Posts tagged car

How to Get Far Without a Car

Some of you readers may recall when I made a pledge to sell my car in order to green my travel around the city.  It’s been more than three years now, and I’m happy to report that I haven’t died from lack of access to basic goods yet, so clearly, it IS possible to make work, even in a city as sprawling as Los Angeles.  It’s fairly easy to trade in the frustrations of driving, paying for inevitable parking tickets, car insurance, gas, crazy-driver door dings and side view mirrors lopped off by passing cars for the peace of mind that comes with regular exercise and time spent enjoying LA’s incredible outdoor clime.  Of course it does have a few drawbacks, the greatest of which being that it’s harder to get out of town to places which are far enough away to necessitate a car but not far enough to be serviced by the Greyhounds and Metrolink trains of the world.  There are a few strategies I’ve employed over time to make it work without feeling deprived.

First, I took a good look at the places I travel in a normal day.  Since I work “from home” but live off-grid without power, my primary need in the work department is occasional access to an outlet to recharge the computer and internet to post stuff like this, converse with clients, etc.  About a year and a half back, I purchased a netbook with a seven hour battery life.  Best investment ever! This means that I only have to find an outlet for an hour or so daily to have my portable office up and running for more hours than I can practically stare at a screen.  So I hit a local coffee shop each morning, sip tea, upload posts, and download relevant research for the next edition or client.  The mile or two walk to and from the shop each morning gives me a chance to start my day outside, practicing walking meditation (a post on this coming soon!) and organizing in my head what I need to accomplish.  As a photographer, I carry my camera with me everywhere I go, and this walk also allows me to get interesting shots in the golden light of early morning before most people wake up.  What started as an obligation to get to a destination has actually become one of my favorite daily activities!

Over time, I’ve discovered local alternatives to my daily purchases.  The other day, I found the best little pupuseria while walking by on an errand, saving me a bus trip across town to my other favorite streetside vendor.  How’s that for ultra-localizing life!  Many people drive all over creation going to stores that they are used to frequenting when there exist alternatives right within their own communities.  By shopping locally, not only will you save frustration and gas/insurance money, you might also get to know your local business owners better, which helps build stronger community ties.  Of course, supporting your local Best Buy over a family run electronics shop just because it’s down the road isn’t necessarily what I’m talking about, but even franchise businesses are run by individual owners who may be from your community.  Take the time to ask, it can often lead to an enlightening conversation.

When needing to get out further than walkable distance, I can get most places for $3, the current price of a round trip bus or metro ticket in these parts.  Sure, it takes about fifteen minutes to walk to or from the metro station, but I simply view it all as exercise and think about the money I save by not having a gym membership while I walk.  If the destination lies off a main bus or metro line, then I might ride my bike to the station, which cuts the travel time down even more.

In order to head out of town/city limits, which is an occasional necessity given my other-other day job as a treasure hunter, I’ve had good luck by posting on Craigslist for someone to drive to a given destination, even one off the beaten path.  Usually it costs me gas money and the price of lunch, maybe an honorary token payment, far less than it would to rent a car for the day and I don’t even have to drive.  (yet another option is signing up for a shared-car service such as Zipcar, which I’ll cover in an upcoming post)  There are several rideshare sites which can be used in similar fashion, especially if one is not tied to a particular moment of travel and can be a little flexible.  Of course as a woman I am careful about this, bringing a buddy with me to share the ride and always being on top of knowing the exact directions to where I’m heading.  You can also run a classified ad for people to pick up items from further locales and deliver them to you for a nominal charge if they are headed some direction anyway.  Given the state of public transport here expanded by an additional biking radius, both this and the ride for hire scenario are rarely utilized but useful tools to have in the arsenal.

One final thing that I’d like to mention here is that of motivation.  If you’re going to be walking or biking, why not reward yourself for putting in miles toward the sustainable cause? There are many websites that let you track your exercise miles over time and provide like-minded communities for motivation and friendly competition.  I started using dailymile.com a few months back to log miles walked in order to see how much gas I would theoretically save each month by not driving.  It nicely computes my calories burned, keeps track of the amount of gas I’ve saved by not driving, and even tells me other fun stats like how many donuts I can now afford to eat after all that walking!  Though the site is primarily designed for athletes who are training for things to share inspirational workout routes, it serves well too as a general tracker of miles logged, featuring interactive route maps which calculate your mileage based upon the path you draw on a Google map.  One of my favorite features of the site is the challenge page, where you can sign up to try and complete a certain number of miles or hours spent exercising during a given time span in friendly competition with other athletes on the site.

The luxurious abode that is Trimpi Shelter.

Last Thanksgiving I signed up there for a virtual Appalachian Trail hike, in which walkers try to log the 2179 miles of the AT within a year’s time.  I use my distance data from the site (it keeps track of which types of exercise qualify, in this case walking and hiking) and compare it to a distance map of the trail to see where I am on a given day.  Today, two and a half months after starting out my “hike”, I’ve walked through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and am venturing up through southern Virginia toward the Trimpi Shelter, pictured above, where I will virtually slumber this evening.  Right now things are on track to finish the trail with a few weeks to spare, which at the necessary rate of 5.5 miles daily is no small feat!  By looking up each county I travel through on Wikipedia and reading about what the areas are known for (the Trimpi shelter is in Grayson County, VA, mountainous home to several annual bluegrass and fiddle music festivals and a yearly through-hiker festival which celebrates those trying to complete the AT), my daily walking chores have changed from a simple necessity into an exciting and educational activity which feels more like a vacation.

The location of the Trimpi shelter along the Appalachian Trail.

Well, those are a couple things I have found useful.  What strategies do you employ to cut down on extraneous daily travel? How have they worked for you?

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Getting the Mail

Reducing your life footprint on the earth sometimes means making a few more… by walking instead of driving to local destinations.

Having sold the car a few months back as part of this solarious experiment, I’ve been hoofing it all over the city this summer. It’s been great for getting a tan, and also a refreshing way to view the neighborhoods in my area. A good walking street does not necessarily mean the same for driving, and since you have plenty of time to examine things as you go by, you’ll probably find yourself seeing details you never noticed right in your own stretch of town. I use the time to look for edible and native plants along the street… in Los Angeles, there is an old law that states any tree or plant that overhangs the sidewalk is fair game for harvesting by the general public (see FallenFruit.org, a great website complete with “Fruit maps” and a commendable mission statement for more on this). Yesterday, as I trekked to get my mail from the post office, a stretch of about 1 3/4 miles that I used to cover by car in about 5 minutes without more thought or notice than to curse the traffic gods, I recorded the following:

Walking down Santa Monica Blvd, sharing the sidewalk with transvestite hookers and average Joe and Jane shoppers peacefully co-mingling around large retail storefronts, I turn back onto a neighborhood street once known as an artists’ mecca, but which is now a darkly comical mix of homeless people camping near the lawns of middle income family homes. There are ample opportunities for herb stalking here, which occupies me for the remainder of the block (a funny thing about LA is that regardless of its immense size, the cultural landscape changes drastically every couple of blocks, kind of like a permanent Olympic Village).

I make my way to Melrose Ave, past a sea of tourists waiting in a never-ending line for Pinks Hotdogs, and past the local halfway house for adults with developmental disabilities which shares its corner with one of the most popular Cuban restaurants in town. As I walk by, the halfway house residents are watching the arrival of a Hollywood celebutante and her entourage at the restaurant, who, needless to say, are not watching those watching them. Melrose is awash with foreigners who haven’t yet heard about the street’s decline and think that they’ll find the next hot designer outfit there. These days, you’re more likely to find a ten dollar clubbing outfit or a glass bong, though a few brave designers have shops there still. Mixing with the exotic foreigners’ accents are the rough voices of immortal punk rockers, the giggles of wannabe high school hipsters, and the rolling grumbles of Persian and Asian store owners who still work the sidewalks attracting customers. Turning off Melrose, I walk down the alley through an open air art museum, courtesy of the talented taggers and spray can artists who’ve made the alleys their gallery for years, and hopefully for many more to come. This is one of my favorite spots in the city, and I linger for a few moments to appreciate the ever-changing canvas.

Beyond there is another neighborhood, this one the domain of the local Orthodox Jewish population, where men in Yarmulkas drive nice cars (except on Shabats) and women in long black skirts push double wide strollers down the sidewalks. This is another foraging mecca, lots of date palms and fruit trees, undoubtedly because the second-generation families who live there still appreciate the historic reality of food shortages and self-sufficiency. The houses themselves are historic craft services houses from the golden days of Hollywood, each with their own character and story.

Turning onto Beverly Blvd, I start to notice Ferraris and Porsches parked street-side, indicating I’m now in the realm of the hipster designers. Trendy cafes and coffeehouses are interspersed with interior design firms and Fashion Week designer boutiques. Writers peer intensely at passers by from behind their laptops and eavesdrop on actors who gather to share “I’m too cool” party tales with other actors with whom they are, no doubt, too cool to be hanging out. Finally, I pass the local public park, a haven for youth sports leagues, middle aged joggers, and boheme-chic refugees from CBS Studios’ resident neighborhood actor population and the renowned Farmer’s Market (which is now more like a shopping mall) just beyond. Inside the park’s entrance stands a largely ignored Holocaust monument to those who died in the great war and the remnants of an old amphitheater that, despite being in the heart of thespian territory, today only serves as a frisbee park for local dogs and the meeting spot for several Hollywood fitness boot camps.

In twenty minutes, I feel like an ambassador at the United Nations, having traveled half the globe without ever leaving town! As a bonus, I’ve gathered enough seeds from passing plants to start a respectable guerrilla garden somewhere, got a good workout, and it took no fossil fuels to get to my destination, save whatever was used in making the rubber soles of my shoes. Most importantly, I got to interact with my neighborhood on a personal level, rather than simply staring out the window at a traffic light.

Is there somewhere local that you generally drive that would be a good candidate for a walk? If time is a luxury, then treat yourself to a little jaunt through your local world. Picking a regularly scheduled destination you already frequent will help encourage you to ditch the car and get out more often than simply saying “I will go for more walks”, at least if the shattered remains of many new years resolutions are any indication. When you do decide to hoof it, keep a mental trip journal and post your best tales here! See you on the street~

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All About Biodiesel

22 Myths About Biodiesel Dispelled

BioDiesel

From the great resource Gas 2.0 comes a roundup of everything you think you’ve heard about biodiesel but were afraid to ask.  It’s the second version of the text, following up on a hugely popular series of a year ago, and has a LOT of facts to get you rolling in the biodiesel caravan.  Topics covered include, but are not limited to: the differences between biodiesel and ethanol, how biodiesel can replace regular gas, whether using biodiesel will hurt your car, whether you will void your warranty, what biodiesel is composed of… best get to the link above now to check it out!

As a parting shot, here’s a visual diagram of the biodiesel production process:

 Making Biodiesel

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COMMITMENT: Use Public Transportation

Back to the great experiment that is my green life-in-training.  It’s been a while since the last report, but fear not, I HAVE been taking action.  About a month ago, I decided that long distance trips across the country were unacceptably increasing my carbon load on the earth.  True, I still drove much less than the average American, and I shared a ride every trip across the country that I made.  But, when 45% of your emissions are coming from one place… well, that just looks yucky on the pie chart!  So I made a commitment.  Sell the car….  Done. 

What was I thinking?   No, really, it’s not that bad.  During the daily routine, I only drove a few miles a day anyway, and now that’s a little further free walking exercise to be gotten.  No, I don’t mind that at all, especially given LA traffic, which doesn’t quite compete with the intensity of that in my native DC, but certainly makes up for it in volume across great distances.  Yes, LA traffic is frustrating, and I am happy to kiss it goodbye.  Even though it means making a few adjustments in lifestyle (no more meeting people across town unless you’ve got a GOOD reason for paying bus fare and figuring out a route), it’s a better way to get to know your local community, as you WILL interact more with passersby and merchants.

Greyhound Bus - Eco-Friendly Transport

However, the real test of this commitment is the replacement of my regular car travel plans over long distances.  How to get across the Southwest without a car or a monster budget?  In a spirit of conservation and adventure, I recently took my first trip… on the Greyhound bus.  I must say, it was less stressful than driving, with driving’s relentless watching the road while steering, or not quite trusting other drivers and watching the road anyway.  Never a good sleep in a car, unless you’re REALLY zonked.  So, back to the Greyhound.  It was painless, relatively on time, much more eco-friendly, and I met a few interesting people along the way

If you’re contemplating taking the bus when you next travel, may I offer a few pointers?  Arrive earlySeriously.  And when you arrive, ask where your gate is and go ahead and put your bags in line.  It seems to be standard practice that you don’t have to remain with them beyond that point.  So settle in and watch a movie on the big(ger) screen while you wait.  And bring your own food, unless you like two dollar snickers bars in the vending machines and similarly priced sodas.  I’m pretty sure that they’ve never heard of the word organic either.  Experienced Greyhounders relate that they routinely oversell the buses (remember that tip about putting your bags in line?), so if you want to have any choice about what variety of seatmate you want, better get your spot and hold on tight.  It will help you out a lot if you travel light enough to avoid checking baggage.  That also removes you from having to open up your bags for people at every stop.  When I went hiking last month, the travel compartments above were large enough to accommodate an artfully packed trecking backpack and tent – it’s kind of get-it-as-you-come on available space.  After all that, well, sit back and relax!  The bus stops at cities along they way, often for  long enough to get your standard fast-food fare along the highway, make cell phone calls or whatever else you can fit in a quarter hour.  Best of all, if you travel with a friend, one of you can ride for a 50% discount companion fare, reducing costs further. 

So far, life without a car has been pretty good.  I HAVE missed a few appointments and retooled my day a few times, but all-in-all, it hasn’t required too much more time or thought.  And I’ve met several local business owners whose businesses I might not otherwise even have seen whizzing by in a car.  If this is to be a long-term arrangement, I think that I’ll get a bicycle again (last one was stolen, another LA hazard!) or maybe even a little moped that can be converted to use less gas.  Has anyone else made the jump to sell their car?  I’m curious to know how it went/ is going?   I salute you for traveling the road to green-dom (literally!) one step at a time

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