Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Feature out

Today LEO runs a 4,000-word cover story on my experience as a car-less dude. Check it out here.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

It's all over now, baby blue

That's it. As of this weekend, my experiment is officially over. And the ultimate irony has ensued: my car has a flat tire. That's right, I drove the thing once on Saturday and earlier tonight, just as I finished mowing the lawn, I noticed that the air was completely absent from the tire. Nada.

I was pissed for a brief moment, but that washed over quickly. I'll just bike to work tomorrow morning, I thought. I'll mess with all that later.

And that, I think, is a perfect ending to this whole no-car experiment. I can see myself -- hell, I remember myself -- going bat-shit crazy over losing a tire to some random nail who-knows-where on the road. It's frustrating, that kind of thing. Mostly, it's just an annoyance, like a mosquito bite on the wrist where your watch is, or an under-skin pimple. But I know how simple my options are, or I'm at least more aware of that fact now, and it just rolls off. I'll get to it when I have a little time. Meanwhile, everything keeps moving.

The relief is astounding. It ties back to the idea of independence and the American automobile, and how dependent we actually are on this idea of independence granted us by the car. I marvel at its absurdity every time I see a commercial where a driver is not sitting in traffic or stuck at a stop light or trying to make a left turn in a jam or waiting to get around a parked car. People don't drive alone in the desert. At least not people like us, and by us I mean everyone who's not paid to drive those cars during commercials.

Screw the flat tire. Doesn't matter. I'll get around to it. Meantime, I'll get to the stats tomorrow sometime, and some further conclusions about this whole trip as they come to me. There will be a cover story in the May 16 issue of LEO about this thing. Look out for it.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Damn the rain!

Well, yesterday I embarked on a little experiment: pick a handful of locations placed disparately on the city map, set out from home and try to make it to all on the bus. It was completely ridiculous and contrived, and I aborted the plan early on. Here's one reason why:

I caught the 21 heading east from Germantown, as my first destination was Oxmoor/East End. The plan was to hit Oxmoor, eat lunch at Wild Oats, head to Dixie Manor Shopping Center, Jefferson Mall, Greentree Mall, and back home (I've already used the bus in West Louisville and found it easy, accessible and reliable -- same with downtown). Naturally, it was raining pretty hard. I have a dinky little umbrella that I like because it's compact and fits nicely in my messenger bag; it's terrible as an umbrella for the same reasons. So I'm wet, riding the bus to Bashford Manor, which is not where I'd been led to believe -- by TARC's Web site -- I'd be going. I get off near Hikes Lane, walk across the huge parking lot toward the goddamn Wal-Mart, and am left standing in front of the world's most loathesome retailer for more than an hour, waiting for some phantom bus I was sure would never show.

There I met an older man, with scraggly white hair (with that yellow tint unique to old smokers) and a similar beard, and very few teeth. He was from Eastern Kentucky, wore camouflage pants and carried a raggedy organic rice sack full of who knows what. He told me he thought the Mayor was bullshit because his popularity had outpaced his vision to an alarming degree. He told me he used to know people, individuals, who owned mining operations and land in Eastern Kentucky, "before the British came and tore everything up." He told me the Courier-Journal used to be a reputable newspaper interested in investigations, before Gannett made the fateful purchase. When I complained about how long the bus was taking, he told a story about a woman complaining to him about things that she couldn't control. I laughed at myself and my absurdity.

Once that damn bus finally came, it took me straight to The Mall St. Matthews, where I deboarded and walked to Wild Oats for a tasty but overpriced lunch of turkey, olive loaf and grape leaves. It was then, more than two hours down and only at my first destination, soaking wet and pissed off at the damn bus system for being so unaccomodating, that I decided to cancel the day's plans. My route is unrealistic, I reasoned. Who would ever want to make this trip in this order? There is no way to accurately reflect one's ability to move around the city on the bus, because one's experience is, in fact, singular. I was done.

The irony of it all was that I caught a 29 bus on Shelbyville Road, right in front of Wild Oats, that took a straight shot to Eastern Parkway and Goss, a few blocks from my house. It was the backside, so to speak, of the route I set out on a few hours before. Fuck. Major miscalculation. That does, however, seem to be the nub of this whole thing: trial and error. Unless one is enmeshed in the bus system -- and talking to people who are has provided much solid advice -- one will have a very hard time navigating the convoluted route maps (particularly those online) until one simply intuits the routes. That comes in time, I'm told. It's happened to me already with the routes I normally use. Preparation, of course, is paramount.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Flexing away your gas money

Maybe it's the most poorly-timed traffic lights in the city, which run all of East Broadway and up until at least 5th Street, that churned loose this wave of loathing for most of the people in the cars surrounding me this morning. Maybe it was sucking exhaust off the same rusted short bus at every stop and go block. Maybe it was the sweat trapped between my back and the messenger bag strapped tightly to my upper torso.

The speed with which we try to move ourselves -- in fact, that which we think we must do to please (insert person or organization here) by moving at particular speeds -- is just stupid. It's ridiculous. People drive 40 mph one block at a time. You might as well flush your gas money down the toilet for all the good that does you.

Between Brook and 4th Street, I stopped once on my bike. I was moving moderately along, deftly negotiating the rear handbrake while keeping balanced by shifting my body weight slightly left or right, passing cars in the other lanes (I try to stay in the right lane, riding in the middle of it so as not to give some muscle car the idea that he can nudge me off the road) and then being passed, only to continue this little two-step until I turned off Broadway onto 4th.

Though I've been known to breathe a little road rage in the past, I've never done it over a biker. And while I've (amazingly) only gotten one honk over the last month, one angry "get out of the road," I have been aggressively passed countless times, only to pass that car again within a block or two.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

One more thing...

Wanted to followup on yesterday's bit about heading back down to see my source at 37th and Broadway, which is, incidentally, two blocks from where this young man was shot and killed yesterday morning. My source said he didn't hear the shots; he heard some late the night before, but not when the guy was murdered.

The bus was as crowded as any bus I've been on. There were at least 10 people standing the whole time, from 4th to 37th on Broadway. There were four white people on the bus with me, which bodes slightly better for the idea that Louisville is actually integrated in a real way, though it's not much to go on. All but one was off by 37th Street. I wonder how similar this is to the experience in other cities. It's certainly not like that in most "big" cities, although most are hubs or magnetics, and Louisville isn't much of one, at least right now.

The native population appears to be much too accepting of this problem.

New stats and some such other stuff

Rode my bike to HQ today -- what a morning! It was probably in the high-60s or low-70s, early sun that is rarely oppressive, and nominal traffic. Outstanding.

Here are last week's stats ... sorry I'm a bit late on them. They cover Monday thru Thursday, as I spent Friday thru Sunday in Chicago, where I walked more than 10 miles and probably covered about that in cabs. I rode in a car to and from, which amounted to about 615 miles. Damn.

• Miles covered on bike: 2.1 (whoa)
• Miles covered on bus: 17.92
• Miles covered in someone's car: 5.79 (plus the Chicago total)

My initial intent was to examine both biking and busing -- getting around Louisville without a car -- so the first week of the project I spent almost entirely on bike. The second week I mixed the two. Last week I almost entirely rode the bus. This week is my real experiment: Getting all the way around the city. I'll try that first by bus, then by taking some of those fancy bike paths around and about the city. Should be fun.

Also, I weighed myself again last night, after eating a hefty dinner, and I've lost two pounds since beginning this experiment. I didn't expect to lose much, if any, as I've been the same size, essentially, since high school. What has been noticeable is that my legs, in fact my thighs, are becoming a lot stronger. The muscles are more defined. They get tired less. I am the last human on earth to discover regular, rigorous exercise!

Monday, April 30, 2007

A few random things

So I got around Chicago for almost three full days (and with a group of between nine and 11 people) without taking the El once. Nothing to be proud of, to be sure; just noting it. We took cabs and walked a lot -- we guessed about 10 miles, give or take, on Saturday.

For the third time, the bus did not show up on time this morning. I stood at the stop for 20 minutes before the thing came. The whole thing made me wonder about people who, unlike me, actually have to be at their job at a particular time in the morning, afternoon or whenever, and they rely on TARC to get them there. How many times will a boss listen to "the bus was late" before he or she says forget it, such-and-such can't make work on time? Unfortunate.

I'm going back to see my source on 37th and Broadway today, and I'm curious if I'll again be the only caucasian on the bus. That thought occurred to me about an hour ago, when I was covering for another LEO reporter who is covering the request for injunction over the decision, by the city and police, to close down the "black" portion of West Broadway to eliminate cruising during this year's Derby weekend. The courtroom was packed full, and it got a little rowdy so the judge -- Coffman, a middle-aged woman with a slight drawl and an immutable air of authority -- got a little annoyed, asking at one point that the people who kept reacting to what the attorneys said leave. Nobody left, but everyone pretty much shut up.

I haven't updated my stats for last week quite yet, as I'm deep into a story and coming up on my deadline. They'll be up tomorrow, I'm sure.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Long weekend

I'm off to Chicago for the weekend, and I don't expect to be blogging much, if at all. I will, however, be taking the El and perhaps a few cabs here and there. No car, of course. It's easy to do that in Chicago.

Check this out if you want to learn something interesting.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Race and the bus

Sorry I missed yesterday -- Tuesday is the deadline day at LEO, and one of our staffers was out, and we had a minor crisis in putting together the first round of our coverage of the Governor's Race (though, in typical shoestring-newspaper fashion, we pulled through at the last minute). So yeah, stressful day.

It's been all bus this week, and I've been able to read nearly all of this outstanding novel during my time waiting for the bus, walking to and from the stops, and actually on the thing. Again, best thing about the bus -- and about the Metro in DC, the subway in NY, so forth -- is the extra time it affords to do things that aren't driving.

I digress.

Monday I blogged about an interview at 37th Street just off Broadway and how I was slightly concerned about getting there on the bus. My concern was unfounded. I took a Broadway bus from 4th Street to 37th, walked about half a block down 37th to my source's house, and that was that. It took about 20 minutes. With the exception of losing my footing (the bus was standing room only) and careening into another rider, a young man in headphones, when the driver suddenly slammed on the brakes for no apparently good reason, the ride was gold.

One aspect, though, was quite disturbing: I was the only white rider on a bus packed full and heading for West Louisville.

It disturbs me not because I was in any way uncomfortable being the only white rider -- that was actually quite refreshing in a personal way -- but it really speaks volumes about the way Louisville is segregated: housing, employment, primary mode of transportation. Most people here are able to ignore the division, the segregation, in Derby City because 1) most born and bred here are not particularly confrontational, or so has been my experience; and 2) it is so well hidden from everyday view. Public transportation brings it into full view. Any extended look at housing in Louisville offers the problem in full relief. A stroll, bike ride or afternoon drive through West Louisville would probably shock half the people who live in Louisville, if not more, people who may profess outrage at the very thought of segregation or jump all over you (rhetorically) if you bring it up, people who are not proud of this vicious matter of our past and present but who are nonetheless able to ignore it, to do nothing about it.

My source told me he's had meetings with the Mayor's staff about upping the funding for community centers in West Louisville, for dumping significant capital into a program geared toward embracing youth, any number of things to integrate West Louisville into, well, the rest of Louisville. The response? That would be admitting there's a problem. That was in the late 1990s; not much has really changed since.

Greater Louisville Inc., the Metro chamber of commerce, has a fine man on its staff, DeVonne Holt, whose job it is to pursue economic development -- mainly mid-sized companies who can offer a few hundred people at a time a good-paying job -- in West Louisville. It's relatively slow going, but Holt hasn't been going at this full-time for very long. Good for them. (Stephen George)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Week Three (and stats!)

Let's get this out of the way first. Last week's stats:

• Miles covered on bike: 11.16
• Miles covered on bus: 16.05
• Miles covered in someone's car: 27.92

During Week Two I accumulated less than half the bike miles I did in Week One and more than double the bus miles (and more car miles -- I'll explain shortly). I became attached to the idea of exploring the bus system, which I will do at length this afternoon, as I have an interview way down in West Louisville, at 38th Street. I will begin mapping my trip soon.

I'm surprised at the number of miles I moved in a car -- that's a significant amount more than last week. Much of it can be accounted for in one night, when I went to a dinner thing that took me around a bit. Interesting how many miles one can put on a car just by going to dinner, really without even thinking. All in all, though, I didn't move around as much this week as I did during Week One. Friday I worked from home, which is a nice advantage of this job. Saturday I spent working in the yard -- I left to run an errand and that was that. Sunday I rode to the coffee shop and worked all afternoon, read the CJ and Sunday NY Times, got high on caffeine, rode home. Typical Sunday. In the evening I pedaled down to Comstock Hall at UL to watch the ensemble Century of Aeroplanes give a concert. My house is about as far from the University as it is from LEO headquarters. Good to know.

Spent the rest of the evening catching up on some reading, which included this piece by Thomas Friedman from last Sunday's NYT Mag. In it, he argues that the US could regain its stature on the world stage by being a real leader in green technology, alt fuels, so on. If the US could lead by example and compel the rest of the world -- namely China, whose industrial society and car culture are expanding exponentially -- to start curbing greenhouse gas emissions, get off coal and conserve, the world may have a chance to begin reversing the effects of global warming. It's a compelling argument, worth a read if you care about what "green" is and what it could be. Frankly, the US hasn't done much of anything "green" at this point; we're content to convince ourselves of alternate realities, like the one that says significant change is actually occurring right now. The only significant change occuring right now is the slow-boil of the planet, or so it seems.

Friday, April 20, 2007


It's pretty likely that scores of people have already reached the conclusion I'm about to lay out, and maybe some people here in Louisville have, too, though that's less likely given that our public transit seems to largely serve people who simply can't afford a car, not those who actively choose not to drive one. This concept has come to me in dribbles, though some kind of rush started during a conversation last week with a friend about something having nothing to do with transportation.

The most common aphorism I get about this whole experiment, from those who detest it for various reasons, is the classic: "I just need the independence a car gives me." OK, a car allows you to move yourself whenever you want, virtually wherever you want, except in the central city from now until Derby, when you may as well stay home.

I would argue the contrary: Not having a car and knowing you can get around, pretty much where you'll need to go with a few minutes of additional planning and more patience in arriving at your destination, is a wholly freeing experience. I can't tell you how many times people have told me how screwed they were for this or that because their car broke down. By being independent of a car, you're also independent of the concomitant worry (and cost).

What this psychological modification creates is a natural middle ground, which I think is what it will take to turn at least some measurably louder minority of Americans on to the idea of conservation. One is able to function optimally without relying on a car, yet when the car is necessary -- say you need 10 bags of soil for your garden, like I did not too long ago -- it is there and usefully fulfilling its duty. I am optimistic that 1) at least a slight majority of people around here are reasonable or are willing to be about their consumption, and 2) when emboldened with a real choice about commuting and being freed from the constraints of focusing on driving (one of the niceties of TARC is being able to actually read at length and think about something other than atrocious, insensitive drivers before starting the workday), people will realize that it is not only an easy change but an inexpensive one ($1 a day will get you anywhere TARC can go).

Wishful thinking?