Driving to work on Bike To Work Day pretty much sucks. I cheered everybody on their two wheels yesterday while wondering at my own self. Yes, it's a hybrid, but still it's a car. Yes, it gets 45 miles to the gallon, but still it's 10 gallons every week or so, so I'm still part of the oil problem. And to think that 15 years ago, I used to bike everywhere, we rode Critical Mass every month. I used to take our son to school and daycare in a bike trailer. Now I commute 44 miles total a day, in my car. What the hell?
Two big events in the past month have made me think about this more than ever.
First, the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull, the volcano in Iceland. I admit to a fondness for natural disasters of this kind, so many warm memories of the post-terror clarity of earthquakes experienced in my home town of San Francisco. Everything you think of as normal stops, you re-focus, you learn to live without telephones or gas, you break out the camping stove and eat in the street with your neighbors like we did on Liberty Street in 1989. You walk down Castro the next morning, in the quiet of after, and stand in the crowd assembled outside the plant-store and read along with everybody else the limited edition newspaper that's taped up in the front window. You talk to strangers. You make do.
With the volcano, a whole lot of people had to make to do without flying. I am not in any way minimizing the disruption and havoc this created in a lot of individual and corporate lives, but people had to stay put. And without the vapor from so many aircraft engines, these same people got to see a bluer sky than they had in years, as one writer put it, "as if somebody suddenly ripped a veil away, exposing the true colors of the heavens." It's almost absurd how silver lining that is! Not a bad thing to have to make do with. And it's our habits, the ease of flying here and there, that creates that veil between us and the true nature of the sky. How lovely to be able to stay home, not fly away, and look up and take in a deeper-blue, quiet, empty sky.
Second, of course, is the criminal and tragic man-made disaster, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, especially with today's news, as reported in the New York Times that BP was allowed to drill in the Gulf without permits from the agency that assesses threats to endangered species and over that same agency's strenuous objections! And that the 5,000 barrels a day that we keep hearing about is an understatement. This oil spill makes me so sick at heart. I can't imagine the thought-process behind the whole operation, it just seems so utterly insane.
So, lately as I emerge from the Waldo Tunnel 5 mornings a week to the stunning view of the Golden Gate and San Francisco glittering beyond, I am really thinking about my part in this insanity and about how, if I didn't have a car (and paid parking), I would never even have considered taking the job I currently have. The car is what makes the job possible, and the job pays for the car, along with everything else I have. But if I didn't have the car, ergo didn't have this job, along with an extra 1 1/2 or so a day not spent behind the wheel, what would I have instead? How would I make do?
This is the year I get to find that out, since really, it's time. By next year, May 2011, I will have shifted the circumstances that keep me in the car. Next Bike to Work Day, I'll be on two wheels too, no matter what.