Thursday, September 15, 2016

Car Free vs. Commute Free

I've been thoroughly enjoying reading about Fiona's adventures after she and her family decided to move so they could ditch their commute and live a more walk-able lifestyle.

It got me to thinking...

Over the years I've read a lot of blogs, articles and what not on the idea of becoming "car free." Meanwhile, Denver's been undergoing an incredible growth boom, and the topic of public transportation looms large here, as the city grapples with the influx of new people, and the limitations of our automobile based infrastructure.


Now, don't get me wrong. I think public transportation is critically important, and I have nothing but the utmost admiration for people willing to take on the challenge of living entirely car free.

But the thing is, commuting is still commuting, no matter how you get from point A to point B. And if you have to spend as much (if not more) time commuting via public transportation than you did in a car (which, unfortunately, is often the case) then I'm not sure you've really gained all that much, other than greenie bragging rights.


Sometimes I wonder if, with all the frenzied efforts to find better ways to move people around, we aren't missing the bigger picture here. To me the natural question is: why do we need to move so many people so many miles on a daily basis anyhow?

Obviously, the answer to that question is somewhat complex, and way beyond the scope of a simple blog post. But for the moment, let's put aside the "why" and just look at the reality of the situation.

The average one-way commute in the US is 25.4 minutes - that works out to about 4 and a quarter hours per week or nearly 9 solid days (as in 24 hour days) per year! To add insult to injury, the average American spends around $2600/year on commuting costs.

To put that number into perspective, consider this: the average American has less than $1000 in savings! So think about it, if the average American could find a way to ditch their commute, and simply pocketed the money they would otherwise have spent on commuting costs, they could more than triple their savings over the course of a year, plus they'd get 9 days of their lives back!


The thing that gets to me about this situation is how much people take commuting for granted... like it's just the way it is, and always will be. But the thing is, there was a time in the not too distant past, when our society didn't work that way.

Now, CatMan and I are fans of old movies, and not long ago we watched a Cary Grant classic called Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House.




The movie was made in 1948 and it's basically a light-hearted romantic comedy about an ad executive and his wife who decide to move their family from their cramped NYC apartment to a beautiful home in Connecticut. And while the intent of the film is certainly not to make any sort of societal statement, it inadvertently serves as a glimpse into the beginnings of the flight to the suburbs that ensued shortly after WWII.

The story begins with the couple waking up and suffering through their morning routine - tripping over each other in the bathroom, no room for storage, yadda, yadda, yadda.


They end up buying an old farm house, which turns out to be uninhabitable, so they tear it down and set about constructing the perfect home. There are a series of humorous mishaps as anything and everything that can go wrong does, but they all end up happy as clams at the end in their beautiful, spacious new home.

Of course, they also end up mortgaged to the hilt, and exchanging a somewhat civilized lifestyle for one that I consider to be barbaric. Back in the "cramped" apartment, our protagonist got up at 7:30 in the morning, had breakfast with his family and then walked to his office. But now that he has his "dream house" he has no choice but to to get up at 5am to catch the 6:15 train into the city every day! It's hard for me to see how this is an improvement!

Honestly, I had a difficult time watching the film. I mean, it's cute and funny and all... and it's hard not to like Cary Grant & Myrna Loy, but I just couldn't escape the sensation that I was somehow witnessing the genesis of societal doom.


There MUST be a better way! And I truly believe that there is.

You see, Fiona's quest for a commute-free life is actually not a new idea for me. Waaaaay back in the 1970's my dad & stepmom did the same thing. They rented out their house, and moved across town so they could live just a few blocks from the hospital where they both worked.

Dad's "new" house was actually nearly 100 years old, as was the neighborhood where it was located. So besides being able to walk to work every day, they also enjoyed many long lost benefits of the pre-automobile world, like having a corner grocery store. I have many fond memories of my step-mom handing me a few dollars and sending me down to the end of the block to pick up a few missing ingredients for dinner.

This isn't the store in their neighborhood, but it's about the same size & looks very similar
You know, in many ways, growing up in a divorced family totally sucks. But there are also some real benefits, and one of them is that you sorta get to have two different families. And in my case at least, that allowed me to experience two completely different sets of lifestyle choices.

Over the years I watched as my mother's daily commute grew longer and longer... partially because her office kept moving further away to newer and groovier office parks, and partially because every year the traffic got worse.

By the time I was in high school, my mom had to leave for work before 7 in the morning, and didn't get home until after 7 in the evening. I'm sure some of that was due to working long hours, but at least 2 of those hours were spent commuting... every. single. day.

And somehow, it was like the whole pace of life at my dad & stepmom's house, was just completely different than it was at home with my mom. I mean, my dad & stepmom took a walk to the local park after dinner every night. They knew every single neighbor on the block - they still do, in fact, as they still live there 40 years later. Meanwhile, the only neighbors we knew in our suburban sub-division were the families of my school friends. It's like my dad & stepmom actually inhabited the neighborhood where they lived, while we simply "camped" in ours between other activities.

Our neighborhood wasn't actually this bad, but you get the idea
In my current home, I've almost had the experience both ways. When I first moved here, I was still working loooong hours at the music school. which, while it was only 8 miles away, was in a totally different neighborhood. In those days it felt a lot like our house in the suburbs. I got up, left for work, worked all day, ran errands on my way home, fell asleep, and did it all over again the next day. I usually did my shopping & banking & whatnot in the neighborhood where I worked, because it was just easier to run over on my lunch/dinner break than it was to deal with those sorts of things "after hours."

Then, I quit my job and started "working" from home, and everything changed. I suddenly realized that I had virtually everything I needed within easy walking/biking distance, and I actually started to live in my own neighborhood. It's hard to describe how different it feels, but these days I feel grounded and connected here. I know most of the people (and all of the dogs) on the block, the mailman waves to me when he sees me out on my bike, and I just feel like I have a genuine investment in what happens here, more so than I ever did before.


Anyhow, this post is getting really long, and I'm not entirely sure what conclusion to draw or what point I'm trying to make. I just can't help but think that we, as a society, might all be better served if we focused a little bit less on finding new and better ways to shuttle people in and out of our cities, and a little more on creating a society where commuting is unnecessary in the first place.

So if anyone out there is considering a lifestyle change, and you're trying to decide between going car free and going commute free, I highly recommend the latter. It will change everything for the better.

What do you think? Have you ever lived without a car or without a commute? I'd love to hear about your experiences and thoughts on this whole topic.



Sunday, September 11, 2016

Masked Bandits!!!

I've always had a bit of an irrational fear of "bad guys" coming to get me in the middle of the night.


So when I was awakened by a strange sound at about 3am last night, I had to get up and investigate.


I dragged myself out of bed and staggered down the hall, where I found Jasper crouched in the corner making horrible yowling noises, and Smoky behind the curtain growling at something out on the deck.

So I flipped on the light, fully expecting to see the neighbor's orange tabby, or some other creature of the feline persuasion...

Imagine my surprise when I pulled back the curtain and found a masked bandit staring me in the face!!!


Anyhow, there were three of the little fellows, and I caught them red handed chowing down on the remains of the birdseed that my feathered friends hadn't completely polished off earlier in the day (note the seed stuck to the little guy's nose in the above photo.)


OMG... are they not the cutest things you've ever seen?

Unfortunately, raccoons can be quite aggressive and destructive - plus they can carry rabies, so it's probably not a great idea to encourage further visits. I think from now on I'll have to make an effort to clean up any remaining bird/squirrel food before nightfall, so as not to attract them back.

But it sure was fun having a visit last night!


So tell me, what sorts of furry visitors do you get where you live?



Wednesday, September 7, 2016

This and That

Well, since I don't seem to have it in me to craft a coherent post these days, I figured I'd just stop in to say hello and tell you about the randomness that is my life lately.

First of all, we've finally hit the sweet spot weather-wise and are enjoying perfectly gorgeous days in the mid-80s - that's around 29C for those of you who don't speak Fahrenheit. This, of course, has meant lots and lots of time on the bike, which has also been wonderful. Today's ride was full of sunflowers - they grow wild along the bike path and it's just amazingly beautiful right now.



A week or 2 ago we got word that a much anticipated thing had occurred. Our favorite bike path runs along the South Platte river, and up north of the city the trail used to simply end in the middle of a big field. But a quick look at Google Earth showed that there was only a small hunk of a few miles missing before the trail took up again. So they finally finished that section, and the day after they announced the opening, CatMan and I eagerly rode up to check it out!

Of course, we had to ride 22 miles (about 35 kilometers) before we even got the the new section - but the whole way up there we were riding over 20mph (32kph) and I was hardly feeling it at all! I must admit, I was starting to feel pretty darned cocky, thinking what incredible shape I must be in.


Anyhow, we got to the new section of trail and sailed along it, but it was getting late, so we decided to turn around once we got to the connection rather than going further.

Alas, as soon as we turned around, I suddenly had the sobering realization that the seemingly effortless 20mph pace we'd been riding was not actually due to some newfound cycling prowess on my part, but rather an immense tail wind that had been pushing us along! Of course, once we turned around the massive tail wind became a massive head wind. OY! Let's just say it was a loooong, slow ride home, but still worth every drop of sweat.


Speaking of cycling... a few weeks ago I noticed a strange bulge on my right thigh. I moped around in a bit of a funk/panic for a few days, convinced that I had thigh cancer and my days would be numbered.



Finally, after planning my funeral in my head and all, I asked CatMan (who is much better versed in medical things than I am) to look at it for me. He immediately burst out laughing. "Sweetie," he said, "That is what's known as a muscle."

"What? But it can't be..." I protested, "Because if it was a muscle I'd have an identical bulge on my left thigh, and I don't."

At that point he pointed out that everyone naturally favors one leg over the other, and that indeed I did have the same bulge on the other leg, just smaller.

Apparently, all that cycling has some physical impact other than just the bliss of doing it. Who knew? Well, medical emergency averted.


And, of course, the other big thing going on right now is....

FOOTBALL!!!!!!


I realize that most of you could care less, but I'm very excited that my beloved Denver Broncos will be kicking off the regular season in less than 48 short (or excruciatingly long, depending on how you look at it) hours!!!

And here's the really exciting part... Way back a little over a year ago, during the pre-season games before last year's season, I had a premonition. Now, for those of you who don't know, the pre-season games don't count, and they're pretty much considered "advanced practice" - mostly an opportunity for the coaches to evaluate new players.

So, last pre-season at the quarterback position we got to see a tiny bit of Peyton Manning (the legend), a bit of Brock Osweiler (the heir apparent) and a good deal of Trevor Siemian (some rookie that nobody ever heard of who we took in the last round - ie: the dregs - of the draft.)


The thing is, I honestly thought that Siemian outplayed the other two. Of course, that was the last we saw of him - I think he got to take a grand total of one snap (for a kneel down) all last season.

Still... I couldn't get the kid out of my mind, and something just told me that he was better than people were giving him credit for.

Well... apparently both fate and Gary Kubiak (our head coach) agreed, because through a bizarre sequence of events, he got the opportunity to compete, and actually won the starting position!


Did I tell ya, or did I tell ya?

He's young and inexperienced, so I'm sure he'll make some bone headed mistakes before the season is over, but I'm super excited to get to see the kid play.

Sooo... other than having my head buried in a bunch of web programming geekliness, that's pretty much what I've been up to the past few weeks.

How are things in your neck of the woods?