to leave me to my own designs in the Gardens. Between the plants and Kurt Vonnegut, I’ve got a plan for the two-plus hours. I also managed to squeeze in a nap on the grass by the lagoons, too. Who’s to complain?

She meets me back at the Gardens and we take another walk through, retracing many of my earlier steps, but the Gardens never fail to please. We find one of the trees we are considering for the backyard, American Hornbeam, a native species. The smooth, distinctive bark gets it the nickname of “muscle wood”.

The bonsai display is serene and surreal.

CBG Bonsai in courtyard 1

CBG Bonsai in courtyard 2

As I unlock my bike, I find a broken spoke on the rear wheel. Uh-oh: Trip #3 in the making tonight.

We leave on our bikes around the 5 PM rush hour meaning that Lake Cook Road ought to be a brush with death. Instead, it is a brush with yet another driver who feels she bought the road when she bought her car, this time a big, red, late-model Corvette convertible with the vanity plates, “KID DR”. A vanity plate on a red Corvette is so redundant.

The hill eastbound up to Green Bay Road is always a challenge but my wife is riding her heavy old brown Schwinn and I wait for her to crest after I do. I no sooner turn to see her behind me and avoiding the right-turn lane of cars about to turn south when KID DR lets out a loud blast from her horn. My wife’s rejoinder is basically, “What, I’m not supposed to be in the road?” My two-cents’ worth is less articulate but just as vocal.

Mind you, KID DR has not heard either rejoinder: on this sunny, perfect day with a cool breeze, her black convertible top is up and the windows closed with air conditioner on. Why the ragtop, then?

Happily, the ride home is more pleasant than this encounter with the entitled and my wheel holds up, too. Folks are out on the trail more now but we pass a man in a sportshirt and dockers wearing a small backpack. He nods and keeps going northbound. He bears the focused cycling style of a commuter.

Trip #3: Bike Repair and Bus Ride

I call Turin’s repair team and see if they can take my bike tonight and have it ready tomorrow. I got riding to do on Friday morning. They can and I head off knowing that there are only a few hours left of CTA bus service on the 201 line past my house.

A quick assessment of my rear wheel turns up a second broken spoke. John, an experienced mechanic, quizzes me if this has happened before on this wheel. It has not. “Do you load up your rear wheel?” This answer’s a “yes” but not sure why I feel so guilty: my work changes of clothes, Blackberry, laptop, bike cable, tire repair kit, and tools are one kind of load and groceries are another kind of load. No new wheel this time: I’m still looking for work, remember?

Speaking of groceries, I walk to Whole Foods to do double duty on the bus ride. The net result is two grocery bags of tonight’s carryout dinner plus those heavy things I’ve passed up on recent bike trips: olive oil, milk, wine, cheese.

Unlike having a car to load my groceries into, two things are different when taking the bus:

One, I’m watching my cell phone for the time and checking against my printout of the 201 schedule: two more buses left. I focus and get checked out.

Two, I tell the bagger to balance the bags out because I’m walking.

I catch the 201 bus a few blocks west where it arrives right on time. I’m having flashbacks of my native Pittsburgh where the housewives, yes even in my lifetime, would dress up and board the red-and-cream streetcars for a ride downtown to shop at the big and aromatic Diamond Market. The ride home would include shopping bags of meats and produce and breads.

So, this is how it got done, huh? This is also how it gets done now.

Errands and Humor and Uncategorized20 Aug 2008 12:13 pm

I’m going local again today just because that’s the way it is. A mid afternoon dog walk takes me back to the North Branch LIbrary to pick up Breakfast of Champions. I open it to one of the simpler but cruder drawings by Vonnegut and laugh out loud. This is what our friend Martha laughingly told me about when I drew a similar “sunshine” image as part of a tasteless visual joke last Friday on the back of a restaurant’s daily special menu. I am looking forward to this book and must force myself not to try to read it now while walking the dog and crossing Central Street traffic.

Bread is low so I decide to go to the Heavenly Hearth bread shop in Wilmette but on my bike to save time. I just don’t feel like I’m getting as much done as I would like: even with discipline, working at home is a challenge. Not so much from my family but from phone calls and emails, which are mostly and fortunately about business. I end up staying up past midnight to compensate. I chat with the bread shop proprietor about his vacation.

The main observation today is how far into the week a bike trailer full of produce will take me. A dozen ears of corn at 2 or 3 per meal gets you 4 to 6 days. The blueberries and blackberries are holding up well despite daily topping our cereal. Peaches, two bags/green boxes, doing well but they do need to be eaten given their ripeness. Radishes still looking good but forgot some from a week or so ago but they’re OK. The watermelon half is still there so I need to remember that.

Dinner came from the Farmer’s Market load and miscellaneous Whole Foods stock ups and our garden. My wife has imparted to me the philosophy of whipping together dinner without a gratuitous rush trip to the store, so today’s is corn on the cob, a salad of spinach and FM vegetables, and leftover pasta with pesto made from basil from Nancy’s container gardens.

The bagels from Sunday’s bike errand are holding up but disappearing fast, thanks to Number One Son for whom the term, “low hanging fruit” applies to any food easily prepared and applied to his mouth at mid-afternoon or middle of the night.

One late night walk with the dog under the waning moon and that brings today’s mobility to a cool close.

Errands and Uncategorized20 Aug 2008 12:03 pm

My day is a transportation desert. The grand tours of the neighborhood with my dog are the highlights as I pry myself off the desktop laptop and the cell-o-phone. Not so bad, just not much to say.

“Local” is nice, though. I stop in the North Branch of the Evanston Public Library to request Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. After all, why make an extra trip, even by bike, if someone else can do the trip for me? It will be here Tuesday. Deal.

I combine that with trip to Dominicks for a prescription that came in Friday when I was having the time of my life traveling to the west suburban frontiers.

A late afternoon soiree across the alley and I meet with my neighbor to advise him more on his website. This business meeting is conducted in his shady backyard, populated by plants and three dogs, the shyest of them all, a small Shitzu, managing to insist her way onto my lap to share that space with Macks’s MacBook. Beer and chips make this much nicer than a conference room meeting. We’re sharing expertise here: he’s advising me and my wife on building a water effect in the backyard. We are sitting facing his homemade waterfall and pond, an impressively handsome and comforting spectacle and soundscape. Only the roofing job next door disturbs the peace.

What does come from two phone calls of the morning starting at 9 is catching up with colleagues past, one now freelancing himself in the western suburbs and living in Vernon Hills. There’s a drive for you, folks.

The other is in the Cincinnati area, through which I have only passed on Amtrak years ago in a past life when I worked in On-Board Services. The Amtrak station was a pre-fab 70’s box in a lonely industrial place and sadly, we only passed behind the grand art deco Cincinnati Union Station. Happily, CUS was preserved.

As am I, preserving myself for the next commute.

Uncategorized18 Aug 2008 11:25 am

I have a hankering for bagels today. Not just any bagels but those from our favorite shop on Dempster Street in Skokie. This is a bike errand I’ve been meaning to try since the summer started. Typically, it is an impulse “hop in the car” drive, sometimes even before going to work on a weekday. They open very early.

The morning has slipped by this lazy Sunday and the day is heating up but I decide to go for it. I leave at 12:11 pm.

I’m back by 12:37 pm, bagels in hand, well, in pannier, and cream cheese in the top bag. Not too shabby.

McDaniel and East Prairie Road are light today but are never really busy, just more active as main residential feeder streets on weekday rush hours. The main delay is the incredibly long traffic light at Golf Road, biased heavily in favor of roaring east-west traffic between Evanston and points west, including the Edens Expressway and Old Orchard Mall. Another light at Church and yet another long light at Dempster, again biased to east-west traffic. I avoided this second one with my bike because I could cut down a side street and through a parking lot to the bagel shop.

Did I do better than by car or worse? Or was it a wash? I’m leaning towards the second. Except I justified eating that nice fresh bagel, at least.

The only other transport today is to tai chi class after which I connect with my wife at Whole Foods where she had bought some miscellaneous items for dinner. We spread the load out between us and bike home.

A sober reminder of automobile life awaits us at Green Bay Road, where a police car is blocking all southbound traffic at Lincoln Avenue. He confirms what becomes apparent when we look south: a serious car accident where McCormick tees into Green Bay, the site of several past one-car fatalities in recent years. In this case, the flashing lights of a cluster of ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars surround something unseen at the base of the railroad embankment.

Auto accidents, injuries, and fatalities are routine emergencies that we all somehow accept as the cost of convenience. They are, after all, very common.

Leisure and Shopping and Uncategorized18 Aug 2008 08:16 am

Farmer’s Market again, late in the morning. I’m pulling the trailer again even though my wife said we could do without it. I just think it’s easier on me and my bike and gives us the option of buying those heavy items like, oh, watermelons. Which we do.

Efficient shopping is not the name of the Farmer’s Market because we run into so many friends and neighbors and even coworkers here. Ad hoc bull sessions are the order of the day and one seems to blend into the other. We still manage to shop and load up the trailer with corn, the aforementioned watermelon, blueberrys, peaches, and the bonus baklava.

The last was the result of my spin through the market before I left and while my wife talked with an old coworker. True to form, I had ants in my pants and had to cruise. I spied the baklava as a man there was handing out the Taste of Armenia flyers for St. James Armenian Church in downtown Evanston next Sunday. He, too, comments on the bike trailer. I told him of my quest to go car-free this summer and he’s interested in how that’s working and tells how he had once considered the trailer when his kids were younger but gave up the idea, joking about the wide turns and needing a police escort for the wide load. I give him this blog so he can catch up and he takes it. I also buy the baklava and he talks about the passions of different baklava cooks at the church who choose honey or rosewater-flavored sugar syrup.

Dessert Downside: The trip home did not do the baklava any good. The layers shifted and slid apart leaving a tumble of sticky but still tasty filo dough and chopped nuts.

Earlier, as I held my bike while my wife shopped, a woman walked up and asked, “Did you start out with children?” and indicated the bike trailer. I explained to her the car-free quest, too and joked about eating the things in my trailer as sounding more like a dark tale from the Brothers Grimm. My wife does not think this joke is remotely funny when I retell the story but at least the woman laughed. Fresh produce and stale jokes, the story of my marriage.

Our evening was a trip to Chicago’s Lake View neighborhood or perhaps Town Hall Police District, east of Wrigley Field and near Lake Shore Drive. The plan was to hang out with my wife’s good friend and colleague, eat dinner, and watch her recording of the Olympics opening ceremonies from last week. We don’t really want to bike the whole way especially with our contribution of a half watermelon conveniently cut up, so instead we do a bike-CTA thing. It works well. My wife votes for boarding the CTA at the end of the Purple Line in Wilmette at the Linden Station because it has a generous ramp up to the train platform, making the bike roll-on/roll-off easy. Very good plan and beats heaving our bikes, selves, and watermelon up the old steps at Central Street.

The Addison stop at Wrigley Field has been rebuilt and so has an elevator for handicapped access. Bike access, too, I might add. We ride that down and then ride to Martha’s house. The streets are buzzing with nightlife even without a ball game. This is a short bike ride but a decent walk. Her friend meets us and lets us into the gangway, sans gangs fortunately, where we park our bikes safely.

On the way home around 11 PM, the streets are still active and awash in the orange glow of Mayor Daley’s sodium vapor lights. Unnatural to be sure but certainly they make riding a bike in Chicago at night a whole lot safer.

The gate at the el station through which we must roll our bike is a pain and the agent tries through the bullet-proof glass to explain the procedure now that the “Out of Order” sticker is pasted on it. This is stupid, for sure. What we finally figure out is that he wants us to scan our smart card on the adjacent turnstile, push it to register the fare, and then open the gate to let us and our bikes through. The gate is manual and swings against my wife’s bike, not surprisingly because she is so close to scan her card and open the gate. She grouses. The agent gets impatient but persists and it finally becomes clear what he wants us to do.

We missed a train in the process.

In the elevator, I note the buttons and comment on the unclarity: “P” and “S”. “Platform” and “Station”?

My wife notes the pervasive smell of urine in the elevator and suggests that “P” stands for something else more immediate.

A train comes quickly and the ride in the lightly-loaded train is uneventful. The bikes do take up a lot of space but fit better in the cars with the open wheelchair space by the door. For now I shed my guilt for taking so many seats on this late train.

The transfer at Howard to the Purple Line is simple with a small wait and a short ride back to Linden. We ride home in the cool night with a nearly full moon and the trees are alive with summer night noises.

Commuting and Uncategorized18 Aug 2008 08:14 am

Interestingly, O’Neill’s autobiographical play takes place from 8:30 A.M. to around midnight on an August day in 1912. My day started at 5:25 AM and ended around 5 PM at my house in 2008 with less drama.

The destination is the western suburb of Westmont. Google maps tells me this about the car trip: 29.7 mi – about 51 mins. But I don’t have a car and I’m trying to prove a point, remember?

I decide to sweeten the deal by arranging to visit a good friend in Hinsdale, two suburbs inbound on the Metra BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) Aurora line. He’s very generous and insists on driving me to my meeting and picking me up afterwards. He tells me to get off at Hinsdale and we decide that I’ll call him when I’m on that train. Here’s what it took to do this.

I needed to catch a 6:45 AM inbound North Line train. Not terrible, mind you, but I stayed up late last night prepping for this meeting and I’m tired when I get up. My bag is packed mostly and just needed the laptop and power supply. Cell phone, check. Notebook, check. Thermos of coffee and snack, check.

However, I try to squeeze in a short dog walk and just make the train as it slides into the station with brakeshoes smoking. This train is very busy which surprises me having been taking later trains around 8 AM. I still get a seat and work on my laptop offline. It’s on time downtown giving me about a half hour to walk the two blocks south to Union Station and buy a ticket to avoid paying a $2.00 surcharge when the station agent is open and you insist on buying on the train. I need to now catch a 7:45 train outbound for the reverse commute.

The track is posted but the train is not in yet but arrives soon. It is packed and a very long train. It takes a long time to empty out and the platform is filled edge-to-edge with commuters. I finally get on a lightly-loaded car of reverse commuters that include a woman in a Cubs outfit. She tells another woman her office has baseball Fridays and there are only a few Sox fans in the office. Office Space comes to Chicagoland. I heard Tom Peters speak once and he suggested “cross-dress Fridays.” This lady has “Crosstown Classic Fridays.” My vote is with Peters’ idea.

I arrive at Hinsdale on time at 8:19 AM. I note minivan taxis at Hinsdale lined up waiting for people like me. My meeting is at 9:30 AM so we have time for coffee and tea at good ol’ Charbucks. We leave before 9:10 and still get there by 9:20 with a leisurely drive. I’ll call him when I’m done, which I am by 10:55. In about 10 minutes he’s back but I ask him to drive me directly to the Westmont train station so I can see what the route looks like and if there are sidewalks. My experience in past suburban office park jobs has been that sidewalks don’t get plowed. Who the hell walks in the suburbs in winter? Me, I guess. Dope.

He’s already setting the trip odometer before I suggest doing it and it gives me a sobering number when we arrive: 1.8 miles to Westmont station. That’s a healthy walk, twice as long as my last walk to and from the train downtown. A quick bike ride, though, so we note the bike rack by the Metra station, which also happens to be in front of the Westmont municipal building and police station. I know some buildings don’t allow bikes overnight so we decide to ask if it’s allowed.

A very helpful woman greets us at the glass window inside the Westmont building. When we pose the question about leaving a bike overnight she is surprised at the question. “No one’s ever asked that. I don’t know but I’ll talk to someone who might have the answer.” And she went into the back room.

About three minutes later she came back with a large yellow lined Post-It note in her hand and said she had talked with the police department. I could do it but I would just have to let the Westmont PD know that I’m a reverse commuter, and tell them my name, address, phone number, and color and make of my bike. She gave me the Post-It with these items listed and the Westmont PD non-emergency number 630-981-6300. We thanked her for her help and she really was nice about it.

On the way out, we stopped by the rack and picked up the Pace 715 Central DuPage timetable from the rack. In the car to lunch, I looked at the morning northbound options: 6:53, 8:09, 9:21 AM. A little thin and no backups if you miss the connection. Any taxis here at Westmont? I didn’t have time to check. Hmmmm. The bike idea deserves consideration.

We have lunch - we drove to a place on Ogden in Westmont - and drove back to Hinsdale to his house to hang out and shoot the bull. A 2:55 PM Metra is what I’m aiming for so around 2:25 he drives me the short trip downtown Hinsdale. He is next to the historic stone Highlands Station but this train does not stop there.

Soon after we are on the platform the speakers crackle with unpleasant news: inbound train is about 25 minutes late. Wonderful. He says it’s trackwork. The station is filling up with families and younger people, especially young women. The Air and Water Show is on at the lakefront. They’re not driving, that’s for sure.

The inbound train finally comes and it is packed and very noisy. I give up on returning a phone call. Won’t hear it anyway, why bother. This is not your subdued commuter crowd with heads buried in Wall Street Journals and Blackberries. But nobody’s drunk…yet. That comes later.

I don’t have the margin I would like to make the 4:30 North Line train two blocks away at Ogilvie but that’s because I’m Germanic. I actually have plenty of time - more than 20 minutes - and buy a single ticket because I used up my 10-ride.

It leaves on time and is nice and quiet and gets to my stop on time at 4:51. I walk in the house at 5. I would probably only be starting my journey home at 5. When the days get shorter, this would indeed be a long day’s journey into the night.

I am sure I could not do this every day.

Uncategorized18 Aug 2008 12:22 am

This week of commuting adventures is getting a little intense and it’s not over yet but relief is here, sort of: I go nowhere outside the neighborhood today and spend way too much time at the computer for my “commuting”.

The effect on my behind is almost like a long Greyhound ride. The upside: my bathroom doesn’t smell quite as bad.

And the only guy talking to himself is me.

Commuting and Uncategorized and travel18 Aug 2008 12:16 am

Today is a combination of relatively last-minute trips into the Loop, firmed up mid-morning with just enough time to catch a 10:57 Metra train inbound.

First stop: near West Side along the trendy Randolph Street corridor, which is now more sushi than sides of beef as in the days when produce and meat markets dominated this area. There are still some food vendors left amidst the upscale dining and I picked my way past sidewalk dining where the next storefront was a meat wholesaler where guys were unloading large pieces of beef from the back of a white Ford panel van. It’s about a 10-15 minute walk to an old colleague’s office from the Metra station but I had stopped first to pick up a Metra schedule for the Aurora train for a Friday trip. More on that later.

Lunch outside is a relief from sitting at the laptop all day Tuesday sending emails and making phone calls. We catch up on each other’s web work and chew on our shared past personalities as much as we chew on our lunch. Let’s say the lunch is way easier to digest.

My next stop is only at 3 PM so after wrapping up around 1:15 PM, I walk back to the Metra station to get out of the impending and then arriving rain and make some calls. The repetitive electronic voice announcing each track is enough to make a Marcel Marceau scream in mid-act. I walk to my appointment.

This one ends with enough time to leisurely walk back to the Ogilvie station and settle in on the 5:43 PM train about 15 minutes early. Nice.

My wife, meanwhile, is on her way back from Washington, DC. She calls me to tell me that our friends at United are going to plop her into O’Hare at 6:55 PM. Obviously, I will not be driving to pick her up so I encourage her to take a taxi and be ready to pay about 42 bucks for the privilege. She wants to know the alternative, so I tell her that I think the Cumberland station will offer her a Pace bus to Evanston, which means riding the CTA Blue Line inbound a stop. She sounds like she’s game to try it and she’s a big girl with a big idea and I suspect she will not take the taxi. Funny how you get to know somebody in a marriage.

What she does actually is to take the O’Hare People Mover, a rubber-tired elevated train, to the remote parking lot where she picks up Pace bus Route 250 - Dempster Street http://www.pacebus.com/sub/schedules/route_detail.asp?RouteNo=250 which originates at the O’Hare Kiss-N-Fly ATS Station. She is actually in progress when she calls to report this but assures me she will at least take a taxi from the Davis Street El station in Evanston.

Despite my having arrived home from downtown, I have enough time to walk the dog and make fish tacos from scratch including making another walking trip to Dominick’s to get some additional vegetables I need and setting the table before she gets home well after 8:30 PM. Her bus trip was almost as long as the flight from DC and indeed, the timetable allows the trip about an hour:

Take PACE BUS # 250
Depart at 07:25 PM:
O’HARE KISS ‘N’ FLY BUS STOP
Arrive at 08:27 PM:
DAVIS CTA BUS STOP
Partway through the trip home, she was doubting the wisdom of this method, but she certainly pioneered an overland route from O’Hare I had never thought of. Perhaps the next time she can try the Conestoga service.
Financial and Uncategorized17 Aug 2008 11:27 pm

As my wife and I talked about the luxury of a car on the way home Saturday night, we tried to calculate what it would cost if we were to rent a car every weekend in a year and compare that to ownership, fuel, maintenance, insurance, and fees. This assumes that we would do without a car during the weekdays as we have been doing.

Between the late hour and focusing on driving the ever-busy toll road, my brain could not handle these calculations on the fly. Let’s try this again with a fresh brain and a calculator now that I returned the rental car yesterday morning and have the full financial damage to work with.

The weekend rate for this car for two days with 12% taxes - it’s 20% in the City of Chicago - is $85.10. For 52 weeks that comes out to $4,425.20. Gas is our responsibility so I’ll average what I bought for the two trips this week and annualize that for giggles: $28.22 x 52 =$1,467.44. Put the two together and you have $5,892.64 for the privilege of having an economy car two days a week.

A side trip to Edmunds’ True Cost to Own SM http://www.edmunds.com/apps/cto/intro.do with the specs on the car we are currently doing without offers up these annual numbers for our 2003 Subaru Forester based on 15,000 miles per year:

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 5-yr Total
Depreciation $1,177 $1,033 $909 $806 $723 $4,648
Financing $640 $518 $386 $243 $88 $1,875
Insurance $989 $1,024 $1,060 $1,097 $1,135 $5,305
Taxes & Fees $777 $78 $78 $78 $78 $1,089
Fuel $2,548 $2,624 $2,703 $2,784 $2,868 $13,527
Maintenance $1,519 $823 $1,733 $456 $1,142 $5,673
Repairs $429 $500 $581 $675 $784 $2,969
Yearly Totals $8,079 $6,600 $7,450 $6,139 $6,818 $35,086

Without monthly car payments, our fixed costs of vehicle ownership currently comes out to $1,338.00, which is a combination of insurance ($1200), license stickers/plates ($78.00), and city sticker ($60.00). Maintenance on this car is low but still hacks into the budget about $500.00 a pop lately. Let’s be generous and say I’ve done upkeep about every 3,000 miles and that would be four times a year. $500 X 4 = $2,000.

Gasoline I’ll rough in based on our lower-than-average annual mileage of about 10,000 miles using a modest fuel efficiency for our Forester at 25 MPG (400 gallons) and $4.25/gallon, which is about where we are right now in Chicagoland and that brings us to $1,700. That’s pretty close to the $1,467.44 rental car number above.

Add them all together and you get this: $5,038.00.

Given that we have yet to hit 15,000 miles per year lately, this number makes Edmunds’ numbers pretty darn close. Let’s recap:

  • $6,818.00 Edmunds Year 5 cost
  • $5,892.64 Rental car
  • $5,038.00 My numbers

So even though the costs are pretty similar, it looks like we are not getting a better value with a rental car: fewer miles, fewer days, more hassle, and nearly another $900.00. The upside is a fairly new car that we do not have to maintain.

Right now, it looks like my “car free” is actually “less car, same costs.” Unless, of course, “less car” also means “less rental car”.

That can be done, too.

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