Photo Courtesy of DART.org
Just recently, I read a post on Zen Habits (one of my favorite blogs) about the lessons to be learned from riding mass transit.
I’ve been without a car myself for nearly six months, and I wanted to write about this anyway, but Leo has given me a good excuse. And that is: I disagree. Not completely, but on several points.
If you haven’t read the post, you can find it here.
So far, there has been only one day in which I literally threw my hands up in the air, used an expletive, and wished (fervently) for a car. No car magically appeared in front of me, so I’m still car free. Also, I’m just learning about exactly how hot it is in Dallas in the summer. Our fair city has had several days over 100 degrees already, which I’m pretty sure is unusual. Thanks, global climate change.
I gave up my car, officially, on December 23, 2010. Mostly because it broke and the repairs were going to cost more than the car itself. Since I had been working on making some changes in my life anyway, I decided to see what life would be like in Dallas, Texas without my own vehicle.
My parents still think I’m nuts.
I live near enough to a train station (about 1.5 miles), and there are several bus stops near my apartment. Our office recently moved, and now, instead of being a mile from a train station, we are across the street from one.
In February of this year, around the time that Dallas was to host the Superbowl, we experienced some extreme weather. The temperature dropped drastically, with windchills into the single digits. I thought, then, “If I can get through THIS? I can get through anything.” I bundled up and braved the elements and I didn’t die.
One important lesson: Hiking boots are not suitable for the concrete jungle. Even if it’s freezing and wet, running shoes are a better choice (traction on ice is maybe the only exception). I really messed up my calves using my hiking boots to keep my feet warm. The lady at Run-On! was not happy with me, and I’m still dealing with some of the effects.
I’m here to tell you now that I was wrong. Three months of 100+ degree weather, plus humidity, is going to be far more difficult to get through than a week or two of really cold. I’m melting out here.
And this is where I take issue with Leo’s lessons (I’m not arguing that his points don’t apply to him, just that they’re not universal). While yes, I believe there are some wonderful things about not having a car, Leo is in San Francisco. Home to some rather perfect weather, from what I hear. Having to deal with 100 degree swings in temperature is no small feat. And it certainly adds to the number of items of clothing I have to own.
In Dallas, we always say that layers are the key to handling the sometimes 50 degree change in temperature on any given day. However, layers are more difficult when you don’t have your own vehicle. Who wants to be carrying around 5 extra layers of clothing when it gets hot?
Leo’s first lesson:
1. How to wait. Mass transit isn’t always on time (surprise!). But rather than look at that as a reason why riding buses and trains suck, we learn how to see that as an opportunity. My boys climb trees while I do pullups and (admittedly rudimentary) gymnastics from a low branch. We tell jokes and I swing the little kids around. We share things with each other, make each other laugh. It’s a good time.
I think this is super…for him. But I’m not (yet) self-employed and there really aren’t any gymnastics trees near my bus or train stops. Not that I couldn’t benefit by doing any kind of pull-up, even the rudimentary variety. But that’s a story for another day. When my bus in the morning is late (as it almost always is) it makes me late for my train, which is often early anyway, and then I’m late for work. When I’m late for work, my boss isn’t happy. When my bus is early? The next one doesn’t come for 20 minutes, and it’s usually late, causing me to…you guessed it, be late for work. See above for frowny boss.
I have a lot of patience for a lot of things, but this just isn’t one of them. And if I were talking about two or three minutes, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. At minimum, my bus is usually eight minutes late in the morning. The afternoon bus is often 15 minutes late or doesn’t show up at all. That is a sign of a failing system and DART needs to address it. Shorter bus routes, faster hydraulics on the handicap-person lift, whatever it may be. Fifteen minutes late on a 20 minute bus schedule is just ridiculous.
Yes, I sit and read a book. Yes, I’m polite to the driver. Yes, I know that this will probably never change (unless I move to Japan where buses and trains actually run on schedule).
The only other of Leo’s lessons that I take issue with is this one:
3. How to deal with humanity. We’re often shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers, which is something you never experience with a car. We deal with smells, with annoying people, with those who talk loudly, with the mentally challenged, with plain crazy people. In other words, with people. And this is a great thing. We learn that we come in all shapes and sizes, that life isn’t the perfect picket fences you see on TV, that the world is real … and that that’s OK. We’re learning to celebrate differences.
Ummm…riding public transportation is just making me hateful. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true. I’m not saying that riding public transportation isn’t a huge diversity day lesson. It is. I’m just saying that I’m having a lot more trouble than Leo in this department. I’m having a hard time seeing the bright side of people who don’t shower. Men who won’t stop hitting on me. Women who want to borrow my chapstick. People who have no volume control. People who listen to their music without earbuds.
You see my point?
I’d love to just look at this as a bright, shiny lesson in humanity. Instead, I’d like for people to be taught manners and hygiene. And also for them to get out of my personal space.
Maybe after a year without a car, I’ll feel differently?
Having said all of that, I DO like not having a car. I like that I’m doing something good for the planet. It’s saving me a TON of money on maintenance and insurance. It’s a good excuse to actually be home more. I’m getting more exercise (which I’m pretty sure is just leading to eating more, as I haven’t lost a pound, but instead have gained about 10). I’m learning to be more patient (sort of).
I can’t say it would work for everyone, but I feel really good about my decision. And you can watch this space for rants about late buses!