Saturday, December 13, 2008

On the bus

Long-haired, bushy-bearded man #1: How are you?
LHBBM #2: Forty-four.
LHBBM #1: Forty-four? What?!
LHBBM #2: I'm forty-four.
LHBBM #1: I didn't ask how old you are! I asked how are you doing?
LHBBM #2: Oh. I'm fine. How are you?
LHBBM #1: I'm forty-nine. Are you on medication?
LHBBM #2: No . . .
LHBBM #1: I am. I'm on [unintelligble].
LHBBM #2: Oh.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

There will be bruising

'Cause there's already blood.

I wanted to go down to the Portland REI to look at the Ortlieb messenger bags that are currently 25% off; it was hard to tell online which size was best. (I had taken a look at the Chrome bags, way back when, but decided they weren't for me.) There are a number of ways to get down there but I opted for riding my bike, partly because I haven't been riding much and partly because I need to force myself outside my comfort zone sometimes. I have very little experience riding downtown and the only way to overcome my fear of it is just to do it -- I learned that after I found all my months of fretting over riding at night were for naught.

Today was one of those sunny/rainy days, and when I left the house it was nice, but about 3 blocks down the street I saw it wasn't going to stay that way. I was totally unprepared. I was wearing a light, permeable jacket; my gloves were MIA; I had left my lights on the stairs; and I had fiddled around with my new Freddy Fenders and then left them for another time. Before long I was cold, my bare hands were slipping around on the wet handlebars, all the cars on the road had their headlights on, and puddles were impending.

Attempt #1: mission aborted.

A bit later I was back on the road, having installed the rear fender as a start, dug my gloves out of a pile of laundry on the bathroom floor, popped the lights on, and changed into a warmer, dryer jacket.

Attempt #2: mission accomplished.

I'll skip the whole REI-on-a-Saturday-during-a-sale-part; everyone knows how that story goes.

Then I found myself in an unfamiliar part of town, trying to find my way home without a plan. Everything looks different on a bike, and I might just as well have never seen these streets before. So I was puttering along some Eastbound street, and decided to take a right onto some Southbound street, and I was thinking about getting over to the left lane, and whether I had any idea what I was going to do after that, when it happened:

The dreaded trolley track take-down.

It's kind of funny how you have time to think, "Uh oh. Bad idea," as your front wheel locks into the track and you start the downward motion. It was a slowish fall, but I landed hard. My only saving grace was that there was no other traffic on the street, other than the one worried-looking guy walking by. I told him I was fine, picked up my bike, and hobbled over to the sidewalk, but I was hurting. The bike looked okay and by then I really wanted to get home, so I figured I'd check my injuries later. Heading up the Hawthorned Bridge I realized my left shoe was not only moving freely on the pedal from side to side, but just as freely from front to back; the impact had nearly ripped the cleat from the shoe. I pulled over at the bus stop, whipped out my handy Swiss army knife, tightened the screws and went home to survey the damage.

Elbow: round, bloody scrape, less than 0.5" in diameter. Glad I was wearing a jacket and not just the sleeveless shell I had on underneath -- ouch!

Hip: An approximately 3" by 3" expanse of relatively minor road rash, under the shorts, no embedded gravel. Yay!

Also: Scrapes to both ankles.

So, not too bad. The wash up wasn't bad as no scrubbing was needed; the wounds are clean and since there was no direct contact with the ground I doubt flesh-eating bacteria will be a problem. All in all, I'd say the trip was a success.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A funny thing happened on the way to saving money with Zipcar . . .

When I first sold my car, I figured if I spent anything under $400 per month for transportation I'd be ahead of the game. It didn't take long though, to start thinking of $0 for car expense as the norm, and anything over that as excessive. I started consciously cutting back on my Zipcar use, cringing at every dollar I spent for the priviledge of driving.

The problem? Whereas before we never really went anywhere fun because I was concerned the Subaru wasn't dependable enough, now we never go anywhere fun because it costs too much to rent a car for the day. Arrgghhh! How did this happen??

I have recently identified travel as my #1 recreational priority. But here's the thing: Local travel counts. There's a limit to the number of big trips we can take every year, so to maintain our spirit of adventure we need the little trips. I have to budget for local travel as well as distance travel.

So . . . I can rent a Prius for $62 per day. Four days per month -- either 2 full weekends, or one day each weekend, or some combination therein -- is $248. Math is not my forte, but I believe that leaves about $150 per month before I hit that $400 level. That's 15+ hours of running around town, which should be fine if I organize myself a little better.

Now the only thing left is to arrange my finances so I can get on the $250/month plan and save 15% instead of 10% on my hourly rates. The problem is that the plan amount is taken out of your account at the start of the month, all in one chunk. With the plan I have now, they take $50 on the 1st-ish, and then I pay as I go. But this last month? I spent over $300.

Of course, that included $73 for a trip to the beach at Oswald West, which was more than worth it. It was sunny, beautiful and warm, and at low tide the tide pools were packed with anemones, sea stars and fish, and a number of cool caves that are normally underwater were made available for exploration. This is why we have cars. This is what makes the trade-offs worthwhile.

Dude! What happened to my blog?

There I was, clipping along, building readership, garnering such nice comments on other blogs . . . and then what happened? Well . . . the end of summer happened. The shortening days are already taking their toll on my mental and physical energy. This is the time of year when I struggle just to achieve fundamental competency in my day-to-day life.

So, I can't promise to write as often as you or I would like, but I do promise to do my best. I've already started renting Zipcars an hour at a time for quick trips around town; there's no telling what winter will bring. Maybe once I finally get the fenders installed on my bike . . .

Sunday, September 21, 2008

She'll be comin' 'round the mountain when she comes, when she comes . . .

So, Mary Lou . . .

The highlight of a visit to Many Glacier is the Grinnell Glacier Trail, which starts near the Many Glacier Lodge and winds alongside Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine, up to Grinnell Lake and, if you are fortunate, all the way to the Grinnell Glacier. It's a beautiful trail.


We started hearing from hikers coming back down that they had seen a grizzly on the trail. We heard subsequently that the bear had gone down toward the lake, but could still be seen on the hillside, eating. With this in mind, we continued talking loudly and making noise as we were instructed we must do, even though this goes against everything we've ever learned about preserving the wilderness experience for others. In this picture, Adam has gone ahead of us and is approaching the corner around which he will disappear momentarily. The picture I only wish I had is of him hotfooting it back around the corner a minute later, elbows bent and arms swinging at armpit height like a Saturday morning cartoon, going, "Oh, hell no! I don't think so!" I asked him if he saw the bear, and he said, "Saw it?!?!? I almost ran right into it!" He had turned the corner only to find himself face to face with the griz, which was sitting in the middle of the trail, munching on who knows what. He said he jumped, the bear jumped, and they took off in opposite directions.

I was thinking, damn, I wanted to see the bear, when over the ridge it came. It was moving at a pretty good clip approximately parallel to the trail, and we did as we were also instructed, which was to be quiet and slowly retreat. The bear kept its eyes on us with what I imagined to be an expression of friendly curiosity, and then turned sharply downward, hit the trail and started coming our way, its curiosity now seeming a little too friendly. I was having this little conversation in my head, with one voice wanting to wait until it got closer to get a really good picture, and the other voice reminding me that this is what stupid people do.

So we turned and continued down the trail at a worried pace but not running, which is known to create a predator/prey dynamic that doesn't generally turn out well for the prey. Isabel was in front of me, suddenly more motivated to get moving than she had been all day, and I kept saying, "Don't run, honey; don't run," as calmly as I could. But every time I looked back I saw that damn bear, following us at maybe 40 feet, not charging but definitely matching our pace.

When we turned a corner where it couldn't see us, I said, "Now run! Quietly!" We continued this way, walking when we were visible, trotting along when we weren't, until we were pretty sure the bear was no longer following us.

We passed several small clusters of people on their way up the trail, and warned each of them that there was a grizzly right behind us. They reacted with a mixture of alarm and curiosity, but not even the most unnerved among them actually turned around; they wanted to see the bear too! After a while we figured they were providing plenty of distraction for ole Smokey and we no longer needed to worry.

Here's the griz just coming over the ridge:

Here's the picture I really wanted:

Just kidding! Credit:

Here's our $47 souvenir, purchased later that same day:

Makes a nice trophy, no?

We wanted to try the trail again the next day, but by then it had started raining and blowing and we decided to move on to Rising Sun, where we caught one quick glimpse of the mountain lion frequenting that area, but no more bears . . .

One way not having a car sucks . . .

. . . is agreeing to go with friends on a 3-day group activity about which you have grave doubts, confiming not long after arrival that you will indeed best remember this as 3 days of your life you will never get back, and being stuck 2 hours from home for 3 looooooooooooong days of boredom and hunger because 1) the one and only form of entertainment is getting drunk and acting stupid and 2) the people in charge of meals think a plate of stir fried cabbage = a vegan dinner.
This sucks.
Trust me.

Monday, September 15, 2008

So I never got back to the Glacier story . . .

Because that's so last month. In the future, I will finish writing about a trip as soon as possible after returning home, because eventually I start losing interest and it becomes less pleasure and more work.

So, briefly . . .

There is no regular transportation between the West Glacier Amtrak station and the entrance to the park. Wtf??? All the literature and websites make it sound like Glacier Park, Inc., the commercial shuttle, does this run. But when I called to make reservations, they told me they only run between their own properties. And they really had no suggestions. When I asked, "What do people do?!?" he was all, "Well . . . usually they rent a car." So FYI: if you don't have a car and for any reason cannot hike the 4 miles from the station to the park, it'll cost you $46 for a private transportation company to carry you. And of course, another $46 to get you back.

We found the free park shuttle to be brilliant. Buses ran frequently and we never had a problem with them being full to capacity. (I do understand, though, that it's a different story when the park is packed with visitors. We were there the week before Labor Day and it had apparently cleared out quite a bit.) The shuttle runs the length of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which bisects the park from west to east (or east to west . . .) and it stops at all the trailheads and visitor centers. We, of course, always had waaaaay more stuff than the other passengers, but everyone was helpful and never cranky with us. I was surprised how many people drive in, park somewhere, and then take the shuttle to get around the park.

A caveat: If you go without a car, have some extra funds available in case of the unexpected. Although we had 2 gorgeous sunny days, it started raining our second night there and kept it up for the next 3 days. This caused us 2 problems: Logan Pass, where the Sun Road goes over the Continental Divide, was closed through a day and night due to the weather, leaving us stuck on the east side of the park. People who had cars could drive around the park, or explore the surroundings, or just go home, but we didn't have these options. Plus, the borrowed tent (not my tent) was about as waterproof as a fort made of old sheets. (There's a long, funny story there involving efforts to salvage a little dryness via a large number of cheap tube tents and emergency blankets, but I'll not go into that here.) We ended up staying in a motel room our last night there, which was only made possible because the intended guest was stuck on the west side of the park.

Had the pass not re-opened in time, our options would have been to pay dearly for ground transportation all the way around the southern perimeter of the park to West Glacier, or pay slightly less dearly to take ground transportation to East Glacier and pick up the train there. Fortunately, the pass opened and this wasn't necessary.

We wanted to go on a trail ride in Many Glacier, which I bet would have been fantastic, but it was raining and blowing too hard. We ended up going on a ride in Apgar, which I found to be pretty tame. (There's a long, not really very funny story here about how people in Montana are unable to give clear directions to anywhere, and how this complicated our effort to get to the corral on foot, but again, I'll not go into that. Suffice it to say it involved a lot of power walking, sharp words, passive-aggressivity, sweating, the kindness of strangers, a borrowed cell phone and a scooter.)

One of these days, I'll tell you about getting chased by that grizzly . . .

Sunday, September 14, 2008

7 things I've learned in 7 weeks of carlessness

1. I hate driving. I guess I was numb to it before, aware on some level it was causing me stress but for the most part just accepting it as a necessary evil. No longer. (I should qualify that -- I hate urban driving. Winding it out on long stretches of open road might still be fun.)

2. I'm no angel. I'm pretty easy to get along with normally, but when I drive around town I turn into a seething hater. When I drive it's because I have things to do -- I have no earthly idea why other people drive, but I'm pretty sure it's to make my life a living hell. They frustrate me, they confound me -- and dammit, they impede me. It's unforgivable. If they were renting their cars by the hour, they would follow my example of lean motoring efficiency. But no.

3. I love saving money. I'm averaging about $200 per month with Zipcar, and it would be a little less if I would give in and commit to the $250 per month plan, where I would get 15% off the hourly rate for every hour I drive, and any extra would role over for 2 months. I'll get there.

Note this is $200 total -- because insurance and gas are included in the hourly rate. Hurricane, shmurricane. There are no hidden costs with the Zip.

4. Other Zipsters can be annoying. To them I say: Feed the &^*% gas tank! It isn't hard. Pull into the station, hand the attendant the fuel card, and fill'er'up. You know the rule -- less than 1/4 tank remaining means get gas. On two occasions recently I've picked up cars with less than 1/4 tank, and although I get some measure of comfort from calling Zipcar to tattle, I still have to use my precious rental time to take care of the previous user's business. The car I drove yesterday had exactly 1/4 of a tank, so although technically they weren't in the wrong, they knew very well I'd get stuck with the job. Grrrr. Oh, and one more thing: In the Element? Unhook the 'biner and let the seat back down. There -- wasn't that easy?

5. Portland actually is a pretty bike-friendly town. When I moved here in '94 I didn't think so. Bike lanes were rather anemic and they seemed to have been grudgingly allotted only the roughest, most debris-strewn bits of shoulder. But yesterday I needed to get over to Hollywood, and I thought just for fun I'd take the suggested bike route up 41st/42nd. It was awesome. I especially loved the markings on the road and the directional signs. One time long ago I tried to take this route and I ended up all confused and turned around, but this time it was a breeze.

I also decided to check out the route going up and down Interstate, just to see. Overall it was consistent and safe, and I got to chat with a couple of the many other cyclists on the road. And it was much faster than I expected.

6. Motorcyclists are not necessarily our brethren. I was Westbound on Broadway last week, and at a red light I was approaching the green bike box, appreciating that the driver in the right lane knew to stop behind it, when the light changed and the motorcycle behind that car jumped over and cut me off to make a right-hand turn in front of me. Dude. I can only imagine how pissed you'd be if a car did that to you . . .

7. Sometimes not having a car sucks. But those times are brief and require creativity and patience to overcome, and those are not bad qualities to exercise.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Check this out!

I've been blogged . . .

My Year of Living Carlessly at Blogged

I'd better get back to work and start writing. I'm far too much of a grade over-achiever to settle for anything less than a 10.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Ostorozhnah! Dver zakryvatsyah.

Roughly, "Caution! The door is closing."

This is the one phrase I heard more than any other in Moscow. As I stood at the door of the metro train car, trying to look grim and arrogant enough to pass for Russian, I heard it over and over. A friendly, pleasant recorded voice, male on some trains and female on others, announced the closing of the doors prior to departure from each stantsiyah.
Navigating the Moscow metro is surprisingly easy if you know the Russian alphabet and can sound out the station names. It's also easy to just look at the map and count how many stations to your stop, but you still need to be able to read the names.

Although Alexey picked me up from the airport on arrival, he had to go to work the next day and I was on my own until evening. Before he left he gave me a set of keys and showed me how to lock and unlock the four heavy, fairly primitive doors we had to go through to get in and out of his Soviet-era flat. He also gave me a cell phone that had just one number programmed into it -- his. This turned out to be a lifesaver.

That morning I bravely headed down to the Annino station, just down the block from the flat. There is a tiny branch of the Bank of Moscow just outside the station, so I stopped at the ATM to pick up a few rubles. I requested 1000 rubles (about $40USD) but was chagrined to receive a single 1000 ruble note, which I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to use in the ticket machine. I popped into the wee, deserted office and waited patiently for someone to appear. Eventually a clerk did come out, and it didn't take long to establish that we were not going to be communicating verbally. I ended up getting a piece of paper and a pen and writing out " 1000 = 100, 100, 100, 100, 100 . . ." until the little light went on over her head and she disappeared with my note, reappearing a few minutes later with ten 100-ruble notes. I thanked her (the three things you absolutely must be able to say when in Russia, if you never learn another word: "Pazhalustah (please);" "spaseeba (thank you)'" and "yah ne punamayo (I don't understand).") and went happily on my way, flushed with pride at having successfully conducted my first piece of business with a genuine non-English speaking Moscovite.
My confidence quickly ebbed as I made my way down into the station, however. I had naively expected to find a typical American set-up, with automated ticket machines and wall and pocket maps of the metro system. But alas: There were no maps, anywhere, and to my horror there were no ticket machines. Rather, there was a bank of stern, middle-aged Russian women behind thick bullet-proof windows dispensing tickets by hand. I stood there, trying not to let my increasing anxiety and consternation show, thinking that as much as I hated to bother Alexey at work it would be really awesome if he could tell me what to do right now -- when I became aware of a funny feeling behind me, which turned out to be the cell phone vibrating in my backpack. I pulled it out, and lo -- it was Alexey, calling to see how I was managing. I explained my dilemma, and although what I really, really wanted to do was to push the phone under the window and let him tell the scary lady what I wanted, he insisted on giving me instructions. Give her 200 rubles, he said, and hold up 10 fingers. She'll understand you want a pass for 10 trips.
It was clear throughout my trip that I was succeeding with the mask of grim arrogance, because people kept speaking Russian to me in a way that suggested they expected me to understand them. The intimidating lady behind the window certainly did. At this point I was too shy to bring out my "yah ne punamayo" (although by the end of the week I was tossing it out with abandon, using it to extricate myself from every uncomfortable or bewildering situation), so I just shrugged my shoulders and looked stupid. She muttered to herself and shook her head as she shoved my pass and change under the window with disgust. I felt a little embarrassed but I had my pass, so what the hell.

(In my defense, on the language issue: No matter how badly they butcher a word or mangle a phrase, I can always deduce what my Russian friends are trying to say as they struggle for fluency in English. However -- they absolutely insist that if I utter one word in Russian that does not sound exactly as they expect it to, they will have absolutely no idea what I'm trying to say -- none, nope, not a word, not at all. Before I left for Moscow, Artem told me I shouldn't even bother trying to learn any Russian, as I would never be able to communicate with anyone anyway. Definitely not a confidence builder. Toward the end of the week, when I wanted to get a metro pass for five trips, I asked Alexey: "If I give her 100 rubles this time and say p'yot, will she understand what I want?" No, he said, she would certainly not understand. She might, however, understand if I said p'yat, but since I can't say that, I should just hold up five fingers. I looked at him in disbelief. The CDs I studied with clearly said p'yot, for one thing, and for another, how does this differ from when you guys say, for example, nature-all instead of natural? I understand that! How hard can it possibly be? But no.)

To be continued . . .

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I would have missed it if I'd been driving

Overheard while walking past Gold Door -- tatted, pierced, shaggy-black-haired hipster in skinny jeans and chucks, to similarly attired peers:

"I saved a whole bunch of money by switching to Geico!"

Sunday, August 31, 2008

In which I am accused of selfishly depriving my child of the necessities of life

I was shocked -- and offended -- when it was suggested that my silly obsession with living a carfree life would unfairly deprive my daughter of the normal childhood she deserves. This was followed by a generous offer of a loaner car -- in case I wanted to, for example, take her shopping for school. OMG -- I knew I was forgetting something! My daughter needs food, clothing and shelter! What was I thinking?!?!?

Glacier without a car, Part I: Amtrak gets it right

So we were basically car camping without a car, and we had an extra backpack and 3 bags of food (one big Trader Joe's bag, one smaller Fred Meyer bag, and one very cheap cooler bag from Fred's that leaked, didn't keep food cold much and eventually came apart at the bottom such that we had to run a strap around it to hold it together). Our third party was meeting us at Union Station and there was no way Isabel and I could carry all this along with our own packs, so we ended up taking a cab to the station. At the time it seemed like a well-deserved and unusual luxury; little did I know it would be just the beginning of an extensive draining of the ole checking account . . . but I digress.

The only other time we had traveled on Amtrak was in 1994, and it is not an entirely pleasant memory. Seating in coach was a complete free-for-all. We would start the line an hour or two before departure time, but as soon as they opened the doors people would push around us and run for the train. The challenge, we soon learned, was finding seats that were reasonably close together and fully functional. We did not always meet the challenge.

So I had a bit of anxiety about this when we got to the station; I hate competing for resources and I wasn't looking forward to fighting for seats. This worry was temporarily set aside when I saw the sign claiming that carry-ons were limited to 2 per person and they had to fit within the dimensions shown on the sign. I looked at our pile and felt a chill of fear. I had asked about the availibility of vegan food on the train, but I hadn't asked about baggage policies. But then I looked at the family behind us and their numerous baby-grand-piano-sized bags -- if we were going to be hassled, they were certainly in for it. They assured us they had no problem on their way out to Portland, and they didn't expect any trouble this time either.

So with that off my mind, I went back to worrying about seating. I was delighted when the conductor announced they would be boarding families and parties of 2 or more first, and even more so when we got to the car and it was divided into one side for singles and one side for multiples. For extra measure they had signs up stating certain seats were reserved for parties of 2 or 3. We got the best possible seats -- they were kind of the anti-bulkhead, in front of the stairs/water cooler/emergency supply cabinet, with a big space behind us where we could store lots of our stuff. There was a ton of leg room and our seats all reclined and had working leg rests. Score!

Overall, I was pretty impressed. The train ran on time and the conductors were efficient and professional, keeping track of seating and getting everyone settled as they boarded. Other than the usual all-night struggle to stay warm and find a way to approximate horizontality for sleeping, the trip was flawless. (Helpful hints: Sleeping bag liners make very compact and satisfying blankets for train travel. If you are desperate to lay down flat, you can take your liner or sleeping bag to the lounge car and sleep on the floor; they won't kick you out.)

Next: Are we really the only people on earth who need to get from the West Glacier Amtrak station to Apgar, don't have a car, and have too much crap to carry for 4 miles? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Our week of going to Glacier carlessly

Just back, so much to tell . . . must sleep . . .

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Morning regrets

Oh, man. I am exhausted. The roads are wet. I do not want to ride my bike home. And I don't want to go on to the day job; I want to sleep. Yaaaawwwwnnn. I wish I had a car.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

If you think the 205 gets hairy . . .

A friend just asked me about my trip to Moscow (Russia, not Idaho) this spring, and I found myself going on about traveling on the Metro, and then I started thinking about the way they drive there, and then I realized this is a great blog story. So . . .

I wanted to go visit my friend Alexey in Moscow. He suggested I come the first week of May, as May 9 is Victory Day, a celebration of victory over the Germans in WWII and a remembrance of the Soviets who died, and this would mean a three-day weekend and a big national holiday. Incidentally, May 7 was Medvedev’s presidential inauguration, but Alexey wasn’t too excited about that, partly because he knew the change of guard was purely ceremonial and Putin would continue to run the country, and partly because Red Square and the inauguration were closed to the public for that day.

So anyway. Driving in Moscow, for me, was out of the question. The road system is not that complicated, but traveling the highways is a wild ride, indeed. Imagine four or five lanes in each direction, packed with cars all going at breakneck speed. Every time a space opens up in one lane, three or four drivers go for it. The concept of lanes, in fact, is fairly fluid. Pretty much however many cars can fit, that’s how many lanes there are.

Alexey told me that zipping back and forth from lane to lane, constantly jockeying for a better position, is called “playing chess,” and the driver who does it is a “chess player.” Alexey denied being such a person, but of course he was constantly on the lateral move. If his car could hop, it would be more like a game of checkers. If, that is, checkers was played with multiple players all hell-bent on jamming their pieces into the same square by whatever means necessary. He had my life in his hands and there was nothing I could do about it, so I just had to trust him. Whenever the threat of imminent destruction got to be too much for me, I would close my eyes and go to my happy place.
On my last night in Moscow we went out for a nice dinner with wine and then took a cab home, as Alexey considers drinking and driving not worth the risk of being pulled over by the militzia for a random paperwork check. (He also explained how to bribe your way out of a bad traffic stop: When the police officer tells you to come down to the station with him, you say you would like to save both of you the time and trouble, and isn’t there any way you could just pay your ticket now? Then he says weeeeeeeeell, he wouldn’t normally do such a thing, but for you, okay . . .) Hailing a cab consisted of standing at the roadside with his hand out, waiting for some random car to stop. Our random car might have been a gypsy cab, it might have been some local citizen in need of a few rubles – there was no way to know. At any rate, he not only got us home in one piece, he showed Alexey a short cut he never knew about. Score!

Pictures from
Next: Navigating the Moscow Metro

Monday, August 18, 2008

In which I learn that people who use alternative transportation should listen to the weather report

Yes, I heard them chatting on the evening news last night about the upcoming rain. I saw the little cartoon clouds and raindrops. But did this register with me? No, it did not.

Not until this morning, when the alarm went off and I heard the unfamiliar pitter-patter of rain outside my bedroom window. "Uh oh," I thought. "I'm not rain-ready."

I considered my choices.
Most attractive: Stay in bed. Problem: Can't afford it.
Next: Take a change of clothes and just plan to get wet. Problem: Bleh.
Next: Walk 3 blocks to Hawthorne and take the 14 to within a block of work. Problem: None. We have a winner.
So into the shower, where I am jolted into wakefulness by the violence of the first, totally unexpected crack of thunder, followed by 2 more less dramatic but equally alarming booms.
Next: Call colleague, ask if he would consider driving in to work and picking me up on the way. Problem: I don't have a problem asking for favors when I need them. This is a good plan.
As it turned out, for unrelated reasons I ended up not ready to leave the house until the rain had subsided into a barely perceptible mist, and at the last minute a ride serendipitously came my way.

On the way back home it was dry enough, but then I had to consider my options for getting up to the Hill. It wasn't raining, though it looked like it might at any time. But I know from experience that taking the bus home at night tends to suck -- one night I left work at 11:45 pm and didn't get home until 1:30 am. I figured if I had my bike, I could still take the bus if I absolutely had to, and if I didn't have to I could just ride home.

By the time I got packed up it was too late to ride all the way (this is common for me, but I think having 2 jobs allows me a little slack here), so I rode to the tram. After I was chastised by the driver for riding all the way up to the tram door, I entered the car and found myself next to my tram buddy with his shiny new Trek and platform pedals. I noted that he had not yet converted to clipless pedals although last week I recommended them in the strongest possible terms, and then we got into a discussion of waterproof bags. He said he has a friend who owns a totally boss waterproof messenger bag with a sternum strap to hold it in place and enough room for a half-case of beer plus two six-packs. He said the strap and buckle are like an old-school seat belt. The bag is supposed to be made by a UK company called Centre, and available at the Seven Corners bike shop. A quick google didn't reveal any such thing, but I'll dig a little deeper. I might as well start getting ready now. Bleh.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Driving becomes increasingly stressful

Yesterday was another driving day; I had to go up to the Costco in North Portland, so I got a car ("Elman," the Honda Element that lives next to the Hawthorne 7-Eleven) and, once again, tried to pack in as many errands as possible.

It's both challenging and stressful to try to get everything done in three hours. Fortunately, this time I had the safety net of being able to extend my reservation, which I did end up doing (30 minutes). I turned Elman in about 20 minutes early, but according to the website late fees start at $50, so $5 for the extra 10 minutes was worth it.

While I was at the pick-up readying the seat, mirrors, etc. for takeoff, a Zipcar employee pulled up behind me. She said she was just checking to make sure everything was okay; she was returning a car to it's rightful place down the street after the police found it abandoned in a no-loading zone up on 82nd. She said some people just leave the cars wherever. Apparently, those people don't intend to ever use the service again -- what are they thinking? I hope this is all business as usual for Zipcar and not another case of idiots making things difficult for the rest of us.

Anyway . . . while driving back from Costco I became aware that my stress level had been insidiously rising into pre-car-sale territory. The convenience of being able to cover several miles in a short time and effortlessly haul stuff around was overshadowed by the need to make split-second decisions about where to turn and which way to go; when you're moving at 45 to 65 mph, you don't have a lot of time to figure out where the hell you are before it becomes where you were. And the being-boxed-in thing . . . the air conditioning was sweet indeed, as it was 100 degrees outside, but with all the windows up (and the music on) I felt totally alienated from my surroundings. I had to leave a window open in the back just so I wouldn't feel entirely cut off.

This must be what it would feel like to be transported from horse and buggy days to 2008 -- "This dagnabbit contraption goes too durned fast! I tell ya, it just ain't nachural to be hurtlin' through space in this here big tin box with the world flyin' past in a blur! Ya cain't hear nuthin' that's goin' on around ya and ya cain't even tip yur hat to yur neighbor as you pass -- what the tarnation is this world comin' to?!"

With no AC at home we ended up prostrate on the couch with two fans running, trapped by lethargy into watching "Legally Blonde 2," easily one of the worst movies ever made. I won't even get into it. The point is that at 10 o'clock we finally had to haul ourselves up and walk to Fred's for cat food (it's bad enough to see their furry little bodies spread out like dead things across the kitchen floor, trying to maximize their skin-to-linoleum contact, but their pleading eyes and empty bellies are just too much). I still haven't gotten lights for Isabel's bike, so we had to hoof it.

Usually by 10:30 at night Fred's parking lot is a ghost town, but last night it was full. As we walked in the door we simultaneously exhaled a big "aaahhhhhh" of relief and began to melt into the air-conditioned goodness. Along with half the citizenry of Belthorne, I believe. At 11 o'clock there still wasn't a whole lot of action in the moving-toward-the-exit department . . .

But anyway, to finish this damn story -- the walk home was long, hot and exhausting. We were freaking miserable. My head and stomach hurt, Isabel kept stubbing her toe and walking into imaginary spider webs, we were both damp and overheated, and yet . . . I realized I would rather be walking than driving. Besides the fact we get to talk more (difficult in the car, where safety dictates that Isabel sit in the back), see more (all the neighborhood kitties, the full moon, and last week, a whole family of raccoons) and smell more (good and bad . . .), the pace is just more manageable and for me, entirely stress-free.

When I sold the Subaru I really thought I'd be buying another car in the not-too-distant future -- but now I wonder. In another year I may find driving altogether intolerable. Of course, I say that now . . . let's see what happens when the rain hits.

Friday, August 15, 2008

1) Zipcar introduces a new way to be rude; and 2) my first Zipcar disappointment


2. I had an appointment this afternoon and wanted to drive, mostly because it's very freaking hot outside. So I figured I'd get a car and run some other errands as well. Last night I reserved a convenient car ("Doris," who lives at 27th and Hawthorne) for today from one to four. There were lots of other cars available but that one was closest to my day job.

My appointment took a little longer than expected and I started thinking of all the other things I could get done if I had the car for another hour. So I called the automated line ("If you'd like to extend your reservation, press 1") -- and it said I couldn't extend my reservation because someone else was waiting for Doris. I knew this was always possible, but it had never happened before. Nobody wanted my car last night. Sometimes spontaneity in other people sucks.

So I got on the Crackberry and looked for another car that would be free when I turned this one in -- but the closest one was at 28th and Burnside! Yes, I could have ridden my bike over there and picked it up, but . . . Instead, I rethought what I could get done vs. what I should get done. In the end, I decided I should hit Trader Joe's and get some things we really needed (eg, vegan chocolate chip cookies), and then I could take the bus later to REI to pick up Isabel's new sleeping bag and liner. We still need some gear for Glacier so I wanted to spend some time looking around REI rather than executing a hair-raising kamikaze drive-by shopping mission, and it just wasn't worth trying to squeeze that trip into the time I had left.

I suppose this isn't necessarily a bad thing. If it had been easy enough, I would have spent another hour or two driving around, but instead I had to stay within my original time budget and then fill in with public transport . . . which is as it should be.

It is certainly true that I have learned to group my errands more efficiently to make the most of my limited car time. Driving used to be such a natural, mindless thing, I almost didn't realize I was even doing it -- one minute I was here, the next I was somewhere else . . . whatever. Now driving is more like a condiment than the continuous TPN (total parenteral nutrition, "the practice of feeding a person intravenously, bypassing the usual process of eating and digestion") it used to be. I am aware every minute that I'm driving, and it's both weird and totally awesome . . .

Call of the Day, aka Welcome to My World

True story. We can not make this stuff up.

Me: Oregon Poison Center.
Caller: I know you're not the right person to call, but I hope you can help me -- I don't know what to do!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Me: Okay . . .
Caller: What do you do if someone's been electrocuted?!
Me: Has someone been electrocuted?
Caller: Yes!!!!!!!!!!
Me: Then you need to call 911.
Caller: But . . . he's still breathing.
Me: Then I'm sorry that didn't work out for you. Try putting a bag over his head.

No. Of course not. We never say such things. Out loud.

Me: Then you need to call 911.
Caller: Oh . . . is that what I should do?
Me: Yes. Call 911 now.
Caller: Oh . . . okay.

Now this looks cool . . .

Can't we do this in Portland? Shouldn't we have thought of it first?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I couldn't help it; I laughed out loud

Dear Target: Are you kidding me?!

So I continue to experiment with the joys of shopping mindfully online and having my well-chosen purchases delivered. I have now had two successful grocery deliveries -- which rocks. I get my REI Outlet stuff delivered to the store downtown because shipping is free that way, and heading down there on occasion to pick stuff up isn't too onerous. T-Mobile and Qwest -- well, home delivery is all they've ever offered, so nothing new there.

But Target: I ordered a waffle iron. I had a gift certificate and I wanted to save money by making and freezing my own waffles. T-Mobile will leave a spendy phone on the porch, and Qwest will leave a modem -- but Target demands a signature. For a waffle iron. They won't even allow the option of signing the little sticky note and leaving it on the door. I have a job. I can't wait at home all day for my waffle iron to come. And I know where this is leading -- after three unsuccessful delivery attempts, they'll want me to go to UPS to pick it up. This will completely and entirely negate the benefits of ordering online. I've come a long way in conquering the instant gratification demon, but this is sorely testing my patience, especially if I have to go somewhere to get it -- I could've taken the 15 to the store and had my freaking waffle iron last week. Grrrrr.

Update: The waffle iron finally arrived -- and it sucks. Now I have to take the 15 to the store to return it, and then go somewhere else to find a good one. *sigh*

The true cost of owning a car

Here's something interesting: ("where smart car buyers start") has a "True Cost to Own" calculator. You put in your make, model, year, etc. and it calculates the true cost of owning that car, which generally works out to about double the selling price. My only complaint is that for used cars it only goes back to 2003. In Oregon we keep our cars way longer than that.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Second inter-family no-car conflict

Same family.

They have my daughter. They've had her for two days. They've been promising to bring her home for hours. She's texted me to ask when I can come get her. I'm about to call and ask if there's a ransom demand . . .

As a well-prepared non-car-owner, I have a bag for every errand . . .

. . . but seriously: This is why I can never find my checkbook.

American women rock!

Saberists Sada Thompson, Mariel Zagunis and Becca Ward.
Mariel, Becca and Sada got where they are through talent, hard work, and the devotion of uber-coach Ed Korfanty. Mariel and Becca are based at the Oregon Fencing Alliance on Oleson Road, out by OES. I used to fence there!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I love to shop naked

Okay, that was a tease; I admit it. I don't really shop naked. But I could if I wanted to.

I don't know why it took me such a long time to have groceries delivered from New Seasons. It's true that once I've used up my three free deliveries it will cost $10 per. And that while New Seasons doesn't out-spendy Whole Paycheck, it's no bargain store. However . . .

They have always had the best produce in town. Sometimes their sales are pretty good. And they carry stuff other stores don't have.

And I realized that although I used to love shopping for food, I don't anymore; it's become something I dread. But now that I've started cooking again, groceries are a must. So although it took me several days -- I'm so out of practice -- I made a menu for the week, extrapolated from it a reasonable shopping list, and got online and ordered. I scheduled my two-hour delivery window and then asked them to call me when my order was on its way so I could leave work and meet the delivery guy. That worked out perfectly; I rode up right behind him. Then he carried all my stuff up to the front door, gave me my receipt, and took off. It was awesome. I was even spared the awkwardness of the tipping ceremony, because they don't allow it.

It's been another great discovery. It isn't just that it is absolutely worth $10 to have someone shop, pack and deliver my stuff; it's also that even though on some items I could get a better price elsewhere, the reality is that I spend much, much less by not popping into Fred's every single day. And not getting take-out every single day. And I'm eating better, which has led to appreciating better food, which has led to cooking even when I'm short on time, because meals from home are healthier and taste better.

And on that topic: I am embarrassed but defiant when I say we used to eat at Taco Bell four or five times a week, easily. It's cheap, it's quick, and even a vegan can fill up there. But since I sold the car: Not once. It's too far away now (the nearest is the one by Lloyd Center) to be convenient, and it certainly isn't worth a special trip. And now that I've been away from it for a couple of weeks, the thought of that "food" just makes me think "yuck." This alone has almost been worth getting rid of the car.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Going to Glacier without a car

My first visit to Portland was via the Amtrak Empire Builder, which passses through Glacier National Park at sunset. It is absolutely one of the most beautiful places in America, and ever since then I've wanted to go back. So . . . at the end of this month we'll be boarding the Empire Builder eastbound and getting off at West Glacier, the westside entrance to the park. From there we'll take the park shuttle to the campground. We'll be staying for four nights and haven't decided yet whether to reserve at one of the two campgrounds that take reservations or just decide when we get there. The park has an amazing website, with ranger blogs and calendars showing what time the different campgrounds have been filling up each day. We would have waited until September when the crowds die down, but after Labor Day they start shutting down park services, including the shuttle. Traveling the Going-to-the-Sun road is supposed to be one of life's great experiences, and I like that we'll be doing our part to reduce our carbon footprint (is that a cliche yet?) by not driving our own car through the park. According to Amtrak the trains have been running pretty much on time, not more than 30 minutes to an hour late (which is a pittance in train travel), so we should be leaving Portland early Saturday evening and arriving West Glacier bright and early Sunday morning. We'll be using backpacks but since we won't have to hoof it with all our gear we can carry an extra bag or two with food. I got Isabel an awesome Osprey kid's backack from REI, which of course she doesn't appreciate even though in many ways it's nicer than mine. I'll keep you updated on the plans, and of course there will be pictures and commentary on what it's like to make the trip carlessly (but not too carelessly!).

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The 15 goes so many places I go, it's like we were separated at birth!

Here we've been just a couple of blocks away from each other all this time, and never knew how much we had in common.

I go to the Gateway transit center -- the 15 goes to the Gateway transit center too!
I go to Target -- the 15 goes there too!
I go to Mt. Tabor -- so does the 15!
I go to Movie Madness -- guess who does too!
I go to REI -- as does the 15 (with a little help from the streetcar)!
I go to Shari's house off Trendy-third -- the 15 even goes there!

It's like it knows me!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Oregonians 1, insurers 0

When I called Progressive to cancel my auto policy (woo hoo!!!), they told me Oregon is one of the few states where, if I do buy another car in the future, I won't be penalized for having been without insurance in the interim. In other states, if you don't want to get hit with outrageous premiums later on, you have to buy a "non owner" policy that not only covers you when you drive cars you don't own, but apparently also testifies to your worth as a person. I don't know the history of this rule, but I assume it's rooted in Oregon's green-leaning, far-sighted policy of encouraging us to get the **** out of our cars. Yay us!

Bad hair -- a necessary evil?

I've been told more than once that because of the way it's cut, my hair always looks good, no matter what I've been through. I guess the basic feeling is that it's already in complete disarray, so what difference does it make what kind of disarray it's in? But the people who say this did NOT see my hair yesterday, after I washed it, fixed it, and then rode to work, arriving in a sweaty heap. It was flat --and lemme tell ya sister -- it was ugly. After washing, it takes a few days of adding product on top of product to get to where it sticks out in all directions like I want it to, and yesterday was a bad hair holocaust. Learning to live with helmet head was the last hurdle I had to overcome to begin bike commuting; now I find myself wondering what I can do with this hair to make it more bike friendly. Suggestions?

Warning: Politically incorrect, has nothing to do with living carlessly, and in the morning I'll wish I hadn't posted it

I wrote a letter to the Oregonian tonight. I don't expect them to print it.

I can only imagine the firestorm of hurt feelings and hand wringing that would commence if it was published. I would be pilloried for suggesting that for a grown woman who has already been through childbirth three times, a brief moment of genital-rubbing is not exactly a life-changing event. What I want to know is, who’s watching the kids while she’s suffering her “lifetime of hurt?”


A little perspective, please

My heart goes out to the 28-year-old single mother who, after paramedic Lannie Lee Haszard briefly “rubbed her genitals,” is “haunted for hours every day and night by memories of Haszard touching her” (“Ex-medic to prison for groping patients,” August 5, 2008).

Perhaps she would take comfort in the words of these women and children, describing their daily life in Sudan:

“I was taken away by the attackers, they were all in uniforms. They took dozens of other girls and made us walk for three hours. During the day we were beaten . . . at night we were raped several times. The Arabs guarded us with arms and we were not given food for three days.”

“When we tried to escape they shot more children. They raped women; I saw many cases of Janjaweed raping women and girls. They are happy when they rape.”

“There was also another rape on a young single girl, aged 17. M was raped by six men in front of her house in front of her mother. M's brother, S, was then tied up and thrown into fire.”

“The six men raped my daughter, who is 25 years old, in front of me, my wife and the young children.”

(from “Rape as a Weapon of War,” Amnesty International, 2008)

Yes, touching women’s legs, breasts or genitals in the back of an ambulance is reprehensible and deserving of punishment. But perhaps this creep’s victims could relieve their persistent suffering by looking beyond themselves and performing a simple reality check.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Dilation of time in the absence of a car

I always imagined that if I didn't have a car, I would spend most of my day just trying to accomplish the simple things I took for granted, like keeping the freezer stocked with Tofutti Cuties. But the funny thing is . . .

When I had a car in the driveway, I always felt this undercurrent of anxiety because there was so much more I could be accomplishing each day, if only I were smarter, better dressed, more organized and disciplined, etc. etc. But without a car on hand I feel calmer, less anxious, more centered. I can't be three places at once, I can only be right here where I am at this moment. And when I do go somewhere, it's because I have a reason to go there that makes the transit effort worthwhile.

I'm so surprised to find I actually feel I have more time, rather than less. The days pass much more slowly -- in a good way. Everything seems clearer and makes more sense, because I feel comfortable taking the time to see and think. I've even started cooking at home again, something I've barely done in years. And: I enjoy it.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

No sympathy.

The matinee of "A Chorus Line" at the Keller started 20 minutes late today because so many people who drove to the show were delayed by traffic and parking problems, primarily because the Flugtag was going on at the same time. Having walked most of the way to the show after our bus got stuck at the Hawthorne Bridge bottleneck, I was surprised that I felt absolutely no sympathy for these people. I did feel pretty smug, though. After enjoying a stress-free stroll to the theater, I could sit and wonder why-oh-why it doesn't occur to them to either check traffic conditions, leave time for the unexpected, or take public transit at least part of the way in. Why assume you're just going to flow effortlessly into town and slide into your conveniently located parking space? Is it possible I was once one of these people?

Friday, August 1, 2008


It was looking rainy when I got off work this morning after a long, long night, and I did NOT want to ride my bike home. But I had to move on to the day job, and the bus would just take too damn long. The beauty is, by the time I hit downtown I was feeling so alive and happy. It amazes me each time how that little morning ride wakes me up and lifts my spirits. Driving home in the morning, by contrast, was just numbing, a further extension of the trauma of being up all night. Of course, there were the tunes . . . that was sweet. That's the one part of driving I really, really miss . . .

First inter-family no-car conflict

So my daughter had a friend over and I had to go to work, so her friend's mom was supposed to come get both girls and take them back to their house in North Pdx. At the last minute the mom calls and says dad is just picking up their daughter, and can I bring Isabel over a couple of hours later. I say I can do that, but I'll have to rent a car. Other mom, clearly stressed: "@(#*^*%&! I'm so frustrated with my friends who don't have cars! You people aren't saving the world, because the rest of us just have to drive more!!! #(*$&*!"

Aaarrrgghhhh!! I feel your pain!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

But then it got better . . .

Yesterday's mood, that is. In the evening I rode my bike to the hash (that's hash house harriers, btw), ran the hash, then rode into town and picked up the number 8 up to the hill. It was my first time using the bike carrier on the front of the bus and I really wanted to do it at night when I wouldn't feel pressured be quick about it. I checked out the bikes on other buses while I was waiting at the stop, and then I got to see someone putting theirs on, so by the time my bus came I was a little nervous but ready. I warned the deadpan driver it was my first time, and although it did take me a second to figure out the release the rest went smoothly and he congratulated me on a job well done.

Today was my first day riding all the way up the hill instead of taking the tram. It wasn't bad at all, although my bike is not geared for hills and I got passed a couple of times by speedsters on well-geared hybrids. I'll just have to get tougher.

Early yesterday . . . still catching up

30 July 2008, 0900

I'm tired today. I'm tired of working, and I'm tired of riding my bike everywhere. If I had a car today, I'd drive it. It's our second grey, bleary July day in a row, and I wonder how much I'm going to hate this once winter strikes.
I'm also tired of the perpetual helmet head; after a few days on the bike I can't do anything with my hair at all. Today it looks really, really good because I haven't put a helmet on over it in days. I feel a little twinge of despair as I smash down my perfect hair and buckle the strap under my chin.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Random thoughts, part I

Now I see clearly how car ownership encourages mindless consumption. It’s so easy to hop in the car and head out to the mall or wherever to buy stuff, but when I have to think about how to get there, and the effort involved, I find myself wondering if this is really something I need right now. And usually it isn’t.

A very short history of how I became carless in Pdx

About two years ago, I started thinking how nice it would be if I could get rid of my car. Between the car payment, insurance and gas, I could save at least $500 a month. It was impractical, though, because I was a single mom living in Southeast Portland and working the swing shift up on the hill at OHSU. My daughter was going to school in the Pearl, and on the days I worked I had to pick her from school at three, deliver her to her dad and get to work by three-thirty or so; this would have been impossible using public transportation. I sometimes worked until 1:00 a.m., which ruled out taking the bus home after work, and riding my bike at night was something I couldn’t even imagine. And shuttling Isabel and her friends between school, home, soccer and assorted other activities could not be done without a car.

This year, though, things are different. Isabel will be going to school in our neighborhood, and at 10.5, she no longer requires after-school care. I have a part-time day job and work up on the hill much less often, and I’ve discovered that night riding is doable after all. We are ideally situated: Fred Meyer and New Seasons are both less than a mile away, there is a weekly farmer’s market across the street, and a first-run movie theater three blocks away. Also within walking distance are the library, post office, rock gym, OMSI, Eastbank Esplanade, Next Adventure, downtown Portland, my day job and all the stores and restaurants on Belmont and Hawthorne. And of course, gas is now $4 a gallon.

The tipping point for me, though, was finding out how awesome ZipCar is. I had imagined that depending on carsharing would lock me into a structured, pre-planned life, something I could never tolerate. The reality, though, is very different: cars are all around me and are readily available at a moment’s notice.

The day I signed up with ZipCar, I reserved a Mini Cooper convertible named McGann that lives just over the Morrison Bridge at SW Washington and 2nd. I swung by and picked up Isabel and her friend Zoe. Isabel screamed when she saw the Mini, but was crushed to find we only had it for two hours. After puttering through afternoon traffic to the requisite stop at Taco Bell, I wanted to get out somewhere where we could really drive, so I extended our reservation by an hour and headed out to Sauvie Island. It was a beautiful, sunny day and cruising with the top down and a CD in the stereo was the best feeling I’d had in a long, long time. Traffic was light and we had time to stop off at the beach on Sauvie for a while. By the time I turned McGann in and hopped on my bike to head home, I felt refreshed and renewed. I never knew driving could actually relieve stress.

I owned, and loved, my 1997 Subaru for five years, until one week ago, when I sold it to a scooter afficianado who was thrilled to have it for his wife and kids. I placed an ad on Craigslist at midnight on Sunday, and 15 minutes later I had two offers. I could have sold it the next day, but that morning the key broke off in the door lock and my neighbor who had my spare key was out of town. The buyer couldn’t get off work on time Wednesday to handle the transaction, so Thursday we went together to the credit union to pay off my loan and transfer the title. Today I decided to start this blog to document my first year of living without a car of my own since I was 18.