Thursday, April 23, 2009

Walking-the-Walk, Day 2

I started to walk-the-walk at noon yesterday, which meant that last night, instead of driving to my son’s high school orientation, we walked.

I’ve been getting various responses to my announcement that I am giving my car a break for one month and taking public transportation, carpooling, walking or riding my bike. Several have said something to the effect of, “Cute idea, but you’re not really going to follow through with it are you?” One of my friends actually burst out laughing when I told her, then caught herself and said, “No! Really?!”

In many cities around the world, walking or riding the bus does not have any social stigma. Using public transportation is not indicative of a drunk driving conviction or of a lost job or of a decrepit car that simply can’t make it out of the driveway anymore; it is simply a means to get to-and-from work. Respectable people do it all the time. Not here though. I’m already getting funny looks from people, and that’s before I’ve even embarked on my little journey.

Which is probably why my son flat out refused to walk to school last night. He didn’t want to be seen walking…and with his parents, no less. He doesn’t care about the environment. He doesn’t care about getting fit. He just doesn’t want people to think he’s a loser. Eventually, he went, though he made it a point to walk far ahead of my husband and me, as we strolled the 1.3 miles to school.

It was a pleasant evening, so the walk was very nice. It’s been a while since I held my husband’s hand. We got there in about 15 minutes or so and found a line of cars waiting to get into an impossibly crowded parking lot. There was a surge of people in the lot itself, with kids frantically darting from idling cars in an effort to get a seat at the orientation while their parents made a futile effort to find a space. Those who were not yet committed were trying to back out and go someplace else; and, in the end, many of them were forced to park around the corner and walk…just as we did but with a lot more headaches. I noticed none of them were holding hands.

Of course it was the same scene in reverse when the orientation was over and everyone ran to their cars only to sit in a stagnant sea of chrome and steel. Interestingly enough, my son was willing to be seen walking back home with us; so we got a chance to chat and laugh and just be together on the stroll home. It was, as the commercial says, PRICELESS.

This morning, I spent most of my time going through the Orange County Transit Authority's website, a hideously complex and user-unfriendly site, trying to find routes to and from my various appointments this coming week. I ended up calling one of their customer service reps, who proceeded to give me the longest possible bus route, involving three transfers and a thirty minute (uphill) walk to get to one destination. After looking at the online bus routes again and then comparing them with the streets on Mapquest, I realized I could get there with one bus, though I would still need to walk uphill at the end of the line. Even so, an hour bus ride is better than an hour-and-a half bus ride (though neither compares with the 15 minutes it would take me to drive my car).

The rep also told me to be sure to be at the bus stop 10 minutes ahead of time because, if I miss the bus, there won’t be another along that route until the next hour. As I listened to her, I thought of walking onto the subway station in New York, knowing I’d catch the next train within 15 minutes. I could go virtually anywhere I wanted to go in the city, day or night, as long as the subway was running (and, as far as I know, it never stops).

Not every place in Orange County has bus service; and those that do are often two or three transfers from the route that runs by my house, which means that what would ordinarily be a 15 to 30 minute journey will take anywhere from an hour to two hours to get there by bus and by foot. Not only that; but, if I want to go someplace late at night, I’m out of luck. The busses stop running after 10:00 pm in my town.

After pouring over maps and routes and schedules, I have come to the conclusion that, if I live within 10 miles of my destination, I’m better off riding a bike than trying to take the bus, though that is certainly not an option after dark. I know there are people who ride their bikes after dark around here, but I've seen too many near misses between cars and bikes to be one of them.

So now I’m looking at my calendar again and re-evaluating whether or not I really need to go to all of the events I have penciled in. I’m certainly not going to be able to attend back-to-back meetings in different cities via bus or bike. One thing is for sure: I’m going to have to re-evaluate my business as usual routine and find another way of doing things.


Avogana said...

We live within a mile of our kid's school also and it is much nicer to walk than to deal with all the people fighting for parking spaces. There are definite advantages to going green.

It's too bad your bus system is not very user friendly. At least you have one. Where I live there is nothing but your car. Perhaps you can carpool with a friend heading in that direction?

K. B. Keilbach said...

Yep. It looks like carpooling is the way to go. I have found that OCTA has a link to connect those who want to rideshare Monday through Friday (

Too bad there's no such thing as a last minute carpooling connection. Maybe there is and I just haven't found it yet. Anyway, I'm still looking.

Thanks for your comments!

Small Footprints said...

I admire your decision to give up your car for a month ... it's not an easy thing to do. Mass transit in most cities in the U.S. is not, unfortunately, convenient ... and until it is, most people won't use it. I recently watched a program about one city that reached it's "tipping point" for traffic congestion and pollution. It became so bad that people refused to go into the city to shop, etc. Now, they are rebuilding their infrastructure to provide mass transit and encourage people to come back. Hopefully, other cities won't wait until that point and will do the right thing now.

Wonderful post!

Small Footprints

GutsyWriter said...

We had some Japanese exchange students staying with us in Orange County for six weeks, and I was so embarrassed to tell them that they had to wait for a 6 a.m., bus to get to University at 9 a.m. It would only take 15 minutes to drive there.
When our family moved to an island in Belize in 2004, we boat-pooled, instead of car-pooled. Imagine having dolphins swimming by the side of your boat, instead of trucks and grumpy drivers to look at.

K. B. Keilbach said...

Thanks for sharing your boat-pooling story. As always, it's entertaining to hear how different life in Belize is from our lives here in the OC.

I remember talking with a friend of mine once who used to ice skate to and from school in Wisconsin. I always love to hear how other people get around.

The Practical Preserver said...

Good for you! Walking is the easiest and healthiest change you can make! Good luck!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

So many of us talk about going green, but so few of us "walk the walk." Congratulations on taking that step and providing some inspiration to others!

Enid Wilson said...

I confess I'm bad about using the car. But I use the excuse that the roads are too dusty to walk around...

Fantasy stories by Enid

Lynnette Labelle said...

Wow! Good for you. My husband walks or bikes to work in the spring, summer, and fall. Winter's too cold for that. I need a car because our twins are too young to walk very far.

Lynnette Labelle

Dr.Mani said...

Amazing how often we let convention dictate what we do, rather than convenience and/or common sense, isn't it?!

Walking when others drive is just one of many examples.

All success
Author: "Think, Write & RETIRE!"

Alexis Grant said...

This is so cool! I wish I still lived in a city where everything was walkable. Keep it up!

Jennifer Taggart, TheSmartMama said...

Excited to see a very related book in this BBT class, plus someone that lives a short jaunt to the south of me. I admire your decision to give up your car - I wish I could. But I haven't been able to figure out how I would stay sane schlepping two kids under 6 around on buses. I am just not that much of a saint.

Karen Walker said...

This is so fabulous. I live in Albuquerque, NM, and it is a very eco-friendly city. Many people, including my husband, bike to work. I'm working on walking more. Keep up the good work.
Karen Walker