I drive to work. I confess this at the outset because, to me, it is without doubt the single thing I would most like to change about my life. It is a “reverse commute”, which is to say I drive 11 miles into suburbia to teach high school while suburbanites come toward the city to work, so it is rare that I run into “traffic”. I sometimes get annoyed if there happens to be another car in my rear view mirror.
Apart from that commute, I shun driving. In the summer I take my little 11 year old Chevy S-10 out once every two weeks or so to pick up something or other, or to drag something or other away. I once had a conversation with some colleagues on a Monday after a winter vacation and was explaining how clearing off the snow that morning had nearly made me late. “It hasn’t snowed since last weekend”, one teacher observed. “Yes”, I said, “but this morning was the first time since then I had needed my car”. In my neighborhood you can handle most of life’s needs on foot.
There is a high school walking distance from my house, perhaps a 5 minute walk door to door. To take a job there, if one were on offer, would mean a cut in pay of $15,000, I would take a hit retirement wise having spent the last 20 years teaching in a different state, and I would lose the security that comes with tenure and seniority. Apart from that, I’m not sure I could get any guarantee that I would be assigned to the closest high school given that the city has at least 4. It’s hard to face that sometimes one lacks the courage to act on one’s convictions.
My wife and I attended her brother’s wedding in and around Ulster County in New York this weekend. The landscape was scenic and the venues were lovely. They were also so spread out that, not taking into account the distance travelled to get to Ulster County, guests like us who also participated in the wedding rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner were asked to drive almost 200 miles to participate in all of the activities. I did the calculation for my own wedding, and the total of all the driving required once you arrived at your hotel was 7 miles..and that is rounding up!
I want to make clear that this isn’t a criticism of the events, each of which was magnificent. It is a commentary of just how absolutely comfortable Americans are making arrangements for activities which demand extreme levels of automobile use. It was remarkable to me that, even with the petty critiques one sometimes hears at weddings involving food and drink, music and fashion, not one person even mentioned the miles and miles and hours and hours of driving the weekend’s logistics required.
Honestly, it helps me understand the DAILY reports on TV news and in print on increases and decreases of mere pennies in the price of gas. I don’t think anyone else at the wedding was from an urban, transit friendly neighborhood. I can’t imagine the rude awakening these people are in for, leaving totally to one side the other inflationary impacts of higher energy costs, when 200 miles of driving costs $200 dollars or more as it soon might (and perhaps it already should if one considers externalities).
There it is, I’ve gone a long way in this blog post just to express what I already knew at some level, but it really brought the idea home in a way I hadn’t expected. Sometimes you have to go a long, long, long way to really understand the level of commitment people are willing to make, sometimes to each other, but nearly always it seems, to their cars.
A Beautiful End to a Lovely Weekend