California, choices, transportation, travel

Beautiful: Los Angeles Sans Car

LA’s Rapid Transit bus system from Pinterest

“You need to get a car.”

I have heard this statement over and over again. I’ve done the research. I almost pulled the trigger and got a car for the remaining 6 weeks that I’ll be in LA. Then a few incidents happened that caused me to reconsider:

1.) My dear friend, Amy, who shares my love for public transit, sent me an article from AFAR entitled Another Angle on LA by Aimee Bender. In it, she skeptically explores the world of public transit in LA.

2.) Traveling back from Lake Tahoe, I got caught in all of the confusion in SFO after the horrific plane crash there. To get back to LA from San Francisco, I ended up having to rent and drive a car. The traffic wasn’t bad, but I found myself reaffirming what I’ve known all along: I don’t enjoy driving. At all. It’s one thing to rent a Zipcar here and there for specific reasons. It’s another thing entirely to depend on one to get from every point A to every point B.

3.) It’s also quite synchronistic that the people I swapped houses with this summer also prefer public transit and walking to driving. They’ve left me numerous resources on how to navigate LA via bus, subway, and my own two little feet.

So I’m listening to the signs and taking an adventure: I am going to attempt to navigate LA, and enjoy everything it has to offer, sans car as much as possible. I’m excited for the road ahead – especially since I won’t be driving on it. I promise to share all of my transit adventures here.

environment, learning, nature, science, transportation

Beginning: We Could Learn A Lot From Slime Mold

Physarum polycephalum variety of Slime Mold. Taken by Dr. Jonatha Gott and the Center for RNA Molecular Biology, Case Western Reserve University.
While at SXSW I attended a Biomimicry panel. This was one of the panels I was most excited for. Ever since viewing Janine Benyus TED Talk a few years ago, biomimicry is one of those subjects that I could spend hours researching. Its applications to design are truly endless.

The panel at SXSW praised the brilliance of Slime mold. Yep, slim mold, that seemingly lowly organism that has been around far longer than we have has quite a bit to teach us about transportation. With maximum efficiency, slime mold grows and spreads itself out to acquire its food. The city of Tokyo used the growth and reach of slime mold as its model to design its transportation system with maximum efficiency. In the words of the great Paul Reubens, “I love that story.”

The Slime mold example again reminded me of the brilliance of our natural world. Too often, we see our environment as something to control and guide. I wonder how our society would change if we developed a much strong respect for the wisdom of the natural world that has had so many millenniums to adapt and change. It replenishes and nurtures itself. It is an adamant fan of cycles and self-care. The next time that we’re looking for guidance in our own lives or wrestling with a creative challenge, we would do we to take glance out the window or take ourselves for a walk with our eyes and ears wide open. All the answers are there, many under the care of an unlikely natural guardian like Slime mold.

adventure, productivity, transportation, travel

Step 209: 10 Things You Can Do to Make Air Travel More Enjoyable

I planned to write about 10 things that Delta could do improve their customer service. Then I realized that post would be useless. After my recent experience with Delta, I’m pretty sure they don’t care about customer service. On my most recent Delta trip, my plane was struck my lightning, badly damaging the wing. My hat goes off to the pilot and co-pilot who landed us safely without causing passenger panic. I can’t imagine how terrifying that must have been for him. Delta’s customer service should take their cue from their pilots’ performance.

After an overnight in Syracuse where we were grounded and an Amtrak ride home (re-booking on a Delta flight seemed highly improbable given all of the weather delays), I decided to write this post on things that ordinary folks could do to improve the process of air travel, remaining productive even in the face of delays and cancellations. I hope you find these tips useful and will add to them in the comments section.

1.) Bring more to do that you think you can finish. Extra books, magazines, projects. The worst feeling while traveling, particularly if you run into delays, is useless Thankfully the Detroit airport (where I had a layover) had a Borders where I could buy Let the Great World Spin (future post forthcoming). Next time I’ll make sure to pack more reading materials.

2.) Don’t check luggage. Almost every airline is now charging for every checked bag, over weight fees are outrageous, and the wait at baggage claim seems to get longer with every flight. And there is always the stress of possibly losing your bag. I bought a small rolling bag that meets all of the FDA standards. If it can’t fit in there, I just buy what I need at my destination.

3.) Recognize that a lot of delays are for your own good. Cancelling and delaying flights is a much bigger hassle for the airline employees than it is for any of us. It’s a last resort due most of the time to bad weather, damage to a plane, etc. Just take a look at any gate agent’s face when dealing with delayed or cancelled flight customers. They’re in pain, physically, mentally, and emotionally. It might be the worst job in America. I would much prefer that the airline cancel or delay my flight than take a risk with my life at 30,000 feet.

4.) Steer clear of grumpy passengers. Whenever there is a delay or a cancellation, there is always a group of passengers furious beyond reason. They almost caused a riot at the airport in Syracuse. Cursing, screaming, throwing things. It was awful to witness. Stay away from those people. If you are one of those people, please stay home and watch TV – the Travel Channel will bring the sites and sounds of exotic far-reaching places right to your living room.

5.) Carry-on your essentials. If you refuse to heed the advice in step #2 and insist on paying exorbitant prices to check your luggage, then your carry-on must have certain essentials: a toothbrush, toothpaste, handi-wipes, anti-bacterial gel for your hands, moisturizer, eye drops, chapstick, and a complete change of clothes that are more respectable than your PJs. I also pack socks, a pair of jeans, and a lightweight jacket of some kind because although airlines skimp on just about everything, they crank the AC to the max until I’m so cold that my bones actually hurt.

6.) Get a smartphone with email and apps. I have a Droid with Verizon service and it has always come through for me on long trips. It’s a huge convenience to know what’s going on with your travel plans right on your phone rather than having to stand in line or wait on hold to ask your questions to a live representative. I think that airlines notify customers by email before they even tell their own gate agents what’s going on. It also gives you a way to catch up on old emails, check Facebook, Twitter, and any other of the gazillion apps that are out there. And you just might learn something new while waiting around for your flight to board.

7.) Podcasts are your travel friend. I’m a fiend for them and almost every podcast is free to download and play. Thank you, Apple. Go to iTunes and search away for podcasts on every subject imaginable, and some that you never knew existed.

8.) Grab the good snacks before you go. The only thing worse than a terrible tasting snack is a terrible tasting snack that’s expensive. Airports have cornered the market on terrible tasting expensive snacks. Pack your own – even if you buy the granddaddy deluxe snacks a la Whole Foods, they’re still less expensive than the ones at the airport, taste better, and are better for you. Good food does wonders for your mood when your flight is delayed or cancelled.

9.) Be friendly but break from the pack. Those grumpy people I mentioned in tip #4 are all the worse because they travel in packs like thugs. You will make a lot more headway by being nice to the people on the frontlines of the airline managing delays and cancellations. Smile, remain calm, and be persistent and reasonable. Don’t try to help those grumpy passengers along the way. Trust me, they aren’t going to try to help you and honestly will tank your own efforts to get where you’re trying to go. Just take care of yourself and whomever you’re traveling with. Leave other passengers to their own devices and attitudes.

10.) Take Amtrak or a luxury bus. You think I’m being cute with this last one but I’m totally serious. I love the train – it’s a more civilized way to travel. When I go to visit friends in DC or Boston or Providence, I take the train. It never crosses my mind to hop on one of those air shuttles. By the time I get to the airport, strip down to go through security, board, take the flight, de-board, and get to my final destination, I could have taken the train or a luxury bus for the same price or less than the flight, and traveled more comfortably and been more productive along the way. I’ve never used the luxury bus lines but my friends love them because they are equipped with wi-fi, are super-comfy, and cheap. Just don’t get caught in rush hour traffic coming into Manhattan. That’s a nightmare in any kind of vehicle.

What did I miss? What tips have saved your sanity on flights?

neighbors, New York, transportation

Unreasonable drivers

Why is it that people in cars in New York City feel they have the right to tell people how to park, where to park, and when to move their cars? And why do they think it’s okay to do that by screaming at others from their own cars? I returned to New York today with my sister, brother-in-law, and baby niece for a vacation. We found a parking space right in from of my building with enough room to easily move in and out of when leaving. 

We had arm-loads of things we were carrying inside(including my niece!), and a man with a large station wagon yells at me to move my car forward so he can shimmy his way in behind my car, wedging me into the space.  I tried to ignore his screaming, telling him we couldn’t just drop our things in the middle of the sidewalk and we certainly were not going to wedge in the car in front of us, and then be wedged into the space ourselves. Then he yells “Well, I hope your car will be safe!” We walked inside and didn’t think anything of it, except that he was rude and bordered on crazy. 

I came back out to the car a minute later to gather the few remaining items and he is putting a note on my windshield, and I asked him to back away from my car. His response (after removing the note): “next time, be a little more civil. Parking is at a premium around here.” “What?” I asked. “In case you didn’t notice, we have an infant with us and arm loads of things we’re carrying. And why would I box in the person in front of me and then have you box me in? How would I move my car out with you wedged in behind my car? And besides, even if I did move all the way up to the next car, you still couldn’t get your big car in that space.” He walked away in a huff.

I’ll never understand people like this – people who are naturally so irate that they feel they have the right to upset and harass other people who are minding their own business. I find these people generally are those who drive in the city. Does the driving cause them to go crazy or is it their craziness that encourages them to drive here? I wish people like this guy didn’t make me so upset and stressed; I wish I could chalk it up to funny and weird experiences. And maybe I will once this car is a thing of the past in my life – I’m so looking forward to returning to life as a subway girl.