No Impact Week Day 3: Transportation

21 10 2009

Today was the No Impact Challenge I’d been dreading. No Impact Transportation Day.

Now, just because I live in a rural area doesn’t mean I don’t have access to public transit. I’m embarrassed to say that my options for low-impact transportation are overall excellent, and the failure to use them is thus all mine. There is a free, convenient, congenial bus that goes down the highway about a quarter mile from my house. If I ride it in the morning, it picks me up at my mailbox a little after seven, and drops me off at work 20 minutes later — as quickly as the trip can be made by car. There’s an express bus at 5:10 in the evening, which gets me home about 5:45.

I enjoy both the ride and the walk that bookends it. Tonight, walking home along the gorgeous rail trail that leads to my house, I watched the sun sinking over the lake and the fall colors. I saw a pheasant, sitting angrily and uncomfortably high up in a tree, squawking at our neighbor’s cat Midnight, who was sitting on the road stalking her. It couldn’t have been a more wonderful slice of country life. Besides, riding a bus in a little town is a uniquely communal experience. Everyone knows everyone, everyone works in the same place and lives in the same place and rides in the same seat every day.  The gossip is brisk, and the driver is roundly teased for any errors in driving. She’s always ready with a sharp riposte, and she remembers where everyone gets off, so there’s no need of the bell. It’s adorable.

But besides all that, I don’t even drive. My poor husband has to drop me off at work on days I don’t bus it, and he has to pick me up — double the driving for a single errand. I should be on that bus every single day.

And yet I almost never am. I dreaded today, and I didn’t even do all that well at it: I took the evening bus home today, but I missed the morning bus and my husband had to drive me.

What’s wrong with me?!?

Colin often talks on his blog about how many of us are consuming as consolation prizes in the rat race — as ways to take solace in the fact that we’re working as hard as we can, and harder. I identify with this. I do good work, and I’m proud of what I do, and there are a lot of people who would love my job and love to trade places with me. But I work many — sometimes most — days from 8 in the morning until well after 7 at night, and I’m tired.

To ride the morning bus — there is only one that will get me to work on time — I have to get up 20 minutes earlier than my six year old son. On days I don’t ride the bus, I get to cuddle with my son for 20 minutes. And sometimes that’s the only 20 minutes I see him all day. Getting up in time to catch the bus is too big a trade off — it’s too much to give up. In the evening, I love to ride the bus, but there are only two buses that go to my area after five — and none after six. I’m rarely able to leave my job before six.

I’ll try again, of course, to get up in time tomorrow. But riding home tonight, staring out the window at the New England fall colors, I felt dispirited with the idea of personal no-impact. I’m the sole income earner in my family, I’m not a big consumer, I have the best of intentions — and yet I’m seduced by things like “mortgage” and “college fund” and “having enough so I don’t starve when I’m old and alone” that I work a life that isn’t — and can’t be — sustainable. Not for the planet, and sometimes not even for my family and me. The change is imperative — if we don’t find a way as a culture to stop making trash, to stop buying, to take the bus, to eat local, to use a minimum of energy and water — we won’t have anywhere left to live, on a timeframe with urgency expressed in months or years, not decades. And yet, as individuals, we’re caught in cultural and economic forces powerful enough that even determined people, who care about the planet and want to do better, who are trying hard just for one week as an experiment — find it too costly even just to take the morning bus.

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