Tag Archives: Couldn’t have said it better

What he said

A few months ago, my friend Dawn gave me Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book, Between the World and Me, for my birthday. I had placed a library hold on the book earlier in the year, but, as is common with popular new releases, the waiting list was dozens deep. I had resigned myself to a long wait, and in a way, I didn’t mind. I had read several of Coates’s magazine pieces, so I knew his words would resonate. And, in my fragile state of generalized rage, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to sit with the weight of centuries of injustice and misery visited on people of African descent in this country.

But then Dawn popped up with a surprise at a long-overdue gathering of old friends, and I no longer had a reason to put it off. After weeks of procrastination, I finally decided to read it. I am so glad I did. Between the World and Me is absolutely mesmerizing. It touched me on many levels. And it resonated more than I could have imagined.

As I grow in wisdom and experience, as I learn what I had never been taught and unlearn so much of what I had, I am beginning to understand the deep connections between the exploitation of human beings and the exploitation of our planet. The forces that drove the transatlantic slave trade, the centuries of forced labor, colonization, and genocide are the same forces that are responsible for the razing of hills, poisoning of rivers, and clear-cutting of forests. This material greed, this disconnection from cause and effect, this propensity to elevate Self to the highest status, is behind the belief that “property owners” have the right to do whatever they want to our shared planet. It is the source of austerity politics. It drives corporations’ obsession with short-term profits. And it created the concept of race.

The rise of the automobile is this warped world view now reaching its pinnacle. And, as Coates points out in this brilliant quote, all of us, even — in fact, especially — its chief victims, will suffer as it finally collapses upon itself.

No. I left The Mecca knowing this was all too pat, knowing that should the Dreamers reap what they had sown, we would reap it right with them. Plunder has matured into habit and addiction; the people who could author the mechanized death of our ghettos, the mass rape of private prisons, then engineer their own forgetting, must inevitably plunder much more. This is not a belief in prophecy but in the seductiveness of cheap gasoline.

Once, the Dream’s parameters were caged by technology and the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion in plunder with no known precedent. And this revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the bodies of humans but the bodies of the Earth itself. The Earth is not our creation. It has no respect for us. It has no use for us. And its vengeance is not the fire in the cities but the fire in the sky.

Something more fierce than Marcus Garvey is riding on the whirlwind. Something more awful than all our African ancestors is riding with the seas. The two phenomena are known to each other. It was the cotton that passed through our chained hands that inaugurated this age. It is the flight from us that sent them sprawling into the subdivided woods. And the methods of transport through these new subdivisions, across the sprawl, is the automobile, the noose around the neck of the earth, and ultimately, the Dreamers themselves.

The opposite of progress

From Tom Vanderbilt’s recent piece in Slate:

In Greenberg, Ben Stiller plays Greenberg, a drifting musician-turned-carpenter who’s getting over a nervous breakdown. He’s a needy and casually abusive schmuck, a socially awkward and obsessive crank. And if you need any more clues to the extent of his pathological loserdom, here’s one: He doesn’t drive.


Greenberg is just the most recent film in which a character’s non-automobility–whether for lack of a car or for lack of the ability to drive–is used for comic effect, whether as a metaphor for a deeper personality flaw or as a token of marginality and/or plain creepiness. As the humorist Art Buchwald once observed, “People are broad-minded. They’ll accept the fact that a person can be an alcoholic, a dope fiend, a wife beater and even a newspaperman, but if a man doesn’t drive, there’s something wrong with him.”

We bus, train [ahem], and bike chicks beg to differ.

Walk like a woman

My current* bus read is Helena Andrews’ new memoir, Bitch is the New Black. While the book isn’t exactly my flavor (no disrespect), there’s no doubt about Ms. Andrews’ talent; the woman is hilarious. She’s also a total bus chick–well, minus the buses, anyway. Peep it.

From chapter 10, “Walk Like a Woman”

In the face of my driver’s license deficiency and an abhorrence for the close body contact [ahem] prevalent on most Metro systems, I’ve learned through pluck and circumstance to use the legs God gave me. People, I’ve walked across state lines–multiple times–without getting winded or wreathed. Never thinking twice about the damage being caused by the thinning skin above my smallest three toes until it was too late. I average five, maybe six miles a day without even trying. Pedometers are for [censored].

Except for the lack of driver’s license (I do, in fact, have one) and the distaste for transit (um, hello!), this could totally be me. I am an absolute walking fool. Once, when I was pregnant with Chicklet, I talked Bus Nerd into walking from our home in the Central District to Pier 55 to catch the Water Taxi. After the ride, we walked from Seacrest Park all the way to Pepperdocks on Alki and, after a quick lunch with my brother, Joel, and some friends, all the way back. Did I mention that it was August? Nerd (a man who’d rather get there already than “enjoy the journey”) still hasn’t forgiven me.

Chicklet, it seems, is embracing her inheritance. Last week, when I declined to pick her up during our morning stroll to her preschool, my little chip off the big chick didn’t even protest. Instead she puffed out her chest, two-year old style, and announced, “Bus Chicks know how to walk!”

A bus chick and her chicklet walking in the city (Photo credit: leedsinitiative.org)



More on the beauty of buses

Excerpts from an essay about the romance of the ride by a kindred, bus loving spirit:

A bus stop is stillness by which everything passes: the hurried steps of cell-phone gabbers, carts pushed by homeless men wearing dusty parkas in the summer, mounted policemen, snapshooting tourists. I firmly grip my MetroCard, ready to extend my arm out, because I sometimes get paranoid that drivers won’t see me and will keep on driving. My caution is needless. Once I step into this indeterminate zone, usually marked by a simple sign-topped pole, I’m not just another person with some fly-by business on the sidewalk. I’m a bus rider.


In the Victorian era, theatrical panoramas became a popular form of mass entertainment, the 3-D IMAX of its time. Novelty-seekers stepped onto specially built platforms to immerse themselves in scrolling views of far-away cities, some as long as 300 feet. Bus windows are live panoramas of my city. I’ve lived in New York for more than a decade, and I still think myself a tourist. When I feel too anchored, I sometimes catch a comet–I hop on an unfamiliar bus, knowing only its general heading, and if I get lost, I look for one on its way back to terra cognita. It doesn’t matter if I’m comet-riding or on a regular bus route I’ve taken hundreds of times, I’ll find a window seat and press my brow against the glass and watch the mad carnevale flow by.

(via: Raquel in San Antonio):

Oh, Pitchaya Sudbanthad, I would like to meet you.

It’s a bus, it’s a train…

Bus Hero, Transitman, and The Human Bus Schedule notwithstanding, folks don’t generally associate super powers with PT riders. But this cool post on Archie McPhee’s Monkey Goggles blog (via: Coby) identifies the true transit superheroes (and villains): those bus characters who spark our imaginations and add all the flavor to our rides.

I’ve got several favorite bus characters. Two that come to mind are Captain and Origami Man. Who are yours?

Respect to those who came before, 2010 edition

I decided to take a break from the quote I usually post on this day and hit you with some new ones–some that happen to reflect my state of mind right about now.*

We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service and relationship to humanity.

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Even a superficial look at history reveals that no social advance rolls on the wheels of inevitability. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concerns of dedicated individuals. Without persistent effort, time itself becomes an ally of the insurgent and primitive forces of irrational emotionalism and social destruction. This is no time for complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.

Many people fear nothing more terribly than to take a position which stands out sharply and clearly from the prevailing opinion… Not a few men who cherish lofty and noble ideals hide them under a bushel for fear of becoming different.

Happy birthday, Dr. King.

* All quotes were taken from The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr., by Coretta Scott King. The book was a gift from my brother, Jeremy, many years ago on my own birthday (which happens to be today as well), and I continue to refer to it for inspiration and guidance.

Speaking of kids…

1) Another car-free parent, Jeremy Adam Smith in San Francisco, shares his reasons for riding (and walking) with his son (via: Carfree with Kids):

You can buy eco-products from here to the end of time; you can recycle and reuse everything you can; you can even buy a hybrid. But most scientists and engineers agree: The single best thing you can do for the Earth, the greatest positive change you can make, is to give up owning a private vehicle altogether.

Many people will see this as a terrible sacrifice — and in some places, it is almost impossible. But after fifteen years without a car — five of them as a parent — I don’t think we’ve sacrificed a thing. And in fact, our carfree family has gained a lot…

Jeremy goes on to list many of the same benefits that my family–and the (few) other car-free families we know–have experienced: quality time; contact with community; improved health; resourcefulness; and a real, on-the-ground knowledge of one’s city that simply cannot be duplicated from the isolated bubble of a car.

Can I get an “amen!”?

2) Some fun gifts for Chicklet and Bus-Baby-to-Be from my cousins-in-law, Erin and Eli, in NYC:

Transit Museum SWAG
Cute SWAG from the New York Transit Museum

Transit Museum SWG
The important parts of a subway car, or, as Chicklet calls it, “a light rail”
Transit Museum SWAG
“Chew, chew, chew!”

So far, my gratitude is overcoming my envy (I wanna go to the Transit Museum!), but the emotions are pretty much neck and neck.

Thanks, guys!

Speaking of tolls…

The Daily Score recently posted an excellent analysis of the Puget Sound Regional Council’s study on tolling. The study investigates the effectiveness of tolls at reducing congestion but also tackles the issue of tolling fairness head on. From the DS post:

But the benefits of tolling aren’t spread around evenly. Instead, congestion pricing would create “winners” and “losers.” The biggest “winners” would be drivers whose time is worth a lot of money: commercial truckers most of all, but also wealthy private citizens. (If you make $100 per hour, spending $5 to save 15 minutes is a bargain!) Transit riders would also win, since they’ll face shorter travel times at no personal cost.

The “losers” would include people priced off the roadway–folks who’d prefer to drive, but can’t afford to–as well as those who would keep on driving, but pay more in tolls than they receive in time benefits. Perhaps worst-off would be the folks who succumbed to the “drive ’til you qualify” phenomenon: families who moved to a distant suburb where housing seemed more affordable, but where transit simply isn’t an option and car-dependence is the norm.

But as the PSRC report points out, road tolling creates a stream of revenue that can be used to address these fairness questions head on.

The author goes on to point out that our current system (of providing free road space) is also unfair.

So in the end, the real debate isn’t be about whether congestion pricing can be fair. It’s about what kind of unfairness we’re willing to live with. Do we want the perceived unfairness of a system that asks people to pay for a limited resource? Or do we want the undeniable unfairness of a transportation system that makes it next-to-impossible to get by without a car?

Excellent question.

Transportation in the news

From Salon: “Who Says Americans Won’t Ride Mass Transit?”

The rise in mass transit ridership should be great news. Not since the OPEC oil embargo and energy crisis in the ’70s have famously car-centric Americans been so eager to shell out for a bus fare or a train ticket and leave the polluter in the driveway. Automobile transportation is one of the largest chunks of the country’s carbon footprint, so the more that Americans opt for trains and buses, the more that footprint could shrink.

But the news isn’t all that sunny. In fact, the mini-exodus from driving has exposed significant cracks in the country’s mass transit systems, which are struggling to accommodate new riders. Having spent decades forsaking the bus and the train for the convenience and privacy of cars, Americans are now finding that the buses, streetcars, trolleys and trains that they left behind are strapped for cash, if they still exist at all.

Chicklet’s (second) favorite bus ad

On a recent 8 excursion, Chicklet awoke from her nap (she is fond of napping in the Ergo) directly underneath Metro’s “chill on the cell usage” ad.

Too much. Too loud. Please be courteous when using your cell phone on the bus.

After checking it out for a few seconds, she giggled, then turned to me and said one of her latest words: “teeth.”

Funny, that’s what I think when I see it, too.