07 August 2010

Confession (and a tangent)

In case you can't tell, my boyfriend drives. I still don't, not really. But I'm going to have to relearn how in about a year, because I don't think I'll be able to avoid taking the tests again the next time my license is up for renewal. (Happy 30th birthday from the DMV!) I don't want to get a state ID; enough people over the years have convinced me that they're effectively worthless, and I really like the idea of being a licensed road user.

And---as Teh Boyfriend never ceases to remind me---someday I might have to drive again. Not everyone is lucky enough (or wealthy enough, or single enough) to live in a dense urban area where public transit is plentiful and the streets are so narrow and so interrupted by traffic signals that nobody could go highway speeds even if they tried. Personally, I'd rather postpone that sad, awful day as long as possible, or even forever (but that seems unlikely, because Chicago is terrible city in which to be underemployed, and I'm as pessimistic as ever about my prospects).

I don't know where we'll end up, but you can be sure I won't succumb to the suburbs=car mentality until I've tried my damnedest to prove otherwise. We came up with pretty humorous scenario the other night, of me being dragged kicking and screaming to the car dealership: "But honey, the kids outgrew the Bakfiets, and the magnet school is way on the other side of town!" "They can ride their own bikes!" "No they can't, they're not licensed to ride on the street yet." "Then the town should build more *&^%$#@ sidewalks!" "Honey, we can't keep them out of school while you lobby city council to build more sidewalks, and you know it. Now get over here and look at this electric station wagon!" Meanwhile, the dealer just looks confused, everything he thought he knew about selling cars to working moms gone right out the window.

(I'd prefer the gender roles be reversed, of course, but he's a software developer and I've hitched my career to the publishing industry, which is at present going off a cliff. I think it's unavoidable.)

In any case, I do get driven around by him a lot, which is probably equally bad, although that does transform a single-occupant vehicle into a double-occupant vehicle, which is some percentage more efficient, right? If it's somewhere he was going to drive anyway? But in fact, there may be a considerable reduction in the amount time I get driven around, at least until he's over the learning curve of driving a stick shift---which, if you ask me, is going to take a long while. I mean, I haven't felt that uncomfortable in a motor vehicle since the CTA yanked its NABI fleet.

Yes, he just bought a shiny new car, a nice little urban hipstermobile for total geeks. He kept the Rav4 going as long as he could, but it finally died in what sounded like a pretty spectacular chain reaction of engine failure. It's cheaper (allegedly) to get a new, more fuel-efficient car than to keep an old clunker going just a little bit longer. Unfortunately, the federal government disagreed. Yes, he also felt that the Cash for Clunkers program was a big middle finger to folks who already had better sense.

I'm sometimes amazed at the sophistication of modern automobiles. All the parts are so well coordinated that when just one of them fails, everything but the windshield wipers invariably goes kaput. I wonder if motor vehicles could be designed otherwise without sacrificing safety and efficiency. Do cars really need to have all those fancy integrated systems that make them pretty much drive themselves? Maybe we need a component of driver's education that actually teaches driving, so kids learn right off the bat how to operate a motor vehicle without automatic transmission and intelligent all-wheel drive and stuff. (And if it sucked, then naturally, being teenagers, they would refuse to do it, and then we wouldn't have a society of people who've been conditioned to driving everywhere before they even graduated from high school.) And what's so great about power steering? Not strong enough to drive a Tahoe? Then don't get one. I'm also not fond of power locks. I mean, how hard is it to stick a key in a door and unlock it, seriously?

If bikes were more like cars---modern cars---they'd actually be partially self-propelled scooters with, I don't know, saddles that automatically adjusted their height to be lower when stopped and at exactly the correct height when in motion, and pedals that could clip in and out for you, and locks that would engage and lock themselves with the push of a button, and luxury models would even be able to park themselves as soon as you got to the bike rack. And an electronic monitoring system would switch from freewheel to fixed and back, depending on the conditions. (And of course you'd never have to shift for yourself, but some bikes are already like that.) And sensors would tell you when the air pressure in each tire was getting low, and others would tell you when the weight on them wasn't optimally distributed. The rack would have bungees that tightened themselves so you wouldn't have to wrangle with the cord hooks. A warning light on the handlebars would alert you when the chain needed to be lubricated. Rearview mirrors on the handlebars would fold in and out automatically. There'd be an automatic navigation system in front of you and a DVD player behind you for your kids. And some bikes would come with satellite radio, and OnStar would automatically notify emergency services if you crashed or lock the wheels if it was stolen.

Shit, no wonder people don't like bikes. The technology is still pretty ancient in comparison to what cars can do these days. (Alas, they still can't prevent more death outside the vehicle.) Maybe bikes with as many unnecessary gizmos as possible would actually be more appealing to so-called normal people. Those who yearn for simplicity among the affordable mass-produced bike models are probably bike commuters already.


At 07 August, 2010 21:19, Blogger reub2000 said...

You scared me with all those bells and whistles. I guess a self-adjusting seat could be neat, but the other features?

At 08 August, 2010 09:46, Blogger Sproactually said...

I think it is very commendable how hard you try to be a car free as possible. The odds however, are stacked against you. But every little bit helps, and while driving in itself is harsh on the environment, the choices we make have a impact on everything. Even choosing a car like the fit (i love mine, seen here in a picture with my bike http://sproactually.blogspot.com/2010/07/giant-parts.html but ignore the full size truck with the support an expanded Amtrak sticker on it ) which uses less fuel, less steel to process to build, less plastic, less rubber, less impact on the roads and so on.

Every little bit helps, and every choice we make has an impact. The last few years of excess has caught up with everyone, but we still don't know the meaning of the word "enough". We always want more and bigger and easier and faster and cheaper.

Now for your next challenge, have you seen the movie, Food inc. yet? You should get it from you local library, something else to think about, what we eat and the impact on the environment.


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