Friday, April 25, 2008

OHIO/CINNKY: Breaking the addiction

The Kristymobile has been dead for 7 days and 21 hours. I have been an official bus rider for 7 days and two hours. Today marked a small anniversary -- this time last week, I was rolling up into work nearly an hour late due to my inability to know which bus, exactly, to take, and finding myself out in Western Hills as opposed to the lovely Government Square I had expected.

I took the same route today and got here spot-on time. It was a liberating experience.

But it was my morning "commute" that changed my life. I had made plans with the ever fabulous and long-standing local community activist and self-proclaimed "cheerleader" (I still think she's a lot more organizationally minded than she ever gives herself credit for) -- JB. JB works out 71, in one of those little suburbs that I have never been to and probably will never visit. I work in Clifton/Corryville. The plans we made included a car to meet at the IHOP off Ridge Road "out there" on the Eastside beyond Hyde Park.

For the uninitiated to Cincinnati, the Eastside/Westside divide is severe in town and you rarely find someone crossing the border, much like a Cincinnatian will rarely cross the river into NKY and vice versa (except for must's -- cigarettes and Newport-on-the-Levee, for example -- funny, my 4 movies for $20 Blockbuster habit is actually quicker fed over the river in Covington, but I always insisted on driving the extra 10 minutes to go out on Glenwya). For the unitiated to my life, the Eastside is a vast world of unknown's punctuated by a few places I can get to: Hyde Park Square (barely), my gym, and Adonis the Nightclub.

Our breakfast plans were for 630am, made when the Kristymobile still lived, but I changed them to 7am when she died so that I could account for bus time.

I know this all seems silly and kind of minute to the rest of the world: but I made to the IHOP and was hugging my dear friend at 704am, the lateness due in part to a brief layover at the ATM. In short, I made it miles out of the way of my normal life, into unfamiliar territory, on a public transit system I am barely familiar with, with a dead phone in my pocket, and got their on time. This little feat amazed and stunned me.

I can do this, I thought as I left breakfast around 815am, I can survive without.

I half-heartedly joked with my brother on the phone the other day about not buying a new car yet and his text message is still very clear -- Do it, break the addiction. This morning I made the decision to break the addiction. For the next month (at least), I will not own a car. I am not going to buy one... not yet, at least.

Cincinnati is a mid-sized, Midwestern city with a mediocre public transit system. The amazing thing about public transit in a city this size is that everyone bemoans the lack of effectiveness, with local advocates (in their cars) whining that the idea of a large, interconnected, multi-use system is ineffective and impossible in a mildly sprawled and car-friendly city like Cincinnati. To those people I say: bullshit.

Thousands of people ride the Metro every day -- to the tune of 22 millionbus rides in the course of year, over 60,000 bus rides a day. So it's not ineffective, it's not "in need of some changes," it works for thousands upon thousands of people who rely on it as their only means of transportation. And, today, I join their ranks. I am challenging the public transit, city planning, environmental, health, (anti-war), etc advocates to join me. I am challenging the very idea that you need a car here; that, somehow, to be car-less is to be at a disadvantage. I just don't think it's true.

As the 43 glided up Reading Road this afternoon, the minutes ticking by and I finishing my book (I read 650 pages on the bus this week, btw -- which is time better spent that sitting at home and watching reruns of A Shot at Love 2 on VH1), the gas prices struck me, and I saw, get this, 3.62. All of us have been making excuses throughout this whole process of rising gas prices, and the question still remains: at what point do we stop bitching and alter our habits to take into account this exorbitant change in our very system? Don't give me any slack about the idea of a subway, and the ongoing local debate about light-rail is still, IMHO, a pipe dream.

We have the busses and no one uses them.

Long ago, when I was a young and impressionable Urban Planning student at Miami University, we discussed the problem of busses. People just don't think they're cool. They are the transit system of the masses, of the poor, of minorities, of druggies, and of XYZ. They aren't hip like a subway would be, or a train system. They're just there, and they just aren't cool enough for anyone to ride.


Get over your high-minded classism and hop on the bus.

That was a rant and highly de-personalized, so I apologize. I'm part of all that people feel as well, and I very much own up to the fact that I felt the same way. However, my mind has changed this week, and I'm enjoying myself immensely. I really like the time I get to spend reading or writing or talking to passengers or just watching the world pass by, all the time not worrying about traffic or lights or any of the minutiae that bother us when we drive. Somewhere along the lines, I had become a terrible driver. Lighting a cigarette, changing the music, talking on the phone all left me, probably, a huge liability on the road. And, what's worse, is that I spent all this time spending money on gas, leaving at the last moment (so that I could watch as much of my TV show as possible), and drunkenly attempting to get home in my car, that the freedom I found when I got my license at the old age of 19 was gone. I had always loved driving, but I was taking advantage of the privilege -- for a lot reasons, because I didn't view it as a privilege.

Fountain Square is now one of my favorite places in the world. It's busy, it's filled with life, and it's the center of the city. I spent so much time attempting to turn my city into a suburb by ducking through the streets on a car that I forgot -- I'm in a freaking city, and one that is nearly five times bigger than the one I grew up in. In Charleston, I always felt like I was connected to everything, like I constantly had the opportunity to see everything that was happening in the world because the world was aligned on a few streets and those were the streets you stumbled on after a night at the bar, or the streets you walked down to get simply to the grocery store. But Cincinnati is so much bigger and I find myself somedays thinking that there is nothing to do. But when did I ever stop and find something to do? It is not the city's job to bring my life to me, it is my job to take my life into the city. And with the windows rolled up, the music turn up on high, a cigarette in one hand, a phone in the other, and controlling the car with my knees... well, there was nothing for me to see.

I'm sure I'll get tired of all this, but I'm enjoying the newness. And that's why it's only a month. I'll adapt, I'll learn -- I'm already changing some of my habits and finding freedom there -- and then maybe I'll go back.

Maybe. But I'm going to try and break the addiction.

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