Thursday, May 21

Susan hibernation mode

May be under the radar and out of sync for the next couple days—back by Saturday afternoon.

Monday, May 18

Nixing one of my bus routes

Speaking of my long commute:

In the evening, my commute home is 60 or 65 minutes door-to-door. That's if everything's on time and running smoothly.

When my regional bus is late to the station—which it is at least once or twice a week—I wait for the next city bus and my commute bumps up to about 75 minutes.

Well, now the city bus system says it's going to eliminate that backup bus I catch when my regional bus is late. This would bump me up to a 90 minute commute on the evenings when things are traffick-y and running late.

I'll admit it: if this goes through, it'll be past the limits of what I consider reasonable quality of car-free life. I wouldn't have gotten rid of my car in 2013 if I'd known this bus route was going to be eliminated.

Doesn't mean I regret the decision (or that I'm going to regret it). But it means I'll have to come up with some way to change my work situation to keep my commuting time manageable.

Wednesday, May 13

Exercise and the car-free life

When I gave up my car, one of many thoughts going through my head was, "This will force me to get more exercise!"

Of course, it didn't. For the first few months I was car-free, I went everywhere on the bus. Apart from walking a couple of blocks to the bus stop, my transportation was almost as sedentary as a driver's.

The difference was that, over time, it became much easier to incorporate more exercise into my life. Not necessary, just easier.

When I owned a car, I use to drive to the bus station each morning to catch the regional bus. This took me 7 minutes if I hustled (9 minutes if I didn't want to be rushed). I never once walked to the bus station, because the time inefficiency and inconvenience of it were just too high a barrier.

After I gave up my car, I made the trip to the station by bus instead. That took me about 21 minutes.

Then I realized one day that I'd been spending too much time working and not enough exercising. I wasn't willing to give up any extra work hours, so I went hour-by-hour through my schedule, looking for some other time I could convert to exercise.

My morning commute immediately popped out at me. I was spending 21 minutes on the first leg of my bus journey. I decided to time the commute if I did it on foot. That turned out to be 26 minutes. I add an extra 4 minutes to make sure I have a safety margin and don't miss my bus—so, 30 minutes.

So, in short, I traded a daily 7-minute, sedentary car trip for 26 minutes of reliable exercise built into my day, at a net cost of 23 minutes lost every morning.

It's a tradeoff that anyone with a basic understanding of human health could tell you is more than worth it. But I never would have made it with my car.

Similar tradeoffs pop up regularly throughout my life. I want to get somewhere fast and the bus isn't running—if I had a car, I'd immediately hop behind the wheel. Without that option, I could call a ride service or beg a ride from a friend, but because neither of those options is very attractive, instead I just throw on my shoes and hustle as fast as I can on foot.

I think about having a car much the same way that I think about having a credit card. Sure, there are potential benefits. But when I weigh those benefits against the cost of making it easy for me to make bad decisions, I'd rather just do without.

Friday, May 8

Four modern conveniences I'm loving life without (besides a car)

It's funny. Just a few years ago, I wouldn't have considered owning a home that lacked even one of these electric conveniences, let alone all four. Heck, I remember looking at an apartment to rent one time and ruling it out because it didn't have...

...a garbage disposal.
My house isn't wired for a garbage disposal, and I decided to try life without it before getting the work done. I bought a great little silicone strainer (why don't all sinks come with one of these??) and found it so effortless to use that I lost all interest in a disposal.

A microwave. I had a perfectly good microwave, but I sold it to a friend to reclaim counter space, which is in short supply in my small kitchen. It was easy to give up the microwave because I've always disliked the texture of most microwaved food. I never put pizza in the microwave to reheat it, for example.

Microwaves can be convenient for heating liquids and melting butter, but even then, I always had the tendency to heat things too quickly and make them blow up. A little pint-size saucepan with a spout on the stove serves me much better.

A dishwasher. My parents must laugh at this, because it's no secret how much I've always disliked doing dishes. I use to pick fights with them because they'd refuse to use the dishwasher even when we had company. I admit that a counter full of dishes after a multi-course meal for four or six people still looks daunting to me, but the day-to-day washing up for one or two people eating simple meals doesn't bother me at all.

For hand-washing dishes, I love my sink that's one large basin instead of two small ones. It makes it so much easier to get things soaking and to wash larger items without banging into stuff. Ideally, I wish I had two sinks—a large basin for washing and a smaller one for the dish rack.

The longer I live in my house, the more I see how much sense it makes to go without a dishwasher in a small kitchen. The dishwasher would take up valuable cabinet space, reducing the number of kitchen items I'd be able to own. This, in turn, would make me use the dishwasher more frequently, and waste water and energy by running less than full loads. Without a dishwasher, I wash and use the same items two or three times a day and don't need to keep a lot of extra kitchen items in stock.

A clothes dryer. I got rid of my dryer more than a year ago. At first, I dried most things outdoors on a clothesline. Now I dry almost everything indoors, on a large wooden clothes rack I picked up on the curb and a smaller metal rack I bought on Amazon. Even before I ditched my clothes dryer, I was line-drying a lot of my clothes to protect them from the heat and the stress of the dryer, so getting rid of the dryer entirely wasn't a huge adjustment.

People always ask me about drying clothes in winter. The middle of winter is actually the easiest time to air-dry clothing. Just place your drying rack near your floor or ceiling vent, and in a few hours you'll have bone-dry clothes.

The most challenging season for air-drying is actually the one that just went by—the time when you're not running the heat or the air conditioner, but you don't want to hang clothes out or open the windows because the pollen's so bad. But even in those conditions, I've successfully dried all my clothes and linens indoors fast enough to keep them safe. An environmental researcher friend tells me you don't have to start worrying about mold unless something is damp for over 36 hours.

Like hand-washing dishes, air-drying clothing is more challenging the more people you add. With a full-time job outside the home, air drying my own clothing is about as much as I want to deal with. If I were at home full-time, I'd have no problem air-drying clothing for two or three people. For a family of four or more, I'd probably want to go back to the dryer.

And the best part is... I don't have the hassle of maintaining, troubleshooting, fixing, and replacing any of this stuff. Which is great, because I just can't be bothered! My little house is complicated enough without adding extra appliances.

Tuesday, May 5

The mind of the INFJ

I make a decision, and then my brain pitches a fit about it.

How the heck am I gonna make this work? Get this done? Are you f***ing kidding me? Who's piloting this body/life/ship, anyway?

Usually my brain doesn't even get clued in until a while after the decision's been made. I wake up one day, realize that the script changed a couple of months ago, and I missed my chance to make edits before they printed up new versions. Now opening day's coming, and it's too late—I've got no choice but to learn my lines.

Saturday, April 18

I'd use a more colorful word than "squeezes."

Money wasn't the main reason why I went car-free. But after a year and a half of watching my finances improve by leaps and bounds after giving up my vehicle, money's a big part of the reason why I don't plan to go back.

The graphs in the blog post "How Car-Reliance Squeezes the Middle Class" say it all. The middle class in the United States is weirdly, uniquely burdened by transportation costs.

And I think most middle-class car owners know how burdensome it is. Most can't afford to pay cash for a good car. Most get thrown off track financially by major repair bills. Most probably know how little of their monthly income they're saving and investing. Most know their lifestyles are too sedentary and that it will come back to bite them later. They just don't believe that there's an alternative.

(Most probably don't know how much their vehicles are enabling their general spending habits—I certainly didn't—but that's a different story.)

The thing is, it doesn't have to be this way. We could refuse to buy houses in neighborhoods that aren't on bus lines. We could refuse to buy cars that are increasingly expensive just because they have more bells and whistles. We could refuse to work for employers that are accessible only by car.

We could stop living in places that claim to be green and socially conscious (but actually are catering to people with high incomes who ride bikes just for recreation), and start living in places that aren't as fancy but actually make it possible for people to have a good quality of life without owning cars.

Could all of us make all of these choices, all of the time? No. But we could do it often enough to drastically bring down the average cost of transit for the middle class. We could do it enough to get the ball rolling so that city planning improves and more people would get on board with a car-free or low-car lifestyle. We could do it enough to move more middle-class families into urban neighborhoods (improving the funding and diversity of our schools as a result).

The reason I feel so strongly about this is because middle-class Americans—envied by millions of people for our opportunities and freedoms—aren't taking advantage of that opportunity and freedom. Most of us will be working—whether we want to or not—or else worrying all the time about money, well into old age.

For all of our education and privilege, we're not in control. We've settled for paying the bills every month, putting a little bit in retirement and savings, and getting by. (A lot of us have settled for far less than that.) A big part of our problem is that we're sinking money into car ownership, an expense that for most people doesn't pay off.

Thursday, April 16

Worse than middle schoolers

They were as obnoxious as it gets. Several ran (screaming) out into traffic to cross the street. After a few minutes of talking (screaming) with their friends, the whole hoard ran (screaming) back across the street, against the light, again blatantly stopping traffic and coming within feet of being struck by cars.

I wanted to slap them all. I mean, groups of middle-schoolers aren't known for their intelligence and maturity, but this seemed over the top. Long before I was in middle school, I was self-possessed enough to refuse to run into the street if a friend tried to get me to do it. There's no excuse.

Then, in a second, I went from shaking my head disapprovingly to busting up laughing. Because I realized that this same intersection is where, on a near-daily basis, I used to see cars deliberately blow through the red light—sometimes while I was already standing in the crosswalk.

I saw a group of eight ridiculous teenagers put people in jeopardy today. But I've seen dozens and dozens of full-grown adults do the same thing, in the same spot. Just with less screaming.

Saturday, April 4


On Thursday at the bus station, a cop sits down next to me on the bench, says hello, and immediately asks:

"Where do you work?"

First: thank you, officer, for assuming that I work.

But you might be shocked, reader, to hear that I didn't tell him where I work. Not because he was the po-po, but because I don't share details about myself with people who ask without any kind of lead-up.

I think most people who don't ride the bus would be surprised how often this happens. You're sitting/standing there, someone says the word "hello" or "how's it going" and if you respond, they immediately follow up it with, "'Where are you from?" "Do you go to school at Duke?" "Where do you work?" or some other personal question that wouldn't seem so very personal except that the asker is someone you didn't know existed five seconds ago.

I'm actually not all that difficult to get information out of. Pretty easy, in fact. If someone makes conversation for 60 seconds about the weather, the bus, the book I'm reading, or some other neutral subject before they ask my name, my place of employment, etc., I always tell them. It's just the out-of-the-blue inquiries, from people I haven't even had 10 seconds to size up, that strike me strangely.

Over years of riding the bus, I've learned to respect my comfort level and simply not answer questions when I don't feel like it. Even if the person asking is the police. (Unless they're asking for my driver's license and they mean business!)

Wednesday, April 1

It had to be done, I guess.

Well played, Apartment Therapy!

I totally got April Fooled.

Via Apartment Therapy:
KÄT has normal cushions for human comfort, but its unique base is made from corrugated cardboard. It's perfect for felines who want to sharpen their claws....without ruining your furniture.

Sunday, March 29

Car-free driveway

You never know how handy that extra space is going to be until there's not a car in it.

I walked out my door this morning and found the lady up the street sitting in my driveway, drawing the neighbor's tree.

Thursday, March 26

Who is Susan on the bus?

I've been mistaken for a UNC undergrad, a UNC grad student, a Duke undergrad, a Duke theology student (specifically), and a student from a technical school whose name I didn't recognize or remember.

Twice, weirdly, I've sat down near someone and they've immediately said that they're my classmate in ____ class. Nope, sorry. (Both were women, so probably not a pickup line.)

One time this guy walks up to me at the bus stop and immediately asks where I work. Bless you, guy at the bus stop, for immediately concluding that I am a full-time working person...

Monday, March 16

Great This American Life this week about the gap between high schools

Three Miles:
I keep expecting there to be news—like she's about to get her big break or something, and things will happen for her. But nothing has happened for Melanie for 10 years.

I think it's some special brand of American, pathological optimism that so many us believe the story has to turn out to be happy. And that if it doesn't, something unusual has happened—not just, this is what happens all the time. That the supermarket might be full of Melanies.

Monday, March 2

Some days it just all goes wrong.

My morning city bus was late (unusual) and I missed my connection. Then, in the evening, there was a big traffic jam and I missed not just my usual connection, but the one after that.

All told, my door-to-door total commute time today was about three hours. If every day were like that, I'd change something about my situation so it wouldn't happen anymore.

But here's the weird thing: even on days like today, I don't wish I had a car. It just doesn't seem worth the hassle—and I completely understand how weird it sounds to say a car is a hassle compared to a three-hour round trip commute.

On days like today, I just accept that I'm going to spend more time than I would have otherwise reading my book and listening to my podcasts. Even though, before I gave up my car, I would have been horrified to imagine spending three hours getting to and from work.

Occasional days like this are worth the tradeoff.

Four hours on, four hours off.

I am way, way past ready for this. Next year, the ceiling-mounted rock-climbing desk.  ;)

Monday, February 23

Less bus

The first six months or so that I was car-free, it was all about the bus. I spent a lot of time pouring over schedules, trying new routes, learning the way they changed from the week to Saturday to Sunday.

But since then, I've found myself using the bus less and less. A lot of weeks, I don't ride at all outside of going to and from work, plus any errands I tack onto that daily commute.

Partly it's the awkward, anxious timing of trying to catch a bus that comes once an hour on the weekend. Partly it's wanting a little space—squeezing in next to strangers on the bus day after day wears on you after a while.

And partly it's just figuring, hey, I'm not getting any younger or thinner over here, and at age 50 or 60 I'm not going to thank myself for having gone easy on the physical effort when I was 30. The time to not slack off is right now.

Thursday, February 19

I don't own a car. Neither do thousands of other people in my city.

This post about a city with a bus system not as good as Durham's sums up perfectly how weird I started to feel about my whole car-free thing 6 or 12 months in:
We're not the ones who have to do this. We could always change our mind. Our voices are not the ones that need to be listened to...

...I'm uncomfortable because we're the de facto voice for a group for which we shouldn't be the ones to speak. Why is it not enough that 7% of people in Oklahoma City - or over 15,000 households - live without a car? Almost 3/4 of bus riders do not have access to a car, and many of them live below the poverty line...

It shouldn't take middle-class millenials like us who want to take the bus to and from a bar on Friday night to get people behind this idea. 

Tuesday, February 17

The trunk of the car

One thing I didn't think about when I gave up my car was losing all that extra space. Yep, I'm talking about the trunk of the car. (Plus maybe the back seat, if you're a childless person.)

We think about the car primarily as a means of transit, but it's also part of the home's storage system. Most people I know whose houses are two or three times the size of mine still use the trunk of their car for storage.

Mostly I used my trunk for stuff I borrowed from people. Makes sense. Whenever you see your people, you just pop your trunk and magically their stuff is there, ready to give them!

Instead, I now have an awkward pile near the door of my house, consisting of a candy tin, someone's Tupperware, a DVD, a medical accessory, a sweater, a book, and an iPad. Stuff that I may or may not remember to bring with me when I go out and see the people who are the true owners of the stuff.

I realized how ridiculous it was when I caught myself thinking about actually buying a storage object to put all this temporarily-in-my home stuff in...

I want to write about

being an atheist, and to what extent that means being "antireligious," and how I felt on the day when I found out that an atheist murdered three young Muslims in my community.

But it's complicated. It's even more complicated, for me, than I could articulate—even if I were willing to be fully honest in public on my blog.

I'm an atheist who spends lots of time reading the work of religious people, and very little time reading the work of atheists.

And I'm an atheist who could be described accurately, to some degree, as "antireligious."

And I'm an atheist who often feels more at home with Catholicism, the religion I was raised in, than I do with other nonreligious people.

And I'm an atheist who has worn a headscarf hijab-style in public more than a few times, an atheist who got mistakenly assalamu alaykumed at a bus stop just a few weeks ago.

And I'm an atheist who sometimes worries about the religious divide between me and my parents, who have gotten more observant as they age, and who read this blog.

And I'm an atheist who works in a communications position in the area where the three young people were killed.

In short, it's complicated for me, as it is for many of us, to figure out what my role is in being part of the solution.

I don't hate any religion, or the members of any religion. But not-hating seems so inadequate when there's so much violence in the world and in the news.

All I can say is that I think we can disagree and still love each other. I think that I, as an atheist, can criticize religion, and I think that religious people can criticize atheism, and stay well away from hatred, or from inciting hatred.

I think that in the future, we'll find that the greatest differences of opinion aren't between religions, or even between the religious and the nonreligious. I think the primary disagreements will be between those who view humanity as one, and those who haven't yet learned to see that unity.

Let's not miss the opportunity to recognize each other.

Thursday, February 12

That cat owner

I finally did it—I bought the one gadget I was never going to own, that is, the little drinking fountain for pets.

I didn't feel I had a choice. Kai has been doing well overall, but hydration was still an issue. It got to where he was completely refusing the water dish, which was unacceptable, because dry food is still the only thing he'll consistently eat. He has kidney disease. He has to stay hydrated.

I was almost grudgingly okay with getting the fountain—I was even excited about how much water I knew it would get Kai to drink—but then I opened the thing and there was a little insert so you can grow aquaponic cat grass in part of the fountain.

I almost cried.