Car-Freela, moving to a new url

In an effort to be a better car-free blogger, to regularly update you of my car-free adventures, and to intertwine a  love of reading & writing with car-free, simple-living enthusiasm, I’m consolidating my blogging into one, tidy bundle.  It would be wonderful if you would like to join me there. Here’s where there is:

If you prefer a simple RSS feed, the link is a bit hairier:

It’s a GoodReads blog, which means it includes updates on what I’m reading and writing, some of which relates to car-free living and some of which reflects of my passion for literary fiction. I know it’s a mish-mash — and I know that, without the bicycle photo in the header, it’s not nearly as fancypants as the situation here at WordPress, but I’m sure you’ll find me much chattier — and maybe it’ll be fun? If that’s not your cup of tea, I understand too.


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Car-free Transport in the Rain

Today is day six of the wet. Rivers are flowing through streets, hills are melting, and the parking lot for the Rite Aid near my house is ankle-deep. On a usual rainy winter day in Los Angeles, I don my trusty raincoat and head out on the bicycle. There’s something about this storm, though. The rain seems wetter. The water droplets seem thicker. Socks and pants and coats are taking longer to dry, and the rain lasts all day long, into the night, and returns the next day. When it gets like this, I take the bus. I’m thankful for the heated transport, the riders who show stoic kindness to one another, and the drivers who are careful not to splash puddles onto waiting passengers.

Whenever I take the bus, I’m also reminded of the sorry state of public transit in our city. There are creature comforts that are missing (shelters at most bus stops and things like that), but I’m talking about something more basic: access to public transportation — the frequency of buses and the number of bus lines that run after 8pm. The Metro line that gets me most easily to work runs through my neighborhood about once every 1-3 hours on weekdays. That’s not a typo. Some days (and not just Sunday), I would have to wait three hours to catch a bus home. It gets considerably worse if I leave work after 7pm, 8pm, or 9pm, and if I teach a class that ends at 10pm, I’m taking myself home with my feet. This (not any notion of sportiness or illusion of being cool) is why I ride a bicycle most of the time.

This is the car-centric city of Los Angeles, I know, but I don’t think it’s necessarily because Angelinos have some innate drive to drive or an unnatural lust for cars. I think it’s caused by decades of bad public transit. Until we have regular and reliable transit options throughout the day, public transit will continue to be something used as a last resort — something that separates those who can afford cars from those who cannot. We will continue to need unions for bus riders (which is so weird, when you think about it), and we will continue to have to fight for public transportation not because of all the reasons it’s great (there are many) but because access to reliable transportation is a basic need.

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Results of Local-lujah!

Before the holiday extravaganza that was late December, I wrote about my commitment, spurred by a visit from Reverend Billy, to walk to buy my holiday gifts this year. I have to say that it was fun to share the local gifts with everyone. The story behind each gift went over well.

Inspired by the reception of my local gifts, I decided to learn a little more about why shopping at locally-owned businesses is a good idea. When we shop locally, I learned, we’re not only supporting entrepreneurs. We’re helping entrepreneurs pay taxes in our own neighborhoods (rather than some far-off corporate headquarters address). When local business-owners do well, more money goes to taxes for local schools, local roads, local sidewalks, etc. When local business-owners do really well, they can create more jobs in our neighborhoods by hiring local workers.  So, if you see that a pothole needs repairing, if you’d like to have better public schools, or if you hope (against hope) for reliable public transportation in your neighborhood, shout out a little local-lujah and  try to do at least some of your shopping (if you’re shopping this year) at a locally-owned store.

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A DIY Revolution

I’m a knitter. It started after reading Bernadette Murphy’s inspiring book, Zen and the Art of Knitting, several years ago. After hearing Murphy’s thoughts on the wonders of knitting, I wanted to learn. I haven’t set down the needles since.

I won’t forget what it was like to realize how, when two sticks and some string work together, fabric is created. The ability to turn string into a sweater is — well, it’s a miracle. Something else happens, when I knit. The slow creation of a thing (whether it’s a hat or a sweater or a scarf) helps me appreciate the materials and work that it takes to create things. If you look closely at a sweater, you can see each individual V of the stitch. It makes me think about the materials that I use in the world — where they come from and the work that’s put into them.

Knitting is not necessarily simple living or anti-consumerist. In fact, if you visit Ravelry (the Facebook of the knitting world), you’ll find that consumerism and yarn can be quite a happy pair. Knitters have “yarn stashes” and yarn buying problems. Some knitters spend more money than I make in a week on yarn every month. Some knitters, though, are pushing against consumerism with their craft. They’re unraveling old sweaters to knit into new projects. They’re trading yarn, sharing project ideas. They’re also making things. It’s what some call the DIY revolution: creating handmade objects as a way to cultivate awareness and appreciation of how things are made — and of our stuff in general. In a world where so many things are manufactured so far away and sold for so very little, it helps to think about where stuff comes from.

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Simple New Year’s Resolutions

The first week of a new year is time for a fresh start. The calendar is a white space of possibility. 2009, with all its weirdness, is a thing of the past. 2010 is here, and this year, this new decade, this world is our oyster.

I love resolving things. It feels so official. It was a resolution that got me to be car-free. Still, I don’t do new year’s resolutions — not exactly. I wade slowly into my resolve.

If you’re ready to resolve today, though, Siel of GreenlaGirl has a post about green resolutions: “4 Eco-New Year’s Challenges.” I’ve been eying some of her ideas for my own simple living challenges. You can grab one of her suggestions, or you might try one of your own. You might resolve to commute by bike or public transit once a week — or resolve to share things you don’t need on Freecycle. You might resovle to meet and greet your neighbors once in a while, to make something crafty, to cook or bake tasty morsels. Or you may resolve not to resolve this year. All these things (I think) count as simple living.

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Car-Free in Rural America

I’ve freshly returned from a visit to the Midwest, over the river, through some woods, over ice and freezing rain and snow. In the midst of it, I drove a car for the first time in some while — and remembered (although not immediately) how to drive stick shift. As I was flooding the engine for the fourth time (silly car!), I spotted a cyclist in the snow, speeding far more quickly than I. That was an awesome sight.

My family told me about the situation with public transit in their rural town. “They’re trying to get a bus that has service to Shopko [a Target-like store in the Midwest] or to a grocery store, at least, but it’s been a real battle,” my mom said. For those who are car-free in this little town (probably not by choice), options are severely limited — and with severe weather, the consequences are not just discomfort but real danger. I remember, while living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, once waiting for a bus during particularly bad winter weather. A police officer rolled up to my bus stop and told me I had to go home, because it was too cold to wait for the bus. “You’ll get frostbite out here,” he said.

So, while I’m enthusiastically car-free and bicycle-riding, I think it’s important to remember that, for most who are car-free, it’s not by choice. To help meet the transportation needs of everyone, we need to think about transportation as more than freeways and traffic jams — whether we’re talking about a city, a small town, or snow-covered farm country.

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I’ve long been a fan of Reverend Billy, creator of the Church of Stop Shopping, newly renamed The Church of Life After Shopping. (If you like, you can follow Reverend Billy on Twitter). In an effort to encourage Americans to avoid consumerism and help local economies (especially these days), Reverend Billy preaches the gospel of stopping the consumerist machine, buying local (local-lujah!), and being conscious of the effects of our purchases. In November, Reverend Billy appeared in Los Angeles. It was pretty inspiring to see him in action.

In looking over the audience that day, the Reverend admitted that he knew he was preaching to the choir. Still, he urged us to walk or bike to our holiday gifts this year, and I’m taking up the challenge. Since becoming car-free, I’ve often shopped for at least a portion of my holiday gifts online. I usually shop well in advance. I pick out books, often, and I have them shipped directly to family. This year? It’s December 22nd. My flight leaves tomorrow, and I just returned after heading out on foot with a spirited local-lujah!

What did I find? Well, there’s quite a selection within walking distance for me to choose from. I found handmade soaps at Soaptopia, where I learned from the owner that 68 percent of all purchases made locally stay in the community and end up benefiting the buyer (great news!) and where they will even gift-wrap a single bar of soap for you. I discovered sweaters and kids clothes at a store that just opened, Huebners, where the owner is a lawyer-turned-retailer who gets clothes that are made right here in Los Angeles. I also found some pretty snazzy books from Sam Johnson’s Bookshop.

My visit to each store brought a new conversation. The shop owners asked me about what brought me, my plans for the holiday, and advised me about the best parking spots (that was fun). Each thanked me for shopping locally this year — especially this year. In the end, I felt like I was giving more than one gift, which was a pretty cool feeling — all holiday-like and stuff.

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