Monthly Archives: October 2007

Days 246-251: MLwC and the wild fear of no exit

Whoa–this blog got away from me for a few days. Like a LOT of days. I’m not sure where I’ve been….

I’ve been thinking a lot about the insight I had the other day which I described in 64 miles to mindfulness. Of course, the idea of No Exit has been around in various forms for a long, long time, from Sartre to Pema Chodron. It seems that for a lot of us, the idea of No Escape or No Exit drives us to extremes in behavior and thinking, and I’ve been aware of that in my own jungle-mind since that experience in traffic the other day.

Cars give us the feeling that there is always an escape: we can just hop in our cars and away we go! But it’s not true. The expectation, the hope of that ideal gets us in the car, but the reality is quite different and the jarring difference between the two may be at the bottom of everything from mild irritation and a buzzing disappointment in your brain, to road rage and worse. Cars promise escape, but they can’t deliver–not with all of us driving on the same roads, going in much the same direction.

Perhaps that’s why buses have the sort of stigma they do. They represent the opposite: you’re just going where you’re going. There’s no ideal of Escape. No glamor of hopping in the convertible and heading down the road, all care-free abandon. Could be.

Anyway, I’ve been watching myself and these back-of-the-mind thoughts about Exits and Escapes.

thelma-and-louise.jpg

The other issue I’ve noticed the last couple of weeks is a definite change in car usage, and a definite reason why. In summer, the activities are outdoors, you can walk to the beach, hang out at the pool, run in the park, read a book out in the hammock on a summer afternoon. But as the days draw shorter and the temp drops, my activities tend to be more involved with others, in their homes–dinners, game nights, stuff like that. We move indoors and I, anyway, find I’m driving a lot more. Hmmm.

Daily Stats: (Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon)
Car: 21 miles (dozens of tasks and activities)
Bike: 18 miles
Ped: 5 miles
Bus: 0

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Days 244-245: MYLwC, Support your Local Ruminant and Blog Action Ruminations

goats-head.jpg

Meet one of the goats that is busily clearing out some ivy-infested soon-to-be gardens for kids at our nearby Gatewood Elementary. Well, actually, he’s not busy. He’s taking a break. This one is much more indicative of the ruminant activity taking place:

img_0006.jpg

 

 

As one of the ecstatic kids running around the ivy-removal site told me, “There are 60 of them! 60!” And they’re taking that ivy out like nobody’s business. Rent-a-Reminant (site under construction) is the business that is taking ivy infested hillsides throughout Seattle by storm. And boy, are those goats well-fed. They look almost uncomfortably beefy, and if you ever wondered if the rumor that goats will eat anything is true, it is. Branches, blackberry thickets, small trees, and yes, ivy, right down to its roots.

The secondary gain here is what the presence of goats on the hillsides has done for the neighborhood. I met new peoplethis morning, and ran into other friends who were out just enjoying watching the goats. It’s great to see farm animals in the middle of the city! Keep in mind that these creatures are helping to rid us of a very aggressive and invasive non-native species with lots of downsides, add to that the social benefit and the enjoyment the whole neighborhood is getting from the project, and the idea of ivy eating goats in the city is a no-brainer.

 

On to ruminations about Blog Action. La Marguerite is dedicating certain posts on her blog to bloggers who are doing something to become more in tune with an environmentally compromised planet (one gets so tired of “global warming,” “global climate change,” and all the rest–I’m liking environmentally compromised planet right now). I think her idea of calling out Blog Actions is really cool and would recommend taking a moment to go over and check it out.

It also got me to thinking about my own year long action and action itself. Action seems like such a…well, active thing. And I don’t quite think of my year long project as an “action.” Maybe at first I did, but I don’t now. Now it’s just part of my life, and that’s good. But I got to thinking about my project and realized, you know when you commit to change something in your life–something fundamental or maybe even not so fundamental–many other aspects of you life change as well, not to mention your consciousness about all kinds of things.

For example, you can’t start taking the bus or riding your bike for most errands or meetings downtown and not have that impact your thinking about lots of things. It’s also not possible–at least I don’t think it is–to become conscious about one part of your life without other things popping up for attention. Let me diagram this in my own case, my year long project to change my transportation habits and perhaps even ditch my car:

 

Blog Action

 

So again, I’ve discovered and re-discovered this all along the way: it’s the small steps that count. The single Blog Action I took on was to chronicle a year of learning about my transportation habits. The hundreds of offshoots from that one commitment–now that’s action.

 

Daily Stats: Mon, Tue

Car: 0
Bike: 4.5
Ped: 4
Bus: 14

Days 241-243: MLwC and 64 Miles to Mindfulness

I headed out yesterday to an all day meditation retreat held by Seattle Insight Meditation at Bastyr College, a 24 mile drive from my house in West Seattle. I was really looking forward to this retreat as I’ve been a little, well, how to say? Unfocused lately.

Anyway, so I took off leaving myself plenty of time for traffic, should there be any on an early Saturday morning through downtown Seattle. What am I saying? There’s always traffic through downtown Seattle. But I hit something a little more than just your usual traffic–all lanes were virtually stopped, with no explanation of what was going on.

We inched along and finally, as we get just past Capitol Hill I learn that there’s construction and they’ve closed all but one lane from downtown to the University district. Holy cow. I’m getting increasingly irritated and concerned that I’ll not make it on time, I’ll walk into the serene environment of meditators laughably late, no doubt indicating some transcendent failure on my part.

Finally a light bulb comes on in my head: I’ll take the 520 bridge exit, get off on Montlake, zoom up arterials and grab the freeway somewhere north of this mess and all will be good, right? Wrong. Lots and lots of other people have the same idea and then another light goes on in my increasingly unfocused head: I’ll just stay on 520 over to the eastside and go to Bastyr from there! After all, Bastyr is on the eastside, kind of, isn’t it?

sr520.jpg

So narry another thought presents itself to dissuade me and off I go. By the time I reach land on the east side, I have realized I wouldn’t know how to get there…I’ve always had someone with me who actually knows the eastside and knows the back roads. I have virtually no chance of getting there without getting at least a little lost.

By this time I realize that it’s so easy to go sailing down the freeway, so easy! So easy and fast that I’ve simply been in “get-away-from-traffic” mode rather than just relaxing and knowing I’ll get there when I get there. It’s a meditation retreat, for goodness sakes!

So, yes, I turned the car west and retrace my path back to the original plan, get back on the freeway–I’ve managed to get farther north at least to avoid the bottleneck–and resume my trip. With an added 9 or 10 miles to the odometer. I make it to the retreat 15 minutes late and settle in for an excellent day.

During the day, the meditation teacher, Rodney Smith tells a story of one of his students who has a packed schedule every day: two kids, a job, and appointments, activities and errands all day long. She was sitting in snarled traffic one day, the kids were fighting in the back seat, it was hot, she had lost her cool a few miles back, and suddenly she thought, “What if you just surrendered. Imagine you will never leave this car, not ever. It will always be like this.”

As he told this story, I thought: yipes! That makes me want to run screaming away from here! Yet on my way home, the 24 mile trip home, I got caught in traffic in the downtown corridor and the story popped up in my head. I thought, well, hell, why not give it a try. So I really focused and thought: “you will never be out of traffic. It will always be like this.” I felt a sinking feeling but then guess what happened? My head leaned back against the headrest and I involuntarily took a deep breath. I relaxed.

Hmmm.

Daily stats:
Car: 64 miles
Bike: 8.5 miles
Ped: 2
Bus: 0

days 238-240: MLwC and Deborah Kerr (pronounced Car)

Today, this site is My Life with Kerr (prounounced Car)

Here to Eternity

Deborah Kerr passed away this week at 86. There are a lot of adoring fans in mourning, and while I’m not an adoring fan, just an admirer (I really liked her acting a lot–An Affair to Remember just rips me up every time), I did stop and think enough about her passing today to research something I’d been told since I was a kid.

Deborah Kerr was the Torch Lady on the Columbia Pictures Logo. You know the one:

Columbia Pictures logo Deborah Kerr?

That’s what I’d been told a long time ago, and have repeated as one does with oral history, to those I have felt needed to pass this information on to future generations. Well, guess what? Even though she really does look just like Deborah Kerr, she’s not. According to a note in Wikipedia, the Torch Lady is none other than lovely-but-unknown homemaker Jenny Joseph. I’m sort of crushed. I really liked the idea of this tea-sipping, beach-Burt-kissing, King-and-I-dancing English lady being the Torch Bearer for Columbia pictures, if not the entire United States. But Jenny Joseph it is.  Another myth bites the dust.

A big wind storm blew up here in the Seattle area today, the first “biggie” of the season. I rode my trusty bike home from lunch at the Royal India in the Admiral District and whoa, that was interesting. It’s mostly down slope from the Admiral District but riding against the wind, I rarely topped 6.5 mph. It was sort of cool, but sort of disconcerting because a big gust would just hit me now and then, like a wall, making navigation a little bit more engaging than usual. Anyway, so far no trees down, but a couple of telephone poles nearby. All’s good for now.

Daily Stats: (Tue, Wed, Thu)

 

Car: 37 miles (eastside)
Bike: 12 miles
Ped: 0
Bus: 0

Oh yeah! It’s Blog Action Day!

La Marguerite reminded me this afternoon that it’s Blog Action Day!

And for Blog Action Day, beyond my post this morning, I want to cede my time to a most excellent and profound post that reminds us to reach beyond our own circle of like minded friends now and again, when the opportunity arises.  Thanks to GroovyGreen for pointing me in this direction, and thanks to Celsias for an unbelievable story.  It’s long, well told, and worth it.

Day 233-237: MLwC, roads and more roads

It’s likely true that traffic will expand so as to fill the roads available to it.

I’ve seen some long lonely roads zig-zagging through Texas and there are country roads in every state where you can count the cars that pass in an hour on one hand. But in metropolitan areas, the solution to traffic is always, always more roads. And when that solution is put into place, voila, traffic expands so as to fill the roads available to it. Until it reaches critical mass, and then the next plan is cobbled together: more roads.

The alternative, of course, requires a change in thinking, change in behavior, and change in long term planning. Change, in other words. More roads requires no change whatsoever, it’s more of the same. Where are the leaders who will stand up, come hell or high water, and envision a different approach?

Locally, last year we passed a major bus plan (Transit Now) last year that is rolling into effect over the next 10 years. I see bus ridership going up but tend to think it has more to do with gas than anything else. Time will tell. I’d love to see this work effectively and alleviate some of the dependence on automobiles on the road.

We have a big expensive package for road expansion coming up in the next election that is getting a lot of criticism mainly because it’s not forward thinking enough and bears too many of the solutions that have gotten us where we are now in terms of traffic. That is, a dependence on the car and solo driver.

Ron Sims has come out against the plan. A lot of cross-party dissenters have pointed out its many flaws. And yet it has a good chance of passing. Why? Because the keystone is more roads, and more roads is the “intuitive” answer to more traffic. It’s also incredibly expensive for so little return…which means somebody’s going to make a boat-load of money on this deal if it goes through.

I look at this package with the knowledge that in 50 years, my oldest son will be 80 when it’s paid off. My granddaughter will be 55. Their ability to make public investments relevant to their lives and times will be severely limited by this package. Should I be so lucky, I will use my pension until I am 110 years old to pay my share!

In the RTID, there’s something for everyone who works at Microsoft: light rail, more roads, bigger roads…and light rail running along the very paths that were planned to be supported through the Transit Now package we already bought and paid for. Will it work? Many of the planned improvements won’t even be paid for with the plan and as Sims notes: This roads-and-transit plan just doesn’t move enough people.

Interestingly, the city of Bellevue, the land of SUVS, no buses and little to no walking, endorses the plan lock stock and barrel.

Echoing something Tom mentioned a few days ago on another post about the bicycle question, Carless in Seattle has a nice quote in his header:

Excess demand for roadways during peak hours is the real problem, to which congestion is the most feasible solution.

Meaning: it won’t be until we realize we can’t build our way out of this problem that we actually start to think differently. Tom commented the other day that he takes a certain delight in causing a back up of cars with his bike riding because he hopes it will force the drivers to think differently about creating safe and effective bike ROADS, not just lanes.

RTID is just more of the same. More roads for a problem that actually requires behavior change. In our little berg of West Seattle yesterday, while running our errands, I was again struck by how nicely our hood is growing–to encourage walking and biking traffic. I LOVE, for example, the cross walk in the middle of town that shuts down traffic in all directions and opens up multi-directional crosswalks for 4 minutes.

Let’s try something different for a change.

Daily Stats (Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon)

Car:0
Bike: 14 miles
Ped: 6
Bus: 14

Days 229-232: MLwC and there’s a bus in the urban garden!

My pal Yo recently pointed me to an article on Putting People First about the Mobile Experience Laboratory at MIT, and how the thought leaders there are trying to take advantage of the current global-climate-change-dependence-on-oil moment in our collective lives. Federico Casalagno is a sociologist on the MIT team who is focused on making bus stops more interesting, inviting and useful.

Casalegno views the urban landscape as a garden of communication, the better the communication, the healthier the garden. He wants to create bus stops that encourage riders to use the bus, sure, but also to enhance and enable communication. He sees our movement around urban environments as part of the larger flow of communication between people, places and things. It’s a systemic approach to transportation and I have to admit, it’s a challenge to envision since one tends to think of buses as the means to get from point A to point B–the very thing Casalegno questions.

MIT bus stop design

The uber-modern bus stops would have walls of digital images and information, some very useful such as when the next bus is going to arrive, other bits including civic events, activities, local neighborhood postings, etc. Casalegno goes further and takes on the interior of the buses themselves, suggesting that those dull and often empty spaces above the seats and the ceilings themselves could be used as a means of communication of all kinds. I shudder to think how much of that communication would become advertising…and how quickly.

Still, I read about what MIT, Boston and Massachusetts is thinking about mass transportation and I am both envious and wistful. In most cities and states, mass transit is the last thing on the list of government things to do and the Puget Sound area is no different. I would love to see this kind of forward thinking and investment that would actually help drive (no pun intended) higher ridership on mass transit alternatives.

Daily Stats (Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu)
Car: 0
Bike: 8
Ped: approx 5 miles
Bus: approx 15 miles

Days 225-228: MLwC, One Fell Swoop and Canadian Thanksgiving

In one fell swoop, I have nearly driven half the amount in three days that I did the entire previous quarter. As noted in the last quarterly round-up, I drove a little more than 300 miles total. In the last three days, I’ve driven around town 130 miles–whoa! What’s going on?

On Friday, I had business on the eastside. If one is going to Bellevue proper, there are buses you can take from Seattle, easy shmeasy. Not that many do (‘cept you, Yo!), but you could if you wanted. If you’re going anywhere else in Bellevue, forget it. Bellevue is all about cars. They’ve got plans for more roads that stretch far and wide into the future. Nevermind that the amount of traffic will increase exponentially to fill the lanes available to it, and experiment we’ve all participated in for years and years. But I digress. I went to a part of Bellevue to which no buses come near and every time I go, I drive. That was the first trip.

The second trip was a winter clothes extravaganza. As I’ve noted earlier, the cold and rain and whatever else winter has in mind for us, has come early this year and I’m already thinking, Hey! Let’s move to Mexico! Short of that, more clothes are in order. Last winter I spent good and happy chunks of time in Central America and managed to get through a winter of historic proportions without much trouble…no such luck this year. So, we went all out and headed–along with about 3 million Canadians–to the outlet mall up north. It’s Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.

waiting at the Canadian border

While in line with about 150 other people in the Banana Republic, I started talking with a South Asian guy who was holding a spot in line for his family. He was clearly bemused by the whole spectacle of shopping frenzy so I thought we had something in common. He told me he’d waited in line at the border of Canada and Washington for 2.5 hours only to come here and wait in line for the dressing room, for the check out, for the starbucks cuppa joe, for everything.

I said, “wow, so the prices are so much better here?”

“Not at all,” he says. “In fact, they’re about the same.”

I looked at him and said, “Sooooo….?”

He said, “No, we’re just here because then we can go back and say we were here.” I just stared at him. He started laughing, and then the guy behind me started laughing, because he was also from Canada and was there for the very same reason. He had waited in line at the border for about 4 hours. The woman behind him chimed in as well and then they all started sharing which routes were the best and fastest for getting down here and back. We live in a strange world.  It’s like all these people knew there was something insane about what they were saying, but hey.  It’s a Banana Republic World.

Compared to their outing, our little 40 minute jaunt from West Seattle was nuthin’. Got some great winter clothes, too. But it is amazing how the miles rack up so quickly. We ran a couple of other errands while we were out, and then this morning, my partner woke up quite ill with a bad cold so it was incumbant upon me to do the weekly and seasonal shopping…another 25 miles. But now we’re ready: we’ve got enough soup, pasta, fruit, cold meds, wool clothing, oatmeal and bottled water to last us for a while.

Needless to say, I have no illusions about coming in at less than 300 miles this next period. Not with the office project and everything else that’s come up. There’s a funny little urge inside me to just throw up my hands and say, Oh what the hell, let’s get in the car and drive everywhere! It’s raining, it’s awful, what the hell!

But not really. It’s just crazy little voice in me.

Daily Stats: (Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun)
Car: 130.6 miles
Bike: 4.5
Ped: 3
Bus: 0

Days 222-224: MLwC, Thomas Friedman and Vegetarian Cuisine

I’m not a huge fan of Thomas Friedman (by any stretch), but I do think he’s thoughtful and articulate so I read his articles when I have the chance. Last week he had an article entitled Lead, Follow or Move Aside which struck a true note regarding global climate change.

He’s basically bemoaning our current standing in the world with regard to effective action around climate change, a standing he lays squarely at the feet of our dear leader, GWB. To illustrate the possibilities available to us as a nation, he points to WalMart, the current poster child for evolving thought with regard to sustainable energy and practices:

The “Wal-Mart environmental moment” starts with the C.E.O. adopting a green branding strategy as a purely defensive, public relations, marketing move. Then an accident happens — someone in the shipping department takes it seriously and comes up with a new way to package the latest product and saves $100,000. This gets the attention of the C.E.O., who turns to his P.R. adviser and says, “Well, isn’t that interesting? Get me a sustainability expert. Let’s do this some more.”

The company then hires a sustainability officer, and he starts showing how green design, manufacturing and materials can save money in other areas. Then the really smart C.E.O.’s realize they have to become their own C.E.O. — chief energy officer — and they start demanding that energy efficiency become core to everything the company does, from how its employees travel to how its products are manufactured.

Given the same opportunity to wake up and smell the change-in-the-air apparently sails right by the Bush administration about every 15 minutes, the latest example being Bush’s speech before the UN on global climate change last week in which he said, sorry, profits first, future last.

Bush scratching his head confused

Friedman decries the very thing that is so upsetting about Bush’s entire reign:

Too bad. “It was America which put environmentalism on the world’s agenda in the 1970s and ’80s,” recalled Glenn Prickett, a senior vice president for Conservation International. “But since then, somehow, the wealthiest and most powerful country on the planet has gone to the back of the line.”

Leadership is about “follow me” not “after you.” Getting our national climate regulations in order is necessary, but it will not be sufficient to move China. We have to show them what Wal-Mart is showing its competitors — that green is not just right for the world, it is better, more profitable, more healthy, more innovative, more efficient, more successful. If Wal-Mart can lead, and California can lead, why can’t America?

The only thing we’re leading in anymore is hostility and thuggish foreign policy and I would really, really like to see this country do better, wouldn’t you?

And now for something completely different…I was making dinner last night, a medley of runner beans, broccoli, spinach, butter potatoes and brussel sprouts, sauteed in sweet coconut oil, a splash of chili oil and sesame oil, with carmalized sweet onions and garlic and thinking: why can’t restaurants make veggie meals like this? Why do they always have to come up with some dull combination of zucchini and broccoli, heavy on the zucchini, and call it their vegetarian offering, as if we have no taste for really good vegetables and as if we all eat zucchini at home. What’s with the zucchini, anyway? I really resent paying $15 for a dinner that includes zucchini as its main vegetable.

Here’s what I’d like: I’d like restaurants to recognize that vegetarians are as knowledgeable and well traveled in their vegetable preferences as meat eaters. So if you’re going to offer something for vegetarians, make it as exotic, creative, thoughtful, and worthwhile as your carnivore dishes, okay? Otherwise, just bring me a house salad.

In the International District in Seattle, you’ll find the Tamarind Tree, a restaurant with an outstanding vegetarian flair, as well as delights to please the carnies among us. What are your veggie-creative choices for dining out–we could start a revolution by raising the veggie bar at least as high as that steak bar is set at Morton’s.

 

Daily Stats: (Mon, Tue, Wed)
Car: 29 miles
Bike: 0
Ped: approx 3.5
Bus: 0