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September 2008


Leisure05 Sep 2008 10:21 am

The weekend socializing this Labor Day requires a trip across the alley for dinner with another set of neighbors who have invited a bunch of people from the neighborhood for a barbeque. No drinking and driving here.

Oh, and it also includes a trip to Dominicks using a wire shopping cart to get some groceries we need for our contribution to the ad hoc potluck.

The Labor Day leading up to the 5:30 potluck amounts to staying around the house and relaxing.

And thinking about the Summer that, for practical and emotional, if not meteorologic reasons, has passed.

This includes the Car-free Summer, 2008.

The end of Summer always catches me by surprise and this one is no exception. When I began to consider this idea of trying car-free and pretty quickly decided to just do it with encouragement of my friend Scott Davis to keep a journal, I really didn’t have huge thoughts about what would happen when Summer ended. Now I’m staring at it and it’s staring right back at me.

Mix a little bit sad with that surprise, too.

That sadness alone, though, is probably a positive. I have truly enjoyed this Summer.

How close did I come to my stated goal?

In the next few weeks, I’d like to reflect on what I’ve learned and what I’ve enjoyed. I want to determine whether I’ve come to any grand conclusions. In turn, I want to think out loud and consider next steps. In the meantime, I want to document our transportation needs and desires as they are germane to the discussion of doing without a car.

I hope you’ll come along for the ride. It’s not over yet.

Leisure and Uncategorized05 Sep 2008 09:34 am

Once again, we did not motivate to get out of town Labor Day weekend. The weather has been unbelievably nice and sunny with low humidity, so I’m one of many appreciating that bonus for staying in town.

Our transportation needs are minimal because our desire to go far-flung places is also minimal.

Need Number One: A New Sawblade

Talk about pedestrian but that’s what it is. My hand-me-down Skilsaw has what is probably the blade that came with it, a course, gap-toothed blade that still cuts but makes more splinters than sawdust. It is tearing up the edges of the already-coarse plywood I’m trying to cut with some sense of dignity. This calls for a trip to the hardware store again.

I take my bike. It’s fast and the little round sawblade will fit easily into a pannier bag. I probably spend more time figuring out how to hold the blade still while I loosen the nut and then changing the blade.

There are plenty of cars in the hardware store’s parking lot. There is also a mother and son unlocking their bikes when I come out of the store to unlock mine. Despite the parking lot at this store, there are also patrons consistently showing up on their bikes, often with kids on their bikes. It really is possible with kids to do bike errands.

Need Number Two: Dinner with Friends

This one is really easy: dinner with friends at the end of the block. Our contributions to dinner are already on hand: sweet corn bought yesterday at the Farmer’s Market and brought home in the trailer; beer I had bought the other day on a walk with my dog.

Nothing grand and no grand conclusions here, folks.

A couple key concepts, though: closeness and community.

The hardware store is only about 3/4 mile away. The neighbors are about 3/4 of a block away.

The need for a car does not exist in a community with services and people nearby.

Errands and Leisure and Uncategorized02 Sep 2008 03:29 pm

Hauling in Good Company

I ran into my friend and neighbor Marie Sprandel this morning as I walked with my hairy sidekick Marlowe. Marie is fresh back from a three-week stint in South India where she was working on a Habitat for Humanity house construction project in a Tamil village. She’s a fellow cyclist and she proclaimed that in India they knew how to carry real loads on bicycles. She was generous enough to share this photo of a man carrying cooking pots on his bike, which you can barely see:

Marie also saw bicycles used to cart construction building materials such as lumber and harvested sugar cane stems.

Pardon me, but my bike trailer load from the Farmer’s Market ain’t shit by comparison.

Making bikes do more work would certainly take the edge off the “cycles only for leisure” attitude in this country. High-minded ideals are a great basis for change but putting change into peoples’ pocketbooks is what sways skeptics in this country. Marie also has sent this New York Times article about bike couriers in New York finding more ways to load up their bikes for profit and, well, profit:

Unburdened by Gas Costs, Bike Couriers See a Chance

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/02/nyregion/02messengers.html?emc=tnt&tntemail1=y

But hauling that trailer of produce today certainly made me feel in good company.

Bonus: taking the bike to the Farmer’s Market frees me from worrying about the parking patrol in the white right-hand-drive Jeeps that hand out tickets to unsuspecting Saturday shoppers.

Again, the trip was a study in social connections, as I once more ran into Kelly from tai chi and Elana as well.

Shrinking or Concentrating?

I’m pondering if my world has shrunk by sticking so much to the bike this Summer. I’m not so sure it has, given that so many errands I run are within several miles of my house and that they have often depended on the car out of speed and ease, at least in the past. True, I have not bopped to as many suburbs as I would have with a car but I have covered a lot of territory by transit and bike, excluding the rental car trips.

Late in the afternoon, just as we were wondering what to do for dinner and not coming up with any profound answers, a friend called inviting us to dinner in downtown Evanston. Nothing formal on this eat-outdoors summer night so nice casual clothes would make the bike possible. Which is what we did.

We locked our bikes in front of the closed-for-the-evening main library and walked over to the Irish restaurant across the street. We did eat outside and it was a perfect night for it. While there, we also ran into a woman my wife had worked with and a man who works in the Wilmette bread shop. If my world has shrunk this summer I like to think it’s also become more concentrated socially.

An insight on drinking and not driving came from a poster inside the restaurant: it was for a Beatles-town pub crawl in Liverpool and it was sponsored by the taxi company. Keeping drunks off the road also means giving people more choices. Taxis, however, can be a rare commodity the farther you get from urban centers. Alcohol is not proportionately rare.

We walked around a bit after dinner and we boys decided to take in the music at Bill’s Blues Bar. I just walked back to the library moved my bike in front of the bar while Nancy rode home.

Now, realistically, drinking and biking is more an exercise in suicidal tendencies than a threat to others, so I had no intentions of pushing it. Which I held to and thus was able to unlock my steed and ride home safely in the post-midnight quiet.

And by the way, my car is still parked on the street where I left it the other day.

Errands and Leisure and Uncategorized02 Sep 2008 09:55 am

“Within a century of little Kago’s arrival on Earth, according to Trout’s novel, every form of life on that once peaceful and moist and nourishing blue-green ball was dying or dead. Everywhere were the shells of the great beetles which men had made and worshipped. They were automobiles. They had killed everything.”

Beginning of Chapter 3, Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut, 1973.

Today’s radio broadcast is filled with stories on last night’s acceptance speech by Barack Obama. In a rare use of our TV, we watched it, too.

The loyalists are energized. The Clinton crowd is stinging. The Republicans are gunning. The right wing is just plain stupid and selfish as usual.

I’m disappointed.

He devoted a big section of his speech talking up getting off Mideast oil by pouring talent and intellectual energy into developing a new generation of clean cars that will generate tons of new American jobs but not tons of emissions. I heard not a peep about weaning ourselves from cars and devoting that same level of talent and intellectual resources to creating a viable, fast, and attractive public transportation system in this country.

Now, of course, Mr. McCain is a mixed bag but the team behind him is not filled with people of high moral standing and concern for a sustainable Earth. Yesterday NPR carried a story about the Republican platform committee http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94057387. This quote stood out as I listened, saddened but not surprised:

“He (McCain) has also urged action to curb global warming and favors a cap-and-trade system that many in his party oppose. The GOP platform makes no mention of cap and trade, while it rails against what it calls ‘doomsday climate change scenarios’.”

We wouldn’t want to confront the possibility of doomsday now, would we? Things are going to get better, trust us. Don’t listen to those whiners who say there’s not enough oil and not enough food. Our “can-do” American spirit can conquer anything if we put our minds to it.

Who is this really serving? My unvarnished opinion is that the Republican Party, especially since the horrific days of Ronald Reagan, have successfully convinced huge swaths of American voters to vote against their own best interests while wrapping that punch of the voting card in feel-good patriotism and misty-eyed conjurings of “family values.” As marketing goes, it was a pretty damn successful campaign that continues to this day. So much so that Mr. Obama now must pander to some of the same thinking when he invokes visions of freedom from foreign oil in 10 years and domestically-produced cars that will be part of that solution.

God and country forbid, would he actually tell us that we need to be using less of everything, including automobiles.

Let me offer a little counterpoint to this thinking from the British Medical Association Journal:

http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/337/jul24_2/a576

Worth a read. Short version: our rate of population growth is such that we are consuming resources at a faster rate than the planet can keep up with and even attempting to wipe out poverty and hunger would depend on increased use of fossil fuels, which, you guessed it, causes climate change.

Of course, we can deny this thinking in the name of getting elected. Wouldn’t want anybody to panic and stop driving now, would we?

My wife has pointed out many times lately that in all the discussions of climate change no one seems to be talking about that old concept of “Zero Population Growth” from the good old Seventies. I doubt McCain or Obama have read this BMJ article but I hope someone on their staffs are sensible enough to do so. In McCain’s case, his choice of Sarah Palin has pretty much dashed that hope, so I’m left with Obama.

I don’t want to downplay Mr. Obama’s message and his thinking and potential for leadership and even what was an encouraging speech, even if it was not rousing.

But on the issue of cars and fuels and climate change, I hope he changes.

A Little Bit of Cycling

This pre-Labor Day Friday is slow for many people and moreso for me in my between-jobs state. I really don’t have many places to go during the day beyond walking errands.

Again, my evening tai chi class requires a bike ride there and back. On yet another sterling evening, other cyclists are out on quiet Lincoln Avenue and cars give us all a wide berth without honking.

After class, I talk with some of my classmates for a while before I ride home without making any other stops.

I’m feeling good, a product of the rides and my class. This is my tangible reward for not driving.

My second hope for today:

I hope I’m doing some good for the planet.