I’m spending my second car free anniversary in a rented Challenger, speeding (law enforcement officials: figure of speech!) down southern California highways and getting more tan than I ever thought I could. I’m here visiting my father, who moved to Barstow after he retired. Why the middle of the desert? I think he moved here because it’s the place most opposite of where we come from – New Jersey. Have you seen “The Jersey Shore”? It’s sorta like that. I can’t blame him.
My father lived car free in Barstow for a year until his local bus went from 1 hour headways to 3 hours. On weekends the bus only starts at 9am – considering he has never woken up later than 6am in his life, this just won’t cut it. Getting to the nearest shopping center down I 15 is also an ordeal; a couple hours on a meandering route just to get 5 miles.
So, because the buses suck here, my father recently bought a car. This is when I got to finally turn the tables and ask him, “What are you doing with your life?” But it reminded me how important bus service is for small towns, especially those with large retirement communities. For some retirees, having a good transit system can mean the difference between food and medicine, or car expenses. I think he stuck it out as long as he could. And if you decide to live in the middle of the desert, you’ll probably wind up needing a car. Or a camel.
Back to the Challenger, though. Have I told you how fun it is to drive? The head nods I get from the dudes on Main Street who use the word “gnarly” too often and call me “bro” are priceless. This is how Armstrong felt when he came back from the moon. How Genghis Khan felt when he conquered the Khwarezmian Dynasty. After living in car free austerity for two years, exposed to the elements, losing all of my body fat, planning multi-modal trips like someone doing calculations to put a satellite around Neptune, it’s good to just drive. And to drive in a place that was meant for driving.
Maybe you never expected to read those words on this blog. Did I just blow your mind?
But it’s not all aimless drives in the high desert and long walks on Venice Beach. My father and I visited Lancaster in LA County. I read about a complete streets project they did on Lancaster Blvd which transformed their downtown and became a catalyst for new businesses. Traffic calming, bike lanes, public plazas, farmers markets, etc. I was pretty impressed when I got there. The project totally lived up to my expectations. If a town in southern California built around cars could do something this progressive, so could a city built around trolley cars.
I’ll probably get in a little bit of trouble if I tried driving the Challenger back to Baltimore, so I’ll be taking Amtrak to New Orleans for the next leg of my trip. I’ve been called a masochist for taking cross continental train trips in the U.S., but the experience is worth it. If all 5 of my readers are on their best behavior, maybe you’ll get an update from New Orleans. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a very busy day scheduled playing frisbee at Venice Beach. Peace.