We have a lot of divisions in this country; most of them unfortunate and unnecessary; but, the one I am going to mention now, is the chasm between the driving and non-driving culture, one that as a non-driver, I have become acutely familiar with on my journey. Case in point: I recently stayed with my friend, who advised me that the venue, where our book event was going to be held, was ‘right down the street.’ I was excited to learn this and immediately loaded my suitcase with books and headed ‘right down the street’ in a literal sense. When I arrived at the end of the street and saw no British Pub, I concluded it must be at the other end of the street. I turned around and walked to the other end. Note: Long Beach is in L.A. County, and like all of L.A.; is zoned for sun and 80-degree temperatures, day in and day out; which for a San Franciscan, means I was melting like a snow pop in a desert. ‘Right down the street’ meant ‘a five-minute drive’ or in non-driver terms 1.1 miles. I called LYFT.
As a lover and supporter of public transit; I recognize that in the great U.S.A., a particular mindset is required to successfully navigate it. Public transit is not sexy, cool or chic. It is rarely convenient or punctual; oftentimes littered with debris and seats stained with questionable substances. If public transit were a person, it would be perched on the bottom rung of lower-class society. Although there are some very good reasons to use it such as; easing congestion, meeting real people, decreasing stress associated with driving, having time to relax and see the scenery, saving money or the fact—(and I do use fact here, quite literally)—that global warming is real and the planet is on fire and a proper public transit system could help alleviate that, why would anyone use it?
I grew up in Oregon, in the country, where everyone drives. I learned to drive a tractor, by the time I was eight; and mastered a stick shift by ten. Hopping into a vehicle and driving is in my DNA. Twenty+ years ago, I was in northern California, where fields of rice and almonds, flanked either side of the freeway, and the scent of manure wafted through the air. Sitting at an off-ramp, in my Acura, a truck pulling a horse trailer hit me and crumpled my car like a cheap TV dinner. I limped to a tow truck, insisting he drive me to my meeting in Sacramento; he obliged, but only because he was worried that I was hurt more than I let on. Turns out he was right. I ended up in a hospital, where it was ascertained that along with whiplash, an assortment of bumps and bruises, I also had a concussion. It was the beginning of the journey to hang up my keys and adjust to life as a non-driver. The transition didn’t fully manifest until I moved to L.A.; but, the idea had been planted.
Today, at the age of 50+ years young, people often ask what I do to stay in shape. I would love to say that I work out twice a day, every day; or that I spend hours on the treadmill sweating to the oldies; but, I don’t. I would like to be able to say that I am an avid follower of (insert the latest fad diet here) but, I’m not. The cold hard fact is the exercise we did at twenty or thirty; it doesn’t work the same way at fifty. Your knees will hurt and there will be unexpected pains and creaks you could never have imagined thirty years ago. I drink beer, eat barbecue and use public transit. Fortunately, a side effect of using public transit is exercise; and not just any exercise, but the type of exercise that works at 50+: Walking. Walking is scientifically proven to be a good form of exercise for those of us past the mid-life line and, public transit not only encourages it; but, demands it. You have to walk to, from and between stops and the UP escalator is usually broken, when you arrive; so you get your stairs in too. Thank you Public Transit.
Another great side-effect of public transit is the ability to meet new and interesting people. It is true; you may not want to meet all of them, and some of them have brought their own imaginary friends to converse with; but, cool ones do abound. I have met accountants, musicians, travelers and most recently, the lovely Chicago based Ernie, who has worked in the medical field for twenty years, translating all kinds of medical things for the Hispanic community; from baby delivery to the passing of loved ones. You get to watch the scenery, and it can be a very interesting experience. It is through the window of a bus, that one can witness firsthand the disappearance of the middle class. Dirt yards turn into manicured lawns; tagged houses become Tuscan-style Villas. This sort of travel is humbling; it reminds you what a tiny place you occupy in the world. For me, I like remembering that; it puts life into perspective and reminds me not to take things—(both positive and negative)–too seriously or personal; those things pass, much like the scene through the window.
The monetary savings are not to be dismissed. According to John Nielsen, AAA Director of Automotive Engineering and Repair, it costs “$11,000 per year, based upon 15,000 miles of annual driving.” This is a median estimate that includes gas estimated at $3.50, insurance and scheduled maintenance. A median estimate to use public transit is about $1000.00 a year. Obviously, the cost difference is substantial, but, public transit is not always the most practical solution; it does require a mindset and planning. Can you bike part of the way? Can you use LYFT Line for part of the journey? Can you leave a few extra minutes and walk? It is a puzzle, but, it can be a really fun one. People often say they don’t have any spare time to ‘just read a book’. Using public transit gives you that time. Each morning, I check my email for my BookBub offers—(here is a little 411 about BookBub). If there is an interesting title, I grab it for my trip. I get a ton of reading done, and it’s great; like my brain is doing calisthenics. There is not a lot of ‘road rage’ happening on public transit. Truth is; reading a book, is much less stressful than sitting in bumper to bumper traffic on a freeway.
Infrastructure, lack of buses/trains, convenience, are cited as problems with our transit; and our transit system has work to do, in order to operate as efficiently and effectively as it should. Ask the typical liberal on the street and you will find that they are pro-public transit. We want cleaner air, less congested roads, and economy for the populous; but, our dollars rarely end up there—on the bus, train or metro. Public transit makes good sense for your pocketbook and is just good for the planet; but, when it comes to day to day trip planning, people mostly weigh the choices and just end up driving.
In 2006, the first Inconvenient Truth movie was released and the accompanying website had a pretty cool quiz that asked questions about your lifestyle and based on the answers, your personal carbon footprint was evaluated. Not surprisingly, driving is one of the greatest offenders contributing to gas house emissions. Power is knowledge. Check out the quiz HERE and see where you land.
For me, once I changed my mindset—everything changed along with it—even riding public transit. Until next time….