posts tagged with 'driving'

our fresh new ride

So we got a new van. The old one served us nobly for six years, and was still getting us places up until last week. As long as those places weren't too far away, that is; it was developing enough troubling issues that I didn't like to take it on the highway for any length of time, if I could help it. And it couldn't pass inspection. I actually started looking for a replacement in early March, but then of course something happened to make getting a used car off Craigslist a little more complicated. I guess things weren't any less complicated in July, but we're used to the complications now, so when I spotted a van that looked good—by which I mean it looked just like the old one we know and love—I snapped it right up. Maybe too fast; I probably could have done something to try and talk the price down a little. After all, we bought the new car six years later and it's only five years newer, so maybe I shouldn't have paid more for this one. On the other hand, the new one just a had a single owner who wasn't sketchy at all, unlike the last version which we bought in a parking lot in Waltham from a guy with a New Hampshire dealer's license.

Speaking of complications, it turns out to be very challenging to register a car these days. I had to get an appointment at the RMV; I did that in the last week of July and the soonest I could get in anywhere in Massachusetts was the 12th of August, in Plymouth. Actually, that was the only available day the morning that I looked: there are only ten RMV locations opened in the state, so spots are in high demand. Of course, even in a pandemic an appointment at the RMV doesn't mean you'll be seeing someone at the exact time on your ticket, but when I got up to the window at 2:52 for my 2:30 scheduled time I felt like I was doing pretty well. Even with two hours of driving round trip I think I got the thing done in less time than I would have had I lined up in Lowell the old-fashioned way. Plus, I got to try out the new van! Yes of course I drove it to register itself: the old one never would have made it!

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becoming that which I despise

In the past I've felt a little superior to people who put their bikes on the car to drive to the trail. Why do that?! A bicycle is a way to get places, I thought. Before the pandemic we went lots of places by bicycle, with some of our rides being fun and exciting and others just a way to get somewhere more quickly than walking. Now, though, there's basically nowhere for the kids to go, so all our rides are recreational, and we're kind of tired of the routes around here. So we're doing this.

two bikes in the trunk of the van

at least they both fit easily

That was yesterday afternoon, when Harvey and I drove to the Burlington Landlocked Forest. It's our favorite place to ride these days, as we develop our techical off-road skills. We're lucky to live near lots of varied and beautiful forests, but all the paths in our neighborhood are made by walkers for walkers (except for the ones made by four-wheelers, but that's another subject). In the Landlocked Forest we found a whole network of trails laid out by mountain bikers to follow delightful swoopy lines over the small hills. There's challenge too, since lots of the paths pick out the most tricky routes up steep slopes or along ridges. The forest isn't that big, but the landscape is wonderfully varied: smooth-floored pine woods, meadow, swamp (with long boardwalks to ride on!), rocky deciduous forest... and lots of little hills, up and down, up and down. On of our favorite spots that we did yesterday is a tiny valley where you ride a switchbacked path down one steep side, cross a bridge over a stream, and switchback right back up the other side. I wanted to stop and take a picture but it was incredibly hot and humid and, when we stopped for a second, crowds of bugs descended instantly. Better to ride than document, anyways.

Of course, we could ride there from home. We have done, once. But driving lets us really push ourselves on the trails: I could barely keep moving forward by the time we got back to the car. That's how we mountain-bike bros do it! I did tell Harvey, though, that we're working on getting stronger so we don't need to do the drive. It might be a while though... car-biking is so much fun!

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going out

We've actually been leaving our house a fair amount over the last few days. Harvey and I, and sometimes Zion, have been enjoying early-morning bike rides a few times a week, and mid day rides a few times a week when we're not out early. Off-road, because we don't need to be masked deep in the woods. The other day we even put the bikes in the car to try out some new trails that wouldn't otherwise have been reachable in the hour and a half we had available.

But car trips still aren't easy. I had to go to the store the other day, and it was a major production. First I had to try and jump the minivan because the battery was dead, and then when that didn't work I had to go buy a new battery and put it in. But before I could do that I needed to find my wallet, which I hadn't used in at least a week, and my mask. Locating those two things only took ten minutes, but it was a desperate and frustrating ten minutes that almost removed from me all will to live. Certainly all will to drive away from home.

But it was worth it, because with a working car I could visit some real bike trails with Harvey. And then since that went so well, today all four of us boys took our first automotive outing in a long time. I'll write more about that tomorrow; for now, suffice it to say that finding four masks—plus water bottles, shoes, and whatever else we needed—was more than four times harder than finding my one had been. We've never been really good at getting out the door in any smoothly organized fashion, and I think any skills we did manage to develop evaporated completely in the 2+ months since we've driven anywhere together.

Two months?! Yes, March 30th to June 4. I had to count three times before I believed that number, but there it is. Ok, I guess it's fair that we'd be a little rusty. The boys had fun; we're looking to do it again soon. Maybe next time the engine will only be running for ten minutes while everyone is running around trying to find their stuff. I don't dare turn the car off after I start it because I no longer trust batteries. But don't worry, we could idle for a very long time indeed and still not offset all the driving we didn't do in April and May!

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our weekend of driving

I'm not a fan of driving. As much as possible, I like to bike or walk—or failing that, just skip trips to places that are too far away. I don't take it to extremes: we use the car plenty, to go shopping, to go on homeschool outings, to see farther-away friends. But it's generally a priority to minimize our fossil-fueled miles. Of course, sometimes there are other priorities in life. Like playing Pokemon.

On Saturday, Harvey and I drove an hour and a half north to Rochester, New Hampshire, for a League Cup. Then we had to come home too. That felt like a lot of driving, so we figured we might take is easy Sunday. But then we didn't—we went to a League Challenge in Worcester that entailed another two hours, round trip. Five hours of driving in a weekend might not seem like anything at all if you're from Oklahoma or Montana, but it sure was a lot to us!

Of course, it wasn't all bad. If you discount the environmental impact, the cost of the gas, and the wear and tear on our lovely minivan (which with over 200,000 miles—mostly before us!—is nearing the end of its life), we had a great time road tripping together. We listened to music, we talked, and we sang. On the way home last night we enjoyed the sight of the giant, two-days-past-full moon rising in front of us. And when we were far from home we got to play cards with some great people that we can only see by driving all that way. So maybe it's worth it.

(I only wish I had remembered to fill the tank in New Hampshire, even though it wasn't even half-empty—they've got some cheap gas up there!)

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part of the problem

I've been driving too much lately. It feels bad regardless, and it felt especially bad the last two days when I spent significant portions of my errand sitting in traffic. Both times I was needed to go pick up something for this deck we're building in back of the house, and I left at what seemed to me like a reasonable time to avoid congestion. But yesterday at 3:00 all Bedford was packed with cars, so my short hop to the hardware store took half an hour. Then today at around the same time the highway was completely stopped up due to some police activity just before the exit I needed to get off at to pick up lumber; I was stuck going under 10 MPH for about five miles.

I don't gripe about being stuck in traffic. I'd be the first one to acknowledge that when I get in the car I am traffic, doing my part to make the problem worse. I couldn't have taken my bike to the lumber store, but I could have planned ahead better and ordered lumber for delivery. And I certainly could have ridden to the hardware store in town. I didn't because I was in a hurry, but as it happened cycling would have been quicker—even if I had taken the cargo bike, which I would have to carry the things I wanted to get. Lesson learned? I'm working on it!

cars these days

Leah's parents needed to borrow our minivan so they could move some furniture down to their new Cape house, so they left us their late-model Honda SUV. Today we had cause to drive it. I'm used to our 2004 Odyssey; it turns out that there have been some advances in automotive technology in the last 13 years. Never mind the bluetooth integration—I heard all about that from my mom last year, and anyways we couldn't make it work with my phone—the rear-view camera display that comes up automatically when you put the car into reverse or flip the right turn signal is pretty amazing (and amazingly distracting, along with the rest of the complicated touch-screen controls). But for pure shock of the new, nothing can compare with the push-button start. Put your foot on the brake and press the big red button, and on comes the engine! Want to use any of the cars other electronics while parked in your driveway? Just push the button without engaging the brake. Naturally, pressing while the engine is running shuts it off. Amazing.

I hate cars.

driving guilt

We've been driving too much lately. Monday, for example: Leah and the boys went to Lowell for an appointment, then as soon as they got back Harvey, Zion, and I headed right back out to go grocery shopping. Yesterday we drove to the farmers market, rather than cycling—for the third week in a row. The car is convenient. We can get the boys places with a minimum of whining, carry everything we might need instead of having to plan more carefully, and save travel time on busy days. But it doesn't really feel good.

You don't even need to feel that all our driving is responsible for the Syrian refugee crisis to think the car is a bad deal. Kelly at Root Simple wrote a post the other day lamenting the death of a mountain lion, killed by a car while crossing I-5; starting with a look at the obfuscating term "roadkill", she builds to a resolute indictment of car culture and its cost to animals and people alike. One million animals a day killed by cars in the US—and those are the ones people bother to count—and over 30,000 people a year. Not to mention, "climate change, air pollution, noise pollution, light pollution, habitat loss, urban sprawl, songbird harassment—all of the rest of indicators of the unspeakably high cost of the personal automobile."

As it is now, driving the car—or asking other folks to drive to us—helps us stay part of a geographically distributed community. We go to church in Cambridge, Bible study with friends in Arlington, and homeschool coop in Malden. We invite friends over from Lowell and West Roxbury. I don't want to lose any of those connections; but can I talk about changing the system if I can't make sacrifices like that myself?

Right now what we do is try to skip the car when it's easy to do so: when we're making trips in town, when we're not bringing the kids, when extra travel time is built into the schedule. But we're only trying: last week Zion and I took the car less than half a mile up to the library because it was raining. Pretty lame. Any suggestions?

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apology

I'm sorry. In a moment of weakness, I drove to work yesterday, and it was a mistake. Not only for me personally—I had fine reasons, with a touch of sickness and a fairly broken bicycle, but it ended up taking me longer in the car than it would have on the snowy bike path—but for the city as a whole. There are too many cars everywhere, and I felt terrible for adding one more to the mess! The Greater Boston area just isn't built for this much snow.

At least, it isn't built for this much snow together with this many cars. As I sat on Mass Ave, stationary for minutes at a time, and watched the cyclists braver and wiser than I roll easily past through the slop, I wondered how much better the traffic situation would be if even, oh, ten percent of the folks in cars could be on bikes instead? Or what about a quarter? How many commuters could possibly bike instead of drive? Lots, I bet... if the infrastructure were better.

Because part of the problem is that, with the tremendous effort towns are putting into clearing the roads for cars, bike paths and sidewalks are being neglected. Sure, most of the main bikeways are now cleared shortly after each storm—for which I'm ever so grateful!—but they only get one pass for every ten or twenty on the roads, which means that they often end up with a messy inch or two of snow. They're not impassible by any means, but it does slow you down a lot. That's another reason why I wimped out yesterday.

I shouldn't have. As it turns out, side streets in Cambridge are even worse, covered with several inches of soft dirty snow still and hemmed in by cars embedded in snow banks. Those cars were probably parked there after the first storm or two, so they were already squeezing in on the road; now completely buried they turn what used to be two-way streets into narrow canyons that I felt nervous about being able to fit through. And that's just Cambridge... what must Boston be like?!

So yeah, I'm sorry I drove. I won't do it again. And if you need to get around this winter, try cycling! Even if you're not a very quick rider you'll get to enjoy the very pleasant experience of passing lots of cars... and of knowing you're no longer part of the problem, but part of the solution!

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sounds louder than "easy wind and downy flake"

The boys and I walked up to the library late this afternoon, and back after dark. Well, Harvey and I walked; after the first twenty or thirty steps Zion rode in the stroller, wrapped up in blankets and a towel against the damp. It was a pleasant wintery evening: warmer that it has been, though damp and raw, and with a fine snowfall sparkling in the air. We sang "Winter Wonderland" on the way up (as well as many choruses of "Willaby Wallaby", with all the names we could think of). Nearly free of whining, it was an almost perfect transportation walk except for one thing: the roar of passing cars that made it just about impossible to hold a conversation.

You don't notice it so much when you're inside them, but cars are pretty loud—and all the more so when the road is wet. Even as slow as they're moving in town—not much more than thirty miles per hour anywhere along our evening's route—the noise of the tires was enough that Harvey and I had to just about shout to talk to each other, and Zion, talking out of his pile of blankets, didn't have a hope of making himself heard.

I don't have any hope of improving the situation, or any idea of what could even be done in a perfect world. At least living where we do we always have the option, when we want to be able to talk while walking, of heading out to the woods or fields. But that way we don't get anywhere useful. I can't even claim any moral high ground, since this winter I've been driving around town at least as much as I've been walking, and our new car has giant wheels that are probably even louder than average.

There's probably a broader point to be made about externalities here, but I'm too sleepy to come up with it. When it comes to driving, maybe it's just that it's hard for people behind the wheel to remember that anything external to their vehicle even exists. I'll try and fight that as I drive, and while I can't do much about the noise I'll be careful not to splash pedestrians with water from puddles, or honk my horn where it could startle someone. That—and trying to drive a little less—might make the world a tiny bit better.

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the car, the suburbs, the feminine mystique

We've done a lot of driving this summer. Sometimes I feel like my radical parenting impulses are torn in two directions. On one hand I want to be homesteading, showing the kids how to sew and make jam, raise animals, be content playing in the woods and, I don't know, some idealized version of childhood that doesn't actually work with my children. Because the home is where they hit each other with blocks, so my other impulse is to present my children with exciting new adventures. Sans blocks. To that end we find ourselves hopping in the car every day to scoot off to God knows where, some museum or farm or beautiful river where I pretend like I didn't know they were going to swim.

the boys swimming in the concord river

golly gee, passers by, if I'd have only know I would have brought their swimsuits

I love adventures. I love the way I can't be distracted by chores and I'm forced to pay attention to my children. Sometimes I play with them in the river or at the museum and it's just fantastic. THIS is parenting! i announce to myself. Sometimes I merely facilitate the transportation of kids, diapers, clothing changes, and one thousand pounds of snacks to and from various exciting locations. On this trip to the river I carried a bag of beach toys, a bag of snacks, the bag with the diapers and towels, the stroller and the dog, and I SHOULD have brought the Ergo with me because Harvey broke down at the end and refused to use his legs to make any forward progress towards the car. And there's everyone, all the thousand tourists and park rangers at the Concord bridge, looking concerned in my direction and asking, "Is he hot? There's a water fountain over there!" As if I wasn't keenly aware that I'm carrying not one but THREE water bottles — indeed that's the reason I can't PICK UP MY SCREAMING CHILD all the stupid bags in my hand. And I just felt like, well, my mother used to say she felt like a "beast of burden" and I wouldn't go that far but I did feel like an ass.

harvey swimming in the concord river

Harvey swimming happily before mama ruined his day

The problem at the river was that the dog was barking because HE wanted to go home. Or sometimes it's the baby crying because HE wants to go to sleep. Or sometimes it's me who's bored because I don't have a smart phone. Because paying attention to my children is lovely but oh my word I do it for many many minutes a day.

The problem is, Harvey has a longer attention span for staying somewhere than anybody else in the family. And Harvey gets to make A LOT of decisions about what we do, but duration isn't one of them. So there are tantrums. Which, I don't know, when my kid is having a tantrum I enter this horrible place of mental redundancy where I think: haven't we done this before? Haven't a million parents done this before? And I have to sit through this AGAIN? Like, why isn't the tantrum problem solved for all humanity?

Which sounds remarkably calloused to the emotional needs of my children. Sometimes I think I'm a working mother in an attachment parent's body.

Once I had my kids at the mall food court (crappy hippy that I am) and there was a kid at the table next to us throwing a tantrum about his meal and his caretaker said, "This is the food we have. You can eat it or not but you need to sit in your seat until everyone else is finished." Which is a perfectly reasonable thing to say, I would say the same thing, but in my head came the phrase, "A thousand little prisoners and a thousand little jailers."

But I got off track. I had wanted to write a post about driving.

We have done a lot of driving this summer, and the thing I notice in between beautiful playgrounds and swimming holes (that we feel very blessed to visit, don't get me wrong) is miles and miles of sprawling suburbs. Another house with another lawn over and over and over again. All made out of ticky-tacky, all watered with underground sprinkler systems. And I've just felt like, Oh God. I've got to get out of here.

I'm reaching a point with the suburbs and the cars and it's fight or flight.

My friend Jo said something so poignant to me the other day. "I feel like my kids are going to ask me, 'Why did you keep driving when you knew it was unsustainable?' And I don't have an answer to that question." It kind of hit me like a ton of bricks, because it's true. Why did you keep ruining the environment, mom and dad? Because we lived in the suburbs. Because you and your brother kept hitting each other when I tried to do stuff in the house. Because you loved new playgrounds and ponds and museums.

Our generation's equivalent of "Why didn't you stand up to the Nazis?"

harvey standing up at the river

Harvey in a disposable diaper because he outgrew the cloth ones and potty training dash the environment is less important than getting them to stop hitting each other

This isn't really a coherent argument about anything other than my general malaise with living in the suburbs. Which really might just be general malaise about parenting. Betty Friedan wrote in The Feminine Mystique: I ask women about their lives and they give me a list of tasks. Get up, load the laundry, feed the baby, on and on. There is no substance to these women's lives other than their chores. (I'm paraphrasing here because I can't find the actual quote. I don't own the book and google isn't smart enough to deliver it to me based on my vague searches.) Obviously Friedan wasn't a Marxist. Of course our labor defines us. To put it in more obvious terms, our life is pretty much made up of what we do all day. But that's an argument for another day. What I'm trying to say is, I'm starting to feel like Friedan's housewives, with a problem that has no name, and I'm trying to name it "driving" or "capitalism" or "living in the suburbs," when Friedan might have been wrong it might just be that life with young children is sometimes tedious.

Maybe it's just tantrums. Dear Lord, I see where Harvey gets it from.

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