Monday, February 4, 2008

Berkeley Trip Post Script Part II

As leery as I am of the term "social scientist", I'd like to consider this weekend's semi-car-free trip to Berkeley an experiment, in a Fisher Price Ages 3-8 kind of way.

This is because when it comes to traveling without a car in America, the variables one must consider are endless. There are buses, there are trains, there are bicycles that can be placed on both. There's the issue of luggage, schedules, transfers, ticket prices, meals, weather, and bringing some form of boredom repellent.

For me, the last issue is always the easiest to decide as books, pen, and paper are more suitable than Ipods and portable DVD players for the same reasons bicycles and buses are more favorable than cars.

Fittingly, the biggest dilemma of this trip revolved around whether to bring a bicycle at all. If I did, I'd have a handy way of zipping around Berkeley or San Francisco, thereby fulfilling my exercise quota that my body tends to crave if I go too long sitting in one place; I'd also have a bulky piece of metal that would more than likely have to be fitted into a car's trunk or locked up on the street. Lacking a magic 8-Ball to assist me in this momentous decision, I opted for traveling lightly as possible and hoofed it out the front door, down the block, to the street, past a few intersections, to the bus stop.

Arriving at the bus stop 10 minutes early I had just the right amount of time to enjoy the frosty morning and fret over whether I'd made the wisest decision. If the bus ran on time, I'd have a good 20 minute window in downtown to buy some breakfast and get in line for the Greyhound. If the bus was more than 10 minutes late, I'd still have the option of walking back home, jumping on the bike and riding 15 minutes downtown, giving me approximately 5 minutes to buy breakfast and get on the Greyhound.

It occurs to me that my excessive worrying is a combination of my neurotic upbringing and middle class American cultural baggage. The myth that the automobile allows the individual more choice, control, and therefore more freedom on how one gets to a destination is so deeply ingrained in our psyche it can manifest itself even in the dissimilar bicycle. No car/bicycle means no mobility means being stranded. Or to put it another way, the phobia most Americans have of being more than 100 feet away from their individually owned mode of transportation says as much about our concept of private property as it does about our attitudes towards public transportation.

I check the time, the bus should be here by now. Don't worry, you worry too much. With wool gloves on I continue reading my paperback. Damn it's cold. A few minutes go by. Is that it over the horizon? No, it's a planter, I think. Oh no, I have to go to the bathroom. Okay, don't panic, you can still walk home, use the loo, get on your bike and ride downtown. But, then you'd have to either leave the bike downtown over the weekend, or take it on the bus, then train, then friend's carrito...If I wait till' the bus gets here, I'll have to quickly find a place downtown, what's open at this time in the morning?

I check the time again - It's been almost ten minutes. I start to walk back home. As I reach the intersection, I see the bus coming over the horizon. I rush back to the stop. In a few minutes I am downtown, I find a decent restaurant, I catch the Greyhound on time. I catch the Amtrak on time. I arrive in Berkeley a little after 11am, it is raining, I am smiling. Punctual.

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