Monday, July 31, 2006

Day 30: When global warming effect ME

In my final days of not driving, coupled with "dangerous heat" that won't loosen its grip on middle America, my family and I have been mostly homebound. By not going out, Carolyn got a chance for some toddler pool fun with my neighbor's great-granddaughters yesterday as Rita and I sipped a glass of Pepsi.

So there you have it, a month experiement that's fizzled out in the dangerous heat. On the plus side, I've learned a lot about the motherhood subculture on daytime television. Turns out, it's all about haircare, germ-free kitchens, processed foods and pregnancy tests.

If it gets much hotter outside, I'm going to need cable.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Day 29: Petering out.

It sure doesn’t help that it’s, like, 100 degrees out, my baby has a teething fever and I have mentally prepared myself for a shopping trip Tuesday, in a car.

So what if I’ve enforced a two-square toilet paper limit on my family. Everyone could learn to do a little more with less.

And in my defense, I went farmer’s market shopping, sans children, and did an awesome job of getting the most bang for my bus. Taking the bus without children is so easy.

All this negativism is compounded by a baby who refused to sleep last night, opting instead for wails that kept poor Carolyn awake as well. Solution? This is really awful. Driving. See. I told you it was awful.

Any parent of small children knows when all else is hopeless, a car trip helps soothe a miserable baby. So Steve took Penelope out, twice, including a medicine run at 5 a.m. to Walgreen’s in slippers.

More of the same is expected for the next two days, especially Sunday with no buses running. I just hope the toliet paper situation doesn't worsen.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Day 28: Help!

I went into the downtown bike shop to see how much it would cost to get something to run errands with the girls. They guy said I could get a bike for about $200 (fine) but that the carrier for my daughters on the back of the bike is really hard to find, and if I can find one, it'll be expensive.

That seems unlikely to me. With the internet and all, is it really that hard to find one of these things. The guy wasn't super helpful, so now I'm thinking there's a specific kind of carrier I need but I'm not so sure. He did tell me seats are out, but not why.

Anyway, he seemed busy.

My husband and I had another date night last night, which was kind of ruined by a stomach bug kind of thing. We came home early, catching the last bus of the night at 8:30 p.m., which I realize is a little sad.

But I can't badmouth the mode of transportation that saved us last night.

It was still more than 90 degrees outside when we got home. Stomach bug. Excessive heat.

And I thought "An Inconvenient Truth" was a little unromantic. Turns out, it was like Valentine's Day on steroids compared to last night.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Day 27: Please can we watch the PowerPoint one more time

Have you ever seen that mother letting her toddler eat donuts off the shelf at the grocery store?

Before you judge her too harshly, consider her transportation mode. If she takes a bus, chances are she can’t just drop everything and properly punish little Damien when he starts pulling soup cans onto the floor.

Does she drop everything and sit him down, making the whole trip a two to three hour wash? Does she try to sit him down in the store, when doing so result in missing the bus? God forbid, does she spank him?

So instead of watching Carolyn’s head spin around in a complete circle while spewing profanities and pea soup at me, the family and I abandoned a shopping trip and opted for cheerleader watching. Really, we’re not creepy, just stranded at Illinois State University in what I assume is cheerleading camp week.

Normal. Home to ISU. So it’s a nice little town, trying to recreate itself in the midst of a boom, with a huge focus on downtown, although the high school was just built several miles from downtown because that’s where the growth is, apparently.

But hope abounds. “An Inconvenient Truth,” which my husband and I saw last week at the downtown theater (options really are limited), is being shown for a second week because demand was so high.

Isn’t that awesome!

And this isn’t because I don’t love Al Gore, because I do, but I really wish this movie wasn’t being viewed as having a political agenda. When a bunch of middle-aged guys with ponytails start applauding the movie, I wonder if maybe he's preaching to the choir.

I don’t know the answer to, well, to anything, but how the hell do you get a Christian SAHM (housewife people, it’s housewife) to believe her driving habits are hurting her children.

Anyway, as PowerPoint presentations go, it’s pretty impressive. Go see it today.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Day 26: Finally getting the hang of it

Today the girls and I went downtown and everything went right. I know. Can you believe it?

I paid more for premium coffee and canned tomatoes, but I might have done that even with a car. I bought about 10 items from five different, local stores, including a place called Budget Liquor that has a decent wine selection, despite its name.

We went to the library, where I got several books for Carolyn and a Pooh video. We got ice cream. We only needed to apologize once on the bus.

Figures. Just a few days left and I’m finally getting the hang of this.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Day 25: Neighboring lives.

My neighborhood always struck me as a family-friendly kind of place.

Just a mile from downtown, but still touching a cornfield to the north, the quiet street was built after World War II on the edge of a town that in 1960 was home to 13,000.

Today, Normal has more than four times that many people and has stretched miles east of where I sit.

It could have been the home of my parents’ generation, or even mine, although not me because I grew up on the mean streets of Detroit, the only child of thoroughbred horse trainers, which are other subjects entirely.

Anyway, I’m thinking kids riding bikes, women borrowing cups of sugar, guys helping each other dig up a bush.

So today, over coffee and cookies at my neighbor’s house, Mary and Byron told me that’s exactly the kind of street Tilden Place was 40 years ago when they moved into a brand new house with their three children.

It’s funny how they never really thought about the things they did. They worked hard, raised their children and helped out. God knows I don’t want to return to the 1960s, but it seemed like necessity ironed out a lot of their lifestyle for them. Families made do with less, not because they chose to, but because they had no choice.

Later, in an effort to be more neighborly, I went over and talked to another neighbor this afternoon as she worked on her laundry line. This woman also stays home and has two young children.

Chatting over her fence (seriously), I told her about how my children, who were napping, woke up about 5. She talked about how she’s always running her oldest child, 4, to preschool but this is the last week until fall. Then, she gave up on her clothesline.

I went back inside to iron my husband’s shirts, wondering if I’m trying to return to something that’s long past or if I’m aiming for something new.

Either way, I think I’ll need a bike to get there.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Day 24: Having a 2-year-old changes everything

Carolyn, my 2-year-old daughter, is my public transportation X factor.

You never know when she’ll toss her bathing suit bottom out of the stroller on the way home from the public pool, which you haven’t been to since because other mom’s frown upon a bottomless toddler.

When you finally get time to go to Target, you never know when she’ll decide to play hide and seek in the electronic department and use protester tactics when you try to walk her to the checkout.

You never know when this tantrum will cost you the five precious minutes you needed to catch the correct bus.

You do know the bus route by your house only runs once an hour. You also know (from experience) that walking the final mile with a tired, hot toddler is out of the question.

You never know when your connecting bus left early (or maybe the connector bus got there late) and you know you won’t be home for another hour. You never know whether to bribe your daughter with promises of juice or threaten her with the punishment of “her room” to get her to stop grabbing the hair of the woman in front of you.

And the short answer -— you never know when an hour trip to Target will take three hours. It all depends on knowing the unknown.

Trust me. This all makes sense to mothers with small children.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Day 23: Other people, you know, non-Americans, walk

My cousin Julia, who studies Russian linguistics, I think, at the University of California Berkeley, has traveled more than most and pointed out even small towns in Europe generally have reliable forms of public transportation.

She sent me this thought:

I was thinking about how even when I lived in a small-ish city in
Russia (Vladimir) there was an excellent bus & trolleybus system. Never had to wait more than five minutes for something to come. And people walk a lot, even old grandmothers. Yet Americans are so forward-thinking, right?!!

She pointed out later that she's a little hypocritical, even driving to her favorite running spot.

I'd like to point out she's not alone, hypocritically speaking. When I'm driving, I drive to the gym. And most mothers around Normal drive to the playground. Everyone who lives in a big city has had a "friend," or maybe just a friend, who opted to travel six blocks by car rather than hoof it.

But I liked her general idea.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Day 22: Cheater, cheater, bo-beater

I’ve received some feedback that my tone has turned a tiny bit pessimistic. The “woe is me” angle seems to have gone from light observations to a cry for help.

And they’re right. I had hit a low point this week.

So today, when my husband said he was taking back the garage full of recyclables and he’d be by the store anyway and wasn’t there a few things he could pick up, I caved and gave him my list.

That left the afternoon free for me and the girls. No awkward stroller to position on the bus full of irritated passengers. No screaming kids in the juice aisle. No I-have-had-enough mothering.

We walked to our favorite spot, Fell Park, which is a half mile away through a shaded neighborhood. At the playground, Carolyn met a 4-year-old boy, who had been taught Russian before English and spoke both fluently, and they played for an hour.

Coming home, with two happy, well-behaved daughters, feeling a little happy myself, I remembered part of the reason I wanted to give up my car in the first place. I wanted my girls to have a childhood where they could explore their world at a slower pace. I didn’t want to spend our days in commute. I wanted them to know cars were optional, always.

As an afterthought, I felt a little guilty about not doing the family shopping, but as my husband likes to say, I have a heightened sense of guilt.

It’s my superpower.

Day 21: My Inconvenient Life.

On the heels of an exhausting day-and-a-half trip to a city 70 miles from our house, my husband and I had a date night.

Date night movie? “An Inconvenient Truth.” So romantic.

The movie finally had come to Normal’s downtown theater so my husband and I, trying to stay dry on a particularly wet and cold night, headed for the packed-house theater. For the first time in a while, I felt like maybe my project had some purpose.

Even as I bitch about the inconvenience of public transportation, I think when I start driving again I’ll think twice before getting behind the wheel. Maybe I’ll be more likely to consider the bus, or walking. I sure do notice the driving habits of others a lot more, especially the hundreds of people piling into their cars and vans last night after they just finished watching a movie about the sudden warming of the Earth.

But I keep coming back to one issue that seems impossible to rectify: money. Not driving in a city of drivers is expensive. Taking a train that gets delayed is expensive. Buying bread at the corner store is expensive.

I can’t help but think people will continue to put their family’s best interest in front of the earth’s. And who can blame them?

I don’t know if it’s possible to get a mom to stop driving to the grocery store to find the best deal on her family’s food, or give up carting children around town for soccer, or convince a family to take the bus downtown for a festival. First, they need to be convinced they’re doing the best thing for their family’s future. Next, it has to affordable. And finally, it needs to be safe.

And it really is romantic to walk through the rain to a movie. When's the last time most suburban moms did that?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Day 20: I didn’t run away, but maybe should have.

Our day trip to Springfield was a failure, especially because it took a day and a half.

Nothing seemed to go right for our family adventure. This was true in part because my regular bus driver in Normal implied we had single handedly put her bus behind schedule, in part because I have enough information for a whole chapter of my future book, “Why I don’t ride Amtrak,” and in part because we arrived home a full 17 hours later than intended.

Did I mention I have two young children and it was very, very hot outside.

In truth, I’m feeling a little like my project is failing. I had hoped life without a car would have been something that proved fulfilling and feasible.

I had at least hoped my husband and I --— eating pizza and drinking cocktails on the bathroom floor of our hotel room while our sleeping children occupied the room with the TV — wouldn’t have joked about buying a Hummer when we got home.

Not the “small” one either. We want that original monster, the one that eats gas parked in the driveway.

“What are you going to fill it with,” I asked my husband.

“Cold air,” he said

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Day 19: I’m going on vacation, I’m going on…

Well, it’s not exactly vacation. I haven’t been on vacation in many, many months, more than a year if you’re measuring in PP time (pre-Penelope). So a day trip to Springfield, Ill., is a big freakin’ deal.

We had hoped to go to Chicago, but yet again, no car squashed that dream.

To fly, which granted was a last minute search out of mere curiosity, put us on a plane from Bloomington to O’Hare in just less than an hour for about $300 a person. While a train takes two hours, we gauged a plane trip, including transit time to the airport and from the massive Chicago airport into the city, would take at least four.

Now let’s talk about Amtrak, shall we. I have a love-hate relationship with Amtrak. I always think it’ll be a great idea to take it and I’m always disappointed when I do. But because it’s a 10-minute bus ride from my house, a half hour walk, it’s really the only viable option with two children.

Round trip to Chicago ran $160 and going for the day wasn’t an option with what was available. Hotels downtown or within the vicinity were running about $200 a night. With food, we were looking at a $400 price tag for one night, in a hotel, with two young children.

Anybody with two young children can tell you that’s just not worth it.

So, we decided to look west. I had never been to Illinois’ state capital, Springfield, which is known for all things Abraham Lincoln. So we’re leaving on Amtrak in the morning and returning evening-ish.

A day trip with little kids is always a little nerve-wracking (please, please let them sleep well tonight). Letting the girls go without their naps, walking in 100-degree weather and being in an unfamiliar place is bound to bring us joy after joy.

If I don’t post tomorrow it’s because I’ve abandoned this project and my family for a life of dark, dank bars and cheap tequila. It’s the vacation that keeps on giving.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Day 18: Don't get me started on mommy madness.

Judith Warner wrote a column for Sunday’s New York Times, disputing an essay from the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University that claimed parents today are unhappy because they’re lives are no longer fun.

Warner argues society, with its pressures to have active, engaged children, is putting strain on the American mom. It’s our culture that’s the problem, not the parents.

While I’m in no position to say the American mom isn’t happy, because it certainly seems like she has a lot to complain about, I take issue with at least one point she makes.

Not having access to decent child care or affordable health care or good quality public education is not a question of attitude. Neither is being frustrated that you can’t ever make it home for a family dinner because you can’t afford to work a decent schedule or to live close enough to work to make it home at a decent hour. Talking about these problems isn’t a condemnation of parenthood; it’s a condemnation of the way parenthood is being lived, in our culture, at this particular time.

Did she really just compare not having good child care to having too long a commute? I’m sorry, but having a giant house two hours from work isn’t quite in the same universe as leaving your child in a smelly institution with questionable employees because that’s all a single mom can afford.

If you’ll allow me on my soap box for a moment, if parents feel like they don’t have enough time with their family because their golden shackles won’t allow them enough dinner time, maybe they could sell their minivan, stop enrolling their children in so-called community activities, move into a home that costs $300,000 less than their current McMansion, shop at Pottery Barn a little less and devote more time to their family.

Everyone makes choices.

How about this? If we knew our neighbors, shopped with them at the local market and let our children play at the neighborhood park, we all could become less lonely and more fulfilled. Although, as I know all too well, without a community to make this decision, it’s just one crazy lady taking her kids on bus rides around town.

So when Warner says children are the bright spot in our lives, I agree.

When she says families can’t live close enough to work to make it home in time for dinner, I emphatically disagree.

All they have to do is make a different choice.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Day 17: Lighting a fire under me doesn't help.

Not driving has turned me lazy.

It’s totally true. Last month, the house was clean, the kids got out twice a day and dinner was always home cooked. As a women without a job, I had two main goals. One, that my daughters never got cooped up in the house. Two, that I made meals from scratch with the best quality foods.

So today I had high hopes for an afternoon grocery store run for olive oil, butter, wine and yogurt. I know, not a lot of stuff. But trust me, all staples.

When Carolyn woke up from her nap, I checked the National Weather Station’s Web site and saw it was 91 degrees, but felt like 103. I asked my 2-year-old daughter if she wanted to take the bus to the store, and she said NO, which she says to everything. Well, that was good enough for me.

Thankfully we had leftovers, so I didn't have to resort to mustard sandwiches on white bread.

How is it possible to take your kids to the community pool in the morning (so fun!), make cookies for your husband’s office pot luck and still run errands on the bus with two hot children? Even at the pool, which is about a mile and a half round trip, I mentally challenged the woman getting her four kids out of a minivan, thinking, “I bet she drives all over town in that thing and doesn’t give a second thought about it.”

This woman, and the dozens like her poolside, probably even have time to stop at the grocery store for wine, if she wants, and doesn’t have to eye the Marsala shoved in the back of the cupboard.

Lucky bitch.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Day 16: Looking at Cars

Standing in front of full-size replicas of the characters from the new movie “Cars,” I felt a little baffled.

Hundreds, no thousands, of parents snapped photos of their children standing proudly in front Lightning McQueen. Not really so much in front of the celebrity cars as in front of the rope keeping fans roughly 15 feet away.

Standing there, with my uninterested 2-year-old, I felt alien and disconnected. The hero of this year’s summer blockbuster is a red car, a racing car. This is the character they connect with? They want to be a sports car chugging down gas in the midst of a crisis?

And trust me, I’m not completely without knowledge of a children’s character.

For our family, it centers around Caillou, a Canadian 4-year-old who goes on vacation, plays with his friends and eats lunch. Now, as many issues as I have with this annoying little boy, and I have many, his fictional life has impacted my view of domestic life.

His parents, who we know better as mommy and daddy, walk to the store and take public transportation. His best friends live in the neighborhood. When the neighboring kid, Sara, and her parents went to China for the summer, Caillou’s mommy picked up the mail, watered the plants and fed their cat.

Sometimes at 7 a.m. when I’m watching this cartoon, I think, “Gosh, I wish I knew my next door neighbor and her kids.”

So when I see hoards of parents unloading their minivans to look at three cars with eyes painted on them, I wonder what they want life to be like. But on the bus when we sat near two families who had taken public transportation to see the celebrity cars and I thought perhaps not everyone models their life from cartoons.

Perhaps, little kids just like cars. Certainly Carolyn does, and misses our desperately, as you might be able to see from the picture.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Day 15: What feels lonelier?

Out-of-town friends stopped by last night on their way to St. Louis. While discussing my no-car project, someone said I should go without the Internet after I’m finished.

No way. That’s where I talk to old friends, get my news and check the weather. Beside, it seems to me the damaging environmental and social effects of cars hardly compares with computers. Or does it?

Hands down, one said, the Internet would go before her car. She said she’d feel isolated without her car.

What’s funny is I felt isolated with one. It seems to me they’re designed that way.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Day 14: Why I miss you, car.

While at times satisfying, giving up driving in a car-centric city has meant sacrifice. Here’s a small list of things I’ve missed in the last two weeks.

• Makeup.

While I’m considered the most “nature girl” looking of many of my friends, I haven’t looked quite this natural since college. And let me tell you, a decade makes a lot of difference. I’ve put on mascara for a few interviews I’ve had, but for the most part, I’ve gone mostly face-naked, in large part because sweat would wash away any effort I’ve made to look pretty.

• The gym.

It’s not as if I’m dying to add two treadmill miles to my three or more outside miles, but the gym, more than a mile off the bus line, offers me a refuge I can’t get anywhere else. One. They have a day care, which means about an hour away from my lovely, attention-crazy children. Two. My yoga class. Sure I can do yoga at home, but I can’t get the yoga teacher’s soothing voice telling me, “Here in yoga, I say no pain, all gain.” Three. Every treadmill comes equipped with a personal television complete with E! TV. I don’t have cable at home so how am I supposed to get my Brangelina news. How?

• Recycling.

Normal is the smaller town of two adjoing jurisdictions an area commonly referred to simply as the Twin Cities. But Normal and Bloomington have seperate schools and government, separate services and separate recycling programs.

Bloomington picks up recycling for its residents while Normal requires you to take it to one of several recycling centers around the city. I don't want to badmouth Normal, which takes about two-thirds more material than Bloomington collects. But I am getting a little tired dodging plastic bags full of bottles when I walk through the garage.

• My car, sniff.

While I don’t drive all that much, I do enjoy getting behind the wheel. I listen to talk radio. Or flip the crappy music stations. I can get a soda without getting out. I can load up my hatchback with groceries. I can take the kids to the fun waterpark they love. I can get downtown in 10 minutes. Or to ice cream in five.

I truly wish my neighborhood offered me a tenth of what I can get by driving for 10 minutes. I really believe that would be a better for a host of reasons.

But in the meantime, not having a car is an inconvenience. Seriously, I miss yoga girl. Does that make me a bad person?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Day 13: If the world fell apart and you didn't notice.

One thing I really miss about driving is NPR. I get a lot of my breaking news from public radio, and boy did I miss a news day of epic proportions this morning.

My friends call me a bad leaver. I'll be on my way out the door for lunch when I'll ask a co-worker why she has 50 Tori Amos LPs on her desk, or out the door at home when I ask my husband why we never go out anymore.

Bad leavers are usually late. Taking public transportation requires punctuality. These two facts have tested my will.

So today, I didn't rush a tour of the new arts center for a story I'm writing. Instead, I realized I wouldn't make the bus and savored my time alone. I sat in the sun. I tried this dive that dispelled my belief that decent Mexican food doesn't exist in central Illinois.

For one late morning, I stopped rushing.

Later when I learned about the mess in Lebanon, I thought about my little world of family, home, bus, neighborhood. With crude oil prices once again pushing upward, I started wondering what people in Normal would do if gas shot up to $4 a gallon. Would they sacrifice even a minute of their time, even if they could do nothing for 30 minutes while they waited for the bus to arrive, or would they pay a little more to drive their kids from one organized playdate to the next, griping about the cost?

If money isn't an issue, and the environment isn't an issue and the possibility of war isn't an issue, then what is?

As the Green A was carrying me home, I found a pamphlet explaining that Christ is our key to heaven and the end of the world is upon us. Well, that explains a lot.

It's a great selling point for public transportation. The end is near, so why are you rushing to soccer practice. Sit down. Eat a taco. Enjoy yourself.

Now that's an idea Americans can get behind. Holy shit are we doomed.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Day 12: Grocery shopping: Check

Grocery shopping has become the biggest ordeal, ever.

First, I have to travel via bus to the grocery store with one of my children. My husband, a newsman who promises to work days but never delivers, could watch both girls, but it’s helpful to have the extra-long double stroller available for stacking lots and lots of groceries and taking an empty, giant stroller on the bus is frowned upon, probably. And so what if I have to breastfeed Penelope on the curb of a parking lot littered with cigarette butts. Riding the bus is fun!

Anyhow, there’s something satisfying about the taste of a pork roast carried home in a backpack.

But that’s not all. The next day, it’s downtown shopping, which is decidedly more fun and less bus-intensive. There’s the college book store/corner store/Hallmark store kind of place. There’s the Garlic Press, where I bought homemade croutons and a hilarious gigantic calculator for my grandfather’s 91st birthday (take my word on it, it’s hilarious). There’s the ice cream shop and the farmer’s market where, thanks be to everything green, corn is in season.

While in Ace Hardware, where I now buy my cleaning supplies and paper products, my husband called to make sure it wasn’t me who had been hit crossing a particularly bad intersection near our house. He heard about it on the scanner.

Walking home, crossing that very intersection, was the first time I had considered the safety issues of not driving. I thought walking was much safer than driving.


The National Transportation Policy Project studied that question and found walking to be the most dangerous mode of travel. The most!

Good grief. Something else to worry about.

And I thought the bus was scary.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Day 11: Why walk when you can demand parking spaces.

There’s a little controversy regarding parking and a group of Jehovah’s witnesses in Bloomington.

Apparently, when they had their big convention here last week, parking spaces for downtown workers began to disappear when the Christian out-of-towners holy rolled into town. According to a local radio station, WJBC:

City manager Tom Hamilton says the convention planners refused to be shuttled to the Coliseum from elsewhere...

And here I thought the group, known for it's door-to-door ministry, most annoyed people when seen walking through a neighborhood. Who knew their driving habits were even worse?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Day 10: What's more work than cleaning the bathroom?

When came out with their estimate that stay-at-home moms would make more than $130,000 if they were to earn a salary, there was a lot of hullabaloo about how accurate that number really was.

But what caught my attention was the calculation that an average stay-at-home mom did 21 hours of housework each week, three time that of a working mom. Now, I’ve been known to fall into this trap myself. I set a certain standard of cleanliness I expect for my house and it’s hard to let it slide back into the husband/kid-infested mess that’s the inevitability of having a family.

This no-car experiment has meant more time in transit, aka less time for vacuuming. So things are not as tidy as, say, three weeks ago. It’s been hard for me to turn a blind eye to the pile of dirty clothes shoved in the corner of the bathroom, but I do what I can.

But there’s a lesson for all the suburban housewives cleaning their bathroom tiles with a toothbrush each week. It is not necessary for you to spend half a workweek cleaning your house. The kitchen floor will become sticky. The beds will not always be made. The dog hair might stick to your couch a little.

Who cares? Get out and walk. Walk to the store. Walk to the playground. Talk to your neighbors. Plant a garden. Just leave your house.

If you live in the exurbs and have no place in particular to walk, walk around your neighborhood peaking into your neighbors’ houses.

On second thought, if you’re in the exurbs you probably have a housekeeper, and shame on you anyway for moving so far away. should deduct a portion of your pretend salary for selfishness.

Day nine: Not as easy as I thought.

Easily on my fifth mile of the day, it was around noon when I realized this simple fact: “I’m exhausted.”

Buses don’t run on Sunday (which seems extremely old-fashioned and inconvenient, especially if you rely on buses for work) but I had decided that wasn’t going to stop me. My morning trek made Billy’s “Family Circle” maze look like a beeline to the playground.

I started off with a trip to church. Every once in a while, I get in my head that belonging to a church, and always the Catholic variety I recall semi-fondly from childhood, would be a great idea for the sake of community. My husband likes to point out the flaws in my plan.

The pope’s infallibility. Views on women and gays and abortion. The immaculate conception. Creationism. Jesus.

All things I might be able to overlook if not for the Christian right.

OK, so I have a few kinks to work out of my plan.

After mass I walk downtown for coffee and breakfast at the vegetarian coffee house.

Ahhh. That’s better.

I realize I left my phone at a park bench where I fed Penelope, return to fetch it, go home, walk back downtown for the art festival and back home when my realization happened.

When I thought about giving up my car for a month, I honestly didn’t think it would be that hard. I walk a lot anyway. More than the average person, although one plan to fight obesity tells people to take 10,000 steps a day, or walk about five miles, which seems like a lot because I’m averaging about three miles a day without a car.

Anyway, just walking was the only consideration I made. I did not factor in a baby who suddenly refuses to sleep through the night or a husband who recently lost his best employee and must start working 60 hours a week.

So what’s a good housewife/mom to do? I guess I’ll just keep on walking and hope I can drop 10 pounds in the process.

Maybe I’ll just pray on it.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Day eight: Yes, I know the bus stop is dirty.

My husband has not yet come to see things my way.

Earlier today, we discussed, briefly, the possibility of selling our Buick, which is used as a second car and rarely driven more than six miles a day. It wouldn't be like giving up driving entirely, and in the end, I think we'd save money.

Just yesterday, our local paper ran yet another story about gas, this one about crude oil prices hitting an all-time high, yet again.

Anyhow, a few hours after I shared my thought about selling our gold hooptie, we were waiting for the Green A in the downtown Bloomington main terminal and my husband rethought my request. Having grown up in the lush city of Tulsa, with its winding subdivisions and clear-cut borders of race and class, he was unfamiliar with any notion of homelessness and less than comfortable sharing space with it on a city bench.

When a women got on the bus today with a cart full of black plastic bags, my husband felt a twinge of guilt for exposing our children to this side of life.

Me? I thought, “I need to get one of those carts. Grocery shopping would be a snap.”

Friday, July 07, 2006

Day seven: Money lost, money saved

Driving a car costs money. Filling up your car costs money. Fixing your car, well, you get where this is going.

But when you live in a city with a single strip of big-box stores, not having your car costs money.

Since leaving the workplace seven months ago after the birth of my second child, and, more specifically, moving to Normal, Ill., five months ago, our family has tried to adhere to a very strict budget. This week, without a car, I’m already $50 over.

While AAA tells me owning a car comes with a $7,834 price tag for 15,000 miles, and my gas Widget tells me a gallon of gas currently costs $2.91, just grocery shopping for my family comes with a larger-than-normal price tag.

Here are a few examples.

The hormone-free, T-bone steak at the fancy store downtown: $10 (shared, incidentally, with my husband because I couldn’t afford two).

Deli fruit from the same store, not local or organic: $7.99 a pound.

Ice cream for my 2-year-old at Emack & Bolio’s whenever we go downtown: $2 each time we go, which has already been four times this week. That’s going to have to end.

But how will I live without my raspberry sorbet?

And, I’m not sure how long I can put off buying new shoes. Check out what I’m walking around on.

Walking everywhere, believe it or not, costs money.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Day six: The social stigma of public transportation

There’s nothing wrong with a 32-year-old women walking to the store for a six-pack of cold beer and carrying it home, in front of God and the neighbors and the world to see.


Then why didn’t I do that?

I’ll tell you why. Most people see something wrong with a 32-year-old women (a mother no less) carrying a six-pack of beer (probably Bud no less) home from the convenience store. So on the Fourth of July, with a steak on the grill, I backed out of my beer run.

Not having a car has provided me with a series of tiny humiliations.

There’s a stigma attached to waiting for, and riding, a bus in a small city, or to carrying home several sacks of groceries in front of neighbors.

And when you take your children it’s 10 times worse.

For the most part, I can ignore and even bask in my choices, knowing my decisions might not always be right but I’m making them for good reasons.

As for the beer? Even I have limits to how boldly I’ll wear my Scarlet Letter.

Next time, I’ll just pick up a bottle of wine downtown on farmer’s market day and stuff it in my diaper bag.

I prefer wine anyway.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Day five: Small city life. Big city transit.

One moment I’m listening to my editor regale me with tales of his two post-college years spent automobile free, the next thing I know I’m running top speed in summer sandals after a green-line bus.

Moments can mean an hour in bus-schedule world.

Today was my first professional day without a car and I think it went pretty well.

My first interview went off without a hitch, as did my productive lunch meeting with Troy Clark, the editor for the local magazines I write for. It only took about 10 minutes longer to get downtown, which gave me time to look over my notes, think about the story and do part of a crossword puzzle.

Although I’m not sure Troy thought of our lunch meeting as productive. Mostly, I grilled him about his life without a car.

Troy laughs about the experience now, but you can tell, it’s something that got funnier with time. Like the one about the police stopping him while he’s walking home from work, twice. And how one of those times he was frisked and his bag, which carried his Burger King uniform, searched. Like how he thought others riding were just a little scary sometimes.

In fact, Troy said he saw a lot of two things in the other passengers — poor and crazy. He wanted neither of those traits for himself.

Well, since I’m from Detroit and my bar for poor and crazy is set rather low, I’ll just have to take his word on that. I know in Detroit, if I had run four blocks for a bus and missed, I would have been left panting on the curb.

But today, the bus driver, thanks to a rider who saw me, stopped to let me board. Maybe, like everyone else, the poor and crazy are just a little friendlier in Normal.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Day four: Independence, at whose benefit?

I’ve been without a car only a few days and already have begun to question the usefulness of this project.

The New York Times Magazine ran a piece Sunday about the proliferation of driving in China. Ted Conover reported there were about 20 million cars on China’s roads, more than three fold the number just six years ago. Not only that, there are less than seven people for every 1,000 cars on the road, a number that’s staggering if you consider there are more cars than drivers in the United States and China is about 90 years behind us, automotively speaking, and seemingly eager to catch up.

What difference does it make if I drive to the grocery store or not if other countries follow our high-emissions lead, making the same damaging mistakes we’re making.

Well, Seattle thinks it’s worth trying.

They’ve issued a One Less Car Challenge, which is just what it sounds like — a project to get households to give up a car for a month or longer.

The city is sending its message through a pocketbook incentive, in that it’s expensive to own a car and not owning one is less expensive. I see their point, and maybe it holds true in urban Seattle, but it would be hard to convince Plain Jane mom in Nowhere, Midwest, of the cost savings.

If she’s spending $100 a week at Wal-Mart, how much can she expect to spend shopping at the corner convenience store.

Ask any poor person, the corner store is not a place you go to get good deals. It’s convenient, hence its name.

On a more personal note, my family's holiday was a total dud.

The local buses don’t run, the train to a nearby small town put us there for seven hours (about six hours too long) and a train to Chicago was too expensive. Our only option, really, was to stay home.

So, that’s how we celebrated our independence.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Day three: All I do is shop

Since I stopped driving, every time I return to the house I think, “That was a learning experience. Next time will be better.”

Well, I’m waiting.

Last night I briefly thought I had killed my 7-month-old daughter Penelope when she started wheezing during a walk downtown in 90-degree heat. Today, my weekly grocery trip took 2 1/2 hours, and that was without the girls.

Although fairly certain I’m not a complete moron, taking the bus is hard.

I’ve softened to the demands of public transportation. There's a lot of waiting and I don't even wear a watch, much less time to the minute when I need to get somewhere.
I'll be happy when I get past that "I'm a freshman and don't know where homeroom is" kind of feeling from trying something new.

And mainly, it poses a huge inconvenience, and not just for me. I never saw any children, although there were a number of college kids, and I suspect a large majority of people riding didn’t have cars or they would have taken them.

But here’s the other side: In transit to the mall for a new pair of little-girl shoes, I got to spend a bunch of time reading and playing with Carolyn and Penelope, time that might otherwise have been spent looking over my shoulder to see them strapped into car seats. It was fun to see Carolyn’s enthusiasm over our ride on the “school bus."

I hope just I get a little better at planning. I’ll go crazy this month if I have to spend each day shopping because I can’t get organized. It’d be nice to actually interact with other people.

Oh well. It’s a learning experience. Next time will be better.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Day two: Whose car is it?

Suburban driving patterns might be a sin of the “mom,” but this morning I learned she’s got company.

My husband, who insisted he mow the lawn (which, much to the dismay of our retired neighbors, hadn't been done for almost two weeks ago) because he thought I should be giving up all internal-combustion engines, wanted a Dr. Pepper and a candy bar.

I told Carolyn we were going to the store for treats and, of course, she happily agreed, until she saw we were taking the stroller.

“Get in the car. Get in the car,” she cried, pointing to my black Mazda. In fact, she cried all the way to the store.

Nothing (well, almost nothing) feels quite as trashy as walking to the gas station Sunday morning for $5 in junk food with a crying 2-year-old. The church-going folk drove past us, shaking their pious heads.

Day one: Farmer’s market day.
First outing

I suffered a major setback on my first day without a car due to a case of cockiness. Things had gone too darn well on my farmer’s market trip with my 2-year-old daughter, Carolyn. I bought as much produce as I could carry, which I promptly turned into a week's supply of baby food. We had breakfast. We made friends. We danced to the free live music.

My mistakes, which set me back by an hour and 15 minutes, were mere learning experiences. Time consuming learning experiences.

My first lesson — Sometimes, buses other than the one you need run along the same route. Always, always check.

Lesson two — Studying your bus map is not a sign of weakness. This is not New York City. People will not mistake you for a tourist. You will not be mugged.

Lesson three — If you have to chose between waiting 40 minutes for your bus home or walking the last mile with an exhausted toddler, for goodness sake, wait. Ice cream will not help. Carrying her will not help. Endless repetitions of "Frosty the Snowman” will help you only briefly.

We spent the rest of the day close to home. I’m hoping the trauma of the trip wears off enough so Carolyn doesn’t begin to fear the bus. After all, we need to ride it, a lot