19 August 2009

bikes, boats, planes, cabs, buses, trolleys, and walking; or, being car free.

Last month I found myself suddenly car free. I listed my car on Craigslist, and, it being the Honda that it was, it was sold to the first person who looked at it for cash. This is what a Honda looks like when you hold it in your hands:

I no longer have that money in cash. Please don't rob me.
I was surprised that my car sold so quickly, but as it was a car that had been stolen, rear-ended, needed and gotten new brakes and tires, had insurance that was going to triple, required gas and washing and oil changes and made me worry about theft and future maintenance, it was pretty liberating.

Before I left Tacoma, being carfree offered me the challenge of biking through and too parts of the city I hadn't thought to be very bikeable. It was surprisingly easy. I had the opportunity to take a boat ride around Puget Sound, and while it was more for leisure than getting anywhere, it was cool. When I moved, I flew and allowed somebody else to do the driving as I shipped my stuff and took a cab home from the airport.

So before I got to Philadelphia, I had the sense that being car free was going to work out ok. Now that I'm here and carfree is the only way I know the city, I can't imagine living any other way. Philadelphia is quite walkable and has a very developed transportation system that includes buses, trolleys, and a subway (I haven't taken the subway yet). Some lessons that I've learned in the first week:

1. With planning, bus travel is an easy way to get around. It is not always fast, but it is cheap. So far my bus excursions have taken me to Ikea, Target, Trader Joe's, and Center City (downtown). In the next few days the bus will take me to West Philly (to pick up my bike!), the 30th Street Station (to pick up my BFF!), and t
o all the best tourist spots. Once I got on board with tokens, it's become even easier.

2. Trolleys are badass. I am fortunate to live in an area with restored 1940s trolleys and I'm sorry, but the design is so classic that you can't help but love riding them. They stop almost every block but are still pretty efficient and have been touted for their abilty to drive traffic to local small businesses.

3. That brings my to my third point, which is that being car free has encouraged to patronize local small businesses. Sure, it is
fun to say I made it back from Ikea or Target with a ton of stuff (pillows!), but the really of those trips were that they took about 3 hours round trip and were totally exhausting. Ok for a special occasion like moving in when you need to do heavy shopping, but not ok for every day. Instead, when I needed Drano, rubber gloves, and a box fan today, I hit up the local hardware store. I walked there. I got to talk to the shopkeeper about her shop dog, and I felt very happy walking three blocks with my box fan. I paid a little more, but in an area with too many empty storefronts, it's worth saving myself the time and trouble of the trip to keep a business going.

4. Public transportation can suck, but providence takes a hand. Today I planned to take the trolley to a meeting at the University (my first trip to campus!). I made sure to leave early since I needed tokens and wanted to be on time. I missed the trolley by just a second (I was visiting with the token lady at the check cashing place, also a recent transplant to PA). I thought this was no big deal because they come quite frequently in the morning. And then it didn't. After the fourth trolley passed in the opposite direction, I called to tell the person I would be late and started walking. I walked and walked and walked. I walked down some streets my roommate would call "cracky." I got a huge blister. I was sweaty sweaty sweaty and late to my meeting. But you know what? I wasn't upset because when you walk 40 minutes, the good exercise chemicals get released in your body. And I still got to visit with the cute granny at the trolley stop for a while. My meeting person was fortunately flexible. And on the way back, I did get to take the trolley, which during the day serves a predominantly senior citizen population. When I was at Utah, one of the things that I disliked was that I never got to be around old people. That is not the case here.

5. I can get single portion desserts on demand. Popsicles, gummy worms, and ice cream are available at the locally owned mini-marts, 7-11 downtown offers delicious peach-mango slurpees, and the soul food restaurant has yummy squares of eight different kinds of cake available. I don't have to keep the crap in the house, it's cheaper to by just a little of something, and when I walk to the junk I don't feel too bad about it.

6. Although I don't have a scale, I've definitely slimmed down. It may be that I haven't had much beer since the local beer store looks sketchy, and maybe it's from the stress and activity of moving, but I like to think all this walking has me craving healthy foods and that it's doing something good for my body. You know when you walk a lot when you're travelling? I'm doing that almost every day now.

7. I think this is apparent from the six other points, but being car free has put me in touch with my community. Today an old guy asked me for a token, and since I hadn't used my budgeted token earlier, I gave it to him. Lucky me, I got a friend for the whole ride! In slightly unintelligible English, he told me about his untreated diabetes and seizures. He told me about how he hates that his friends offer him booze when he's sick and we got to chat about Christ in the wilderness. It was kind of a funny experience but it made me feel good.

Walking and using public transportation has shown me what a friendly neighborhood I live in- I mean really, I couldn't hear every guy say in an overfamiliar tone, "Hey baby, how you doin'?" if I was in my car.
Since the granny bike won't be ready until Friday, look for a second installment on biking in Philly once I've gotten to do it a little.


Matt Newport said...

Ah, those cracky PHL streets...I hope you've got some pepper spray in your purse, or a shiv...one never knows....anxiously awaiting a report about how you wrangle the ODT up'n'down that tiny staircase...

You seem to be doing well with PT...I hope Tacoma gets a trolly soon!


Mom said...

I love those classic trollys. There was never a doubt in my mind that you would do fine without a car. Adventures on your bike are days away! Stay safe.

jana said...

I am so jealous! I wish I lived in a city with public transportation & local businesses!