The Politics of Walking (or Another one Rides the Bus)

To leave your starting point with only your feet (and possibly good walking shoes) below you and arrive at your destination the same way is a profound political commitment to sustained human evolution and balanced life on earth. (Of course there is also that marvelous feat of technology, that human-powered vehicle the bicycle, but that’s a subject for another post!)

The various public conveyances that you may or may not employ along the way are also part of that sustainable paradigm; they represent some of the best trappings of civilization to expand the range of our walking ability.

The alternative, the personal motorized vehicle, the ubiquitous car or truck, is at its base an unsustainable aberration and addiction that we as a culture need to (and I think will) wean ourselves of, slowly and painfully perhaps.

A bit over the top you say? Overly simplistic and needlessly provocative? Perhaps… but think about the larger implications of you actions as you traverse the streets behind the wheel versus pounding the pavement of those same thoroughfares.

First of all we are a culture that currently consumes too much food and gets too little exercise causing our aggregate health to slowly deteriorate. What kind of political statement is that? Many of us try to compensate for this profound (ah my favorite word!) imbalance by paying other people to offer venues where we can go and exert ourselves. I don’t want to knock it… it works for some.

But the simplest way that I have found to stay in shape, to work off rather than eat off the stresses of 21st Century life is right there at my feet… or actually is my feet. Got to go somewhere locally? Got to run an errand? Put on some good walking shoes and push yourself out the front door. Don’t even look at the car (if you have one) in the driveway. Be the sustainable future of our species and our world. Walk to your destination. If it is beyond your walking range, hop on a bus or a train. Mother Nature and public transit can be challenging and are not always reliable, so bring an umbrella and a good book maybe and accept from your first step that it is going to be an adventure, but a journey worth pursuing that is part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

I made a personal commitment about eight years ago not to drive a car to work. In making that commitment, I must acknowledge that I no longer had kids in school that I was committed to drop off and/or pick up. Given that, I felt I had no ethically sound reason not to make that pledge to myself, my polluted-air-breathing fellow Angelinos, and Earth’s biosphere.

To honor that commitment, there were several times when I turned down job opportunities where the only reasonably time efficient way to get to the work site (and not spend three hours crisscrossing town on various buses) was to drive. This confounded several of the job recruiters I was working with, and kept me unemployed at times for several extra months. So here again, I need to acknowledge that when I do work at my systems/business analysis craft, I am well paid, and by living simply and trying to judiciously manage our family budget and have savings for those times between jobs, our finances can survive some ethics-driven work lapses.

My current work commute starts generally at 6:40am with a brisk thirty-minute walk from our house to the local commuter train station, at the corner of Parthenia and Wilbur, set way back from the street where no one would ever see it unless they knew it was there. I’m wearing my business casual work slacks and shoes and (on these now warmer mornings) a t-shirt. I carry a backpack with my lunch, a change of shirt and t-shirt for work, a travel-pack of baby wipes, and whatever else I need for my day. When my cargo includes my laptop and a full water bottle, my backpack can get up there to 25 or 30 pounds, but being basically a healthy person, it just adds to the exercise value of the walk. I wear my headphones linked to my little radio, listen to NPR, and for a half hour let the news of the world flow through my mind.

I get to the station, which is really just a platform, have the ticket machine stamp my 10-ride ($4.60 per ride) pass, and catch the 7:10 Metrolink train headed into the city. For the fifteen minutes until my stop I usually pull out a pad and paper and plan out my work day, how I can best be of assistance that day to the team I am currently working for. That while enjoying the city streets, houses and factories going by outside the window (somehow I never tire of the adventure of riding a train!). I see a lot of the same people on the train every morning and we acknowledge each other or maybe even say hello and chat for a moment. Some people sit together every morning and have more significant conversations. My train also features a female conductor who is a total character with her gravelly voice and childlike exuberance, including her “happy Friday” dance down the aisle on the appropriate day each week.

About 7:25 I debark the train and do the ten-minute walk by the airport to my work site. If I’m lucky a big jet takes off with a roar over my head. Once in my building, I adjourn to the men’s room, remove my now sweaty t-shirt, towel off with one or two baby wipes and put on a fresh t-shirt and my collared shirt to complete my business casual attire.

Going home each day, instead of again taking the train, I now take the bus, two buses actually, to get home. My buses home are actually free, since once I have my 10-ride Metrolink pass stamped for the day, all buses, subways and other light rail are free for the rest of the day. Such a deal that, channeling my thrifty dad, I cannot and do not resist. Between waiting for and riding my two buses it is 60 to 70 minutes to get home (but my coworker who lives in the same neighborhood takes 45 minutes to get home in her car.) I bring a book along and spend most of my time with my nose in it, though I do note and acknowledge my fellow bus riders at times. From my last bus stop it is just a five minute walk down my tree-lined street back to our house.

I think it is also important to note that in most of the venues of my life, I am around mostly white people with a minority of people of color. But on the bus, the tables are turned, and I have the perspective broadening experience of often being the only white person. On my daily commute, rather than seeing a dizzying array of other vehicles, I see a selection of my fellow Angelinos, and each day develop a better sense of the community I live in.

So I’ve made my plug for a more sustainable lifestyle, as the US Army ad used to say, “It’s not just a job… it’s an adventure!”

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