Tag Archives: trains

A Mixed Bag

I remember the day plastic bags appeared in stores, completely unannounced. They were strange, flimsy things and were totally unlike the sturdy brown paper bags that had been there just the day before. The quality comparison between brown paper and plastic bags became immediately obvious – there was none. Brown paper was to the bag kingdom as oak; plastic was as balsa wood.

Before long, however, it was virtually impossible to get a paper bag. Not unlike two-year plans for cell phones, plastic bags were the only type to be had. Where once I could have carried two brown paper bags full of groceries, I now juggled ten plastic bags. At home, the bags seemed to take on a life of their own; the two I stashed in a drawer somehow became a dozen, multiplying like bedbugs in a hotel. A feeble movement arose after some years offering a choice of paper or plastic, but it was half-hearted and far from universal.

I never asked that plastic bags replace paper. They were forced on me, probably by stores to reduce their own bag costs. But somehow as the years passed, I/we have somehow become responsible for their proliferation. Now if I forget to take the newest environmentally friendly reusable cloth bags when shopping, I must endure the accusing and smug look of the impossibly thin earth mother in line behind me as she archly hands her assortment of NPR, World Wildlife Federation and Whole Foods-branded bags to the checker. I’ll feel her disapproving gaze as the clerk rolls my non-organic, non-local foods over the scanner. Then she’ll herd her six children, each holding a yogurt popsicle and wearing Crocs, into her Prius with small white family composition decals in the back window (one partner, herself, six children of each gender, a mutt, 3 cats, and a turtle), which is parked beside my fossil-fuel powered car. Away she’ll go with her $500 worth of goat’s milk, gluten-free bread, free-range chicken and organic fair-trade coffee, nestled in her reusable, environmentally correct bags.

Buying organic is a nice idea, as is being environmentally friendly. I try to practice each concept as much as possible. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to be a scapegoat for every cause that somebody takes up so they can ride the moral high road and bump me into the virtual blame lane. We’re constantly admonished to buy local, buy organic, ride a bike instead of driving a car, use chemical-free cleaners and insecticides, use rags instead of paper towels and reuse, reuse, reuse.

I’m driving The Magic Bus, which consistently gets a respectable 32 mpg, because I refuse to purchase a car whose base price is over $20,000. It is also my own little space of refuge. I’d love to ride my bike to the store – if there was a store anywhere nearby. My country neighborhood has only a hamburg joint with anything prepared in oil or grease you could possibly desire. If I want to eat on a Sunday, I’m out of luck.

Organic and local products are always considerably more expensive than non-organic and non-local. I could get to know the food store personnel intimately since I would have to shop almost daily because organic produce spoils with marvelous speed.  The only store where organics are marginally affordable is Walmart. However, now that Walmart is viewed as having swallowed the soul of the world, shopping there is just about grounds for being cast into the wilderness without my can of 40 wt. DEET insecticide. Should I be thus punished, I will assuredly become a meal for every tick and mosquito, even if I were coated with chemical-free, environmentally friendly bug spray, since none of those formulas works for me, the human mosquito magnet. I would grow my own vegetables, except for that pesky total lack of sunlight in my yard, and my desire to avoid the tick-laden deer that populate it and eat every last plant.

 Our house water comes from a community well. The water is hard enough that I’ve used sand paper to clean the residue from the fixtures. The much-touted miracle vinegar and baking soda combo routinely fails to make a dent in any of the assortment of stains associated with the water; “elbow grease” doesn’t even apply here. Bring me the big guy – Mr. Clean – or the numbers – 409. Paper towels will be at the ready for the scrubbing and wiping, not the environmentally preferred rags, which would have to accumulate over several weeks into a crispy, stinking pile until there are enough to launder a full load rather than run the HE washer with anything less than that.

 I want to do the right thing for the planet and all those earth mothers with a minimum of six children each. But I want to do it without constant haranguing from the media, climate scientists, and strangers in the security line at the local airport. I also want to continue supporting myself in a responsible way, such as funding my older age.  I enjoy an adventure now and again, maybe going to the Big City to inhale the heady aromas of crowds, skyscrapers, exhaust fumes, and driven, energetic living. Those little escapes, as well as my older age funding, would be significantly curtailed if I adhered to every admonition to eat not just salad, but organic salad with lettuce cultivated under the waxing quarter moon by locals who bring it to market by carts drawn by unionized dogs; to buy my clothes from the boutique in town specializing in hemp sandals fashioned by disadvantaged South American Indian tribes and delivered here via an arduous journey on foot; to just ditch The Magic Bus and take government-subsidized Amtrak whose limited service adds at least a full day to any trip as well as an uptick in the taxes I pay to support inefficient public transportation.  When the costs of organic, local, and public get in line, then I will. Till then, I’ll keep taking advantage, always in moderation and of my own volition, of the mixed blessings that make life easier and simpler. Isn’t that the current mantra – simplify, simplify, simplify?



Goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love

Put me in your gas tank.

I’m reasonably certain we all agree the planet’s natural resources are of a finite quantity. God’s finished making water and dirt here, and may be doing it all over again somewhere else so far away that it takes more fuel to get there than we can package. All Earth’s dead dinosaurs have turned to T-Rex Hi Test or Pterodactyl 89 Octane. Aside from what’s already in the ground, nothing else is decomposing into fuel. I’ve never really understood how we figured out about getting dead lizards to power our vehicles anyway, but I was probably doodling when that was taught in school.

 There’s a pretty consistent barrage of chatter about using public transportation. It’s like those ubiquitous plastic grocery bags – we didn’t ask for them, but one day (I actually remember it and thinking how flimsy they were) they were in all the stores, displacing the brown paper bags that held 3X as much stuff. We didn’t ask for those plastic bags in the first place, but somehow it’s our fault that we’re all using them. Now we all have that car in the garage because that’s how our lives and our world are laid out, and we’re supposed to feel guilty about driving it, despite the fact that the auto industry is (or was) a major economic engine, a driving force. Stop with the puns already.

Where was I going with this? Back to the point. Mike and I spent America’s birthday in Philadelphia this year and availed ourselves of public transportation (a foreign concept to Texans since everybody knows we all own our own horse), mostly in the form of trains. Depending on their mood, upon arrival of the train the conductor would either announce the next destination or simply glare at us. Lesson:  know thy geography. If they don’t feel like doing so, they’re not going to tell you that yes, I know where you’re going and you should get on this train. And bring cash since that’s how you get a ticket on board. No credit cards, and beads will only get you Manhattan. Antiquated comes to mind, as well as dangerous. I can’t believe nobody’s rolled that guy holding that wad of cash. The train from the airport dropped us at a city station where we wandered off into the nation’s beginnings. We hopped on the purple Phlash trolley (you get it – Philly – Phlash – terribly clever) and rode it end to end. By the time we traveled half way around its loop, the trolley was full to the rivets with people and the temperature inside had risen noticeably. Two thirds of the way through, the driver was obliged to turn away people waiting for a ride, and they were way less than happy about that. Their unhappiness was expressed in words that would make the Founding Fathers wince. The end of the ride was marked by small children screaming and crying at a wondrously frightening volume.

 Mike stayed on in Philadelphia for business and I returned to Charlottesville. I tried every way I could think of to return by public transportation. A flight from Philadelphia to Charlottesville cost more than $400. The train to Charlottesville was sold out, and would have dumped me in town well after dark, requiring me to get in a car with “Ridin’ High Taxi” printed on the side, driven by an unknown male smelling of (at minimum) tobacco, to be delivered to my isolated country neighborhood where I would hand him some form of payment if I survived the journey. I wouldn’t be the first female to disappear from this area, but that’s another story (and I’m not pointing at cab drivers, I’m just SAYIN’). I juggled an attempt to get on public rails from Philadelphia to Richmond or Baltimore or DC, which produced brief excitement at the substantial choices among those, till I discovered I’d have to either take a bus from those end points or rent a car, and drive the rest of the way to Charlottesville. It was the classic “you can’t get there from here” scenario. The cost of the car rental was the same, one full day’s worth, whether I rented from Philadelphia or Richmond or Baltimore or DC. The car rental just didn’t work like those rent-by-the hour cheap motel rooms with rubber sheets (I only know about those because somebody told me about them.)

 Some might call me a quitter and a threat to the environment, but I gave up. I rented me a little car, tossed my bag on the back seat, kissed Mike goodbye, cranked up my tunes and sailed onto the road. I careened along I95 and I66 with Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers (Atheists Don’t Have No Songs) and John Lee Hooker (Boogie Chillun’!) for company, stopping when I wanted and where I wanted. Who knew MickeyD’s had such a good Southwestern salad? Twenty five bucks’ worth of dino fuel got me from Phil to our local airport, where the Magic Bus had spent the weekend waiting for me and watching the prop planes come and go. I returned the rental and paid the credit card gate to spring us from parking and got myself home. The total cost was less than flying and a little more than a train ride would have been if a train ride could have been.

There was a well-written article in our local rag recently about how simple it is to take public transportation to area airports (Dulles, BWI, Regan – but not Richmond, because there ain’t no public transportation between Charlottesville and Richmond a little over one hour distant, WTF?), which involved friends, busses, subways and trains. After researching the possibilities, I did what I know how to do and have always done. I drove. It was like that scene from the Indiana Jones movie where Harrison Ford is in a plaza facing an assassin who’s using elaborate, time-honored fighting –by- hand methods, and Harrison Ford pulls out his pistol and shoots him. The guy drops dead. Simple. Like driving. There’s one train track between here and Philadelphia, but there are numerous highways.

When I can get here from there, or there from here, without spending hours trying to figure out connections that ultimately don’t exist, I’ll take public transport. Till then, I’m driving. Guilt free.