I consider myself to be a pretty green individual. I avoid plastic bags to the best of my ability, recycle what I can, and buy local produce at the farmers market. After making a big move from my home in the Northeast, and in doing so leaving my slowly deteriorating 2002 Mazda parked in my parent’s barn, I’ve been greening up my transportation style as well. I bike, walk, car pool, and occasionally—when my bed holds me hostage in the morning—run to work. And, while I am quite proud of how efficiently I am able to get to where I’m going without four wheels and a bucket of carbon emissions, I do sometimes stop and question myself…"Alysa, if you had the car, would you drive it?”
Okay, probably. But let me explain. I’m from a small town in Vermont, a place rural enough to require at least a fifteen minute drive to locate some sort of civilization outside of our country store and llama farm. If I need to get to a grocery store, my choices are fifteen minutes in the car, three hours round trip on a bike, or nine hours by foot. When there is three feet of snow on the ground, wind freezing your eyelids shut, and icy slush up to your ankles, what would you choose?
Yes, I am exaggerating a bit. But my point is that when it comes to these choices, it is very easy, I’ve found, to choose the quickest path out of discomfort. Whether it’s rain or wind or simply "I’m just too tired to make the walk up the hill", it is always easiest to say “okay, just this once.”
I am also one to enjoy a car ride. I love a good drive over curving roads, mellow music playing through the speakers, and an endless slideshow of landscape passing by my window. After giving up my car for my bike and feet; however, I’ve realized how shut off we can be from the rest of the world when we use our cars as our primary mode of transport. How odd it is to be lined up with 2 or 3 other cars at an intersections—everyone a mere 3 feet from each other, and yet not even a glance is sent over to see who is accompanying us on our commute home. Occasionally, when I’m feeling sociable, I will glance over and see who my driving companions are. Some people are talking on the phone, others smearing on lipstick, some belting out songs along with the radio. What is it about those mere inches of metal, upholstery, and paint that make us think we are actually alone?
We have all kinds of gadgets to distance us from our neighbors. With cell phones, headphones, laptops, and kindles, we have constructed imaginary walls spray painted with the words “I’m too busy” to map out the “my space” versus “your space.” It seems that we are so busy connecting with people in other places that we have lost time and patience for those right next to us.
Now that I have traded my rural country roads for the Northwest peaks and in doing so also traded my car, I’ve found unexpected pleasure where I anticipated inconvenience. What I thought might be a horrible discomfort has actually turned out to be a treasured experience. There is something infinitely more satisfying about getting myself from here to there using my own strength.
And on another level all together, an emotional and social level, I feel healthier. When I pass people on the sidewalk, I smile and say hello. I do not have the shell of my car to excuse me from acknowledging the rest of the world. I feel more at peace not only in my conscious, but in my being, knowing that by simply biking to work in the morning or walking into town, I am instantly more connected to other people.