08 June 2007

Freedom train

(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

From Midwest High Speed Rail:
Does driving = freedom?

"A prison is a place where you spend most of your time sitting and where you’re not allowed to do what you want. I think that’s a pretty good definition of driving."

Train travel, as certain people love to remind me, is often hampered by schedule restrictions and station locations. ("You want us to pick you up in Carbondale when?") But once you're on the train, you're free to do whatever--read, work, sleep, watch the scenery, text-message or talk on a mobile phone, play with any boredom-reducing electronic gadgets, and/or engage in conversation with other passengers. (I once overheard a couple who were apparently hammering out divorce terms on the UP-North--try doing that while you're driving.) In most cases you're even free to pee if you need to, since passenger trains tend to have bathrooms. (And before anyone launches on a rant about the cleanliness of passenger train bathrooms, let me just say two words: gas station.) One thing you're not free to do is operate the train: someone else gets paid to pay attention, meaning you don't have to.

On a bicycle you're free to go places cars can't (trails!), travel slowly enough to enjoy the scenery, and pause to take a closer look at something interesting. In some cases you're free to park a lot closer to your actual destination. And there's a freedom that motorcyclists (and possibly convertible owners) would understand, the freedom of traveling in the open air, just being in the place where you are without a car interior between you and the world. And unlike walking, you're free to go farther, as fast as you want. Certain people who don't drive love to tell me that my bike is holding me back, but they rarely do anything spontaneously. I, on the other hand, can (and often do) swing by the lakefront after work in the evening whenever the hell I want, just for the hell of it, and it takes very little time out of my day. If that's not freedom I don't know what is.

Edit: I just realized that weighing the freedom of driving (your own vehicle, go anywhere at any time) against the freedom of riding the train (fewer limitations once you do get going, no need to park) might be exactly like weighing the freedom of bicycling against the freedom of walking. Would anyone care to argue either way, i.e., did I just contradict myself or is the car/train issue different from the bike/feet one? I'm really sick of arguing, and this blog's handful of readers probably already have a strong opinion about it, so frankly I don't give a shit. But I'd welcome comments for the sake of rational, obscenity-free discourse.

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