Thursday, April 28, 2011

Morning Commute: Part I...

To read my earlier post about what led me to this crazy idea, click HERE:

Nothing brightens up a morning commute like an ornery Canadian goose.  Can you spot the steaming goose turds on the sidewalk?

Have you ever realized that you're being watched?

One moment, you're alone with your thoughts, and the next you're suddenly aware of mysterious eyes checking you out, settling in upon your every movement.

This is not the best feeling to have if you're wandering through a dark alley.

Fortunately, I was in no such position.  Instead, I was still within the boundaries of our property.  I had just left the house with my backpack, all bundled up in several layers to keep warm, preparing to embark on the 7-mile walk to the office.

I wasn't even halfway down the driveway when I sensed their eyes.

I looked up.

Eight deer were gathered in our neighbors' yard across the street, watching me intently, studying my every move with their curious eyes.  I counted six large doe and two spotted fawn.  It was 6:15 in the morning.  The sun wouldn't be up for another forty-five minutes, but it was light enough to notice the thin rings of fog, floating like halos around the summits of the tallest evergreens.

As I turned right onto the sidewalk, I remained quiet and tried communicating with the deer through their eyes.  I simply nodded my head before turning to look down the sidewalk ahead of me.  I don't know if they understood me, but somehow I wanted them to know that I had no intentions of disturbing their peaceful, early-morning gathering.

The neighborhood deer will brave the
rush hour traffic for a cool drink. 
The group of houses across the street backs up to a fairly large stream.  It's not uncommon to see a dozen or more deer during the early morning hours, making their way through our yards, across the street, and down to the water's edge.

In the four years since we've lived here, we've had three separate incidents where deer have been hit struck by cars in front of our house during the darker hours of the day.  The posted speed limit is 35 MPH, but motorists regularly speed by at 45 or 50 MPH, when the traffic is sparse, and they don't anticipate any obstacles.

I turned back and glanced at our next door neighbor's place.  Only the kitchen light was on.  Two nights earlier, my wife and I had spent an evening around their table, enjoying nachos, beer, and multiple games of cards.  In a few minutes, their son would be standing at the bottom of the driveway, waiting for the bus.

All of the other houses looked the same...  mostly dark, save for a few lights on in the kitchen or entryway areas.  The rest of the neighborhood was just waking up.

I'd been up since 5:00 and was just over a quarter mile into my 7-mile walk to work.

When I went to bed the night before, I thought that I'd wake up feeling tired and groggy.  I hadn't woken up this early on a workday since the previous October.

Instead, I felt fresh and invigorated when I stepped out of bed.  As I was brewing a small thermos of coffee, I even felt some excitement rippling through my veins, knowing I'd be spending two hours outside in the crisp, early morning air.

I turned around and took one last look at our mailbox, almost five hundred yards away.

What was I doing?  What was I thinking?  Why on earth would anybody take almost two hours out of their day to walk seven miles to work in sub-freezing temperatures, when they could make the drive in about twelve minutes?

If i really wanted to run home, wouldn't it make more sense to have somebody at work pick me up and give me a ride to the office?  After all, three of my co-workers live within minutes of my front door.

I'd pondered these questions several times in the weeks leading up to today's inaugural journey.

Sunrise is one of the best times
for a walk, mainly because there
aren't any other humans around. 
My biggest reason has to do with where we've been heading (or hot heading) as a society, in regards to satisfying our lavish energy demands.

During the past year, I've become increasingly agitated with our nation's unhealthy lust for oil.  The United States make up less than 5% of the world's population, and yet, we consume around 25% of our planet's oil supply. 

Of course, this gluttonous energy consumption is not limited to oil.  Our nation's demand for all sources of energy has skyrocketed, as we struggle to fund our fast-paced, high-powered lifestyles of gas-guzzling street tanks, electronic gadgets, and over-sized McMansions.

It seems that we're not the least bit hesitant to buy the latest electronic gadget or luxury SUV, just as soon as we can squeeze the payments into our already overstretched monthly budgets.

Nowadays, everybody has to have a 40-inch HDTV in their own bedroom, along with the two to three others that are scattered throughout the common areas of the house.  And let's not forget the TV and DVD player in each of the three family SUVs.  We wouldn't want little Billy to get bored during the 8-minute trip to the mall, especially if he's already drained the battery on his iPad.

Of course, when I was growing up, a vehicle equipped with a full audio-visual entertainment system was almost unheard of.  The only television in my life was a 19-inch Sears model that sat in our family room.  It had an 'on/off/volume' knob, as well as a panel of buttons labeled '0' through '9' to change the channel.  For almost twenty years, my sister and I learned to share a single television with each other, as well as with our parents.

In 1968, my dad first visited Mt. Desert
Campground with my mom and her family.
He still visits every year, along with my
wife and I, my sister and her husband,
and their two kids.
As for getting from point A to point B, there was nary a Chevy Tahoe or Cadillac Escalade to be found in our driveway.  Every summer, we piled into our baby blue Dodge Omni, with the clothes jammed into the trunk and the tent, tarp, and other supplies strapped to the roof, and headed off to Maine for a week of camping, swimming, and hiking at beautiful Mt. Desert Campground, near Acadia National Park.

One summer, my sister wanted to bring along her friend Jessica.  After packing the car, there wasn't enough room in the back seat, so my dad strapped Jessica to the roof as well.  She didn't have any complaints.  She was sedated on motion sickness pills for the entire twelve-hour drive, completely unaware that it rained during the three-hour stint across Massachusetts.

Today, it seems that many of us can't function without two large vehicles sitting in our driveways.

And why?  Well, here are some of the different reasons I've heard over the years.  Please keep in mind that I'm not making any of these up.

     "I don't feel safe in a car..."

     "I need to be up higher..."

     "We have grandchildren..."

     "My husband is large..."

     "It's uncomfortable getting in and out of a car..."

     "I can't see..."

     "The passenger seat is too low, and my wife farts every time she gets out of the car..."

     "I have a bad back..."

     "Both of the baby's cribs won't fit in a regular trunk..."

     "There are lots of hills where we live..."

     "I'm afraid of trucks..."

     "I need to be able to transport my portable toilet..."

     "It's hard to reach the child seat..."

     "My legs are too long.  I'm almost 5'8''..."

     "My wife can't see..."

     "Cars don't handle well in the winter..."

     "Now that we have a baby, we need an SUV..."

     "I've always wanted a Lexus..."

     "Cars are death traps..."

     "I don't like bending over to get the groceries out of the trunk..."

     "I need my space..."

     "We both have arthritic knees..."

Hmmmm...  seems like many of the above problems could be remedied if we exercised, watched our diets, practiced some deep breathing now and then, and took better care of ourselves.

I'm saying that there's no reason whatsoever to ever own an SUV.  If one or more of the following conditions are met within a family unit, then that family unit is permitted to ONE (1) gas-guzzling behemoth:
  • You have at least three (3) children.
  • You're required to haul large 'stuff' around, as part of your job.
  • You're at least 6'8'', and you absolutely cannot fit in a smaller vehicle.
  • You own a boat.
  • You go camping at least four (4) times a year.
  • You're a mom, and your offspring play soccer.

Unfortunately, many have convinced themselves that an enormous vehicle is necessary to safely transport their obese children to McDonald's several days a week, for regular servings of Big Macs, milkshakes, and Frumpy Pubis Meals.

But these people have chosen to ignore the fact that we're still powering most of our monster trucks with regular unleaded gasoline.

Our addiction to oil is not sustainable.

We cannot continue to destroy and decimate our environment, compromise our safety, and damage our health in search of oil, without considering the consequences to our planet, as well as to future generations.

The technology to produce vehicles that run on alternate sources of energy has been around for years, but most of us are still stopping at the gas station at least once a week.

This guy lives alone, but he might
want to consider a larger vehicle.
Unfortunately, the trend towards cleaner, alternative sources of energy to power our transportation will continue to move forward at a snail's pace, as long as our greedy politicians and biased news networks continue to be bought and held hostage by high-powered executives and lobbyists within the oil industry.

Eventually, we're going to have to scale back our reliance on oil...  all oil.

But we do have a choice.  We can voluntarily make the transition over an extended period of time, while we pursue other avenues for our energy needs.  Or, we can continue to use up what's left at a breakneck pace, and force ourselves to give it up overnight.

Which way is it going to go?  That's still up in the air.

A lot depends on whether or not we're willing to change our attitudes and priorities during the next ten to twenty years.

I obviously have no control whatsoever over the driving habits of others, but I can make a difference within my own little world by driving just a bit less now and then, cutting my oil usage, and saving some gas money.

That's why I wanted to prove to myself that I could get to work without a car.  Not just my car...  any car.

Several of my co-workers who live nearby have repeatedly asked if they could give me a ride to work.  I certainly appreciate their generous offer.  But I've told them I prefer to walk.  I'd like to do it all by myself, for now.

Up ahead, I was approaching the neighborhood park on the right, complete with tennis and basketball courts, along with a playground.  All of a sudden, six more deer galloped across the road, about fifty feet up ahead.  I stopped to watch as they disappeared into the evergreens along the sidewalk.

Just as I noticed two cars approaching from the opposite direction, two more deer stopped by the other side, waiting to cross.  A doe standing on the curb gingerly placed her hoof down into the road.  She looked carefully in both directions, but she was clearly oblivious to the oncoming vehicles.  She began to cross slowly, as her young, spotted fawn followed close behind, galloping along at a clumsy clip.

Mother and her dotted little one...  absolutely adorable.

Waving my arms, I stepped from the sidewalk towards the side of the road until I was illuminated by the headlights of the oncoming vehicle.  Seeing the silhouette of the two animals, along with my bright yellow windbreaker, the leading vehicle came to an abrupt halt to allow the two deer to finish crossing.  Once they had disappeared safely into the evergreens, I returned to the sidewalk and kept moving.

Um, that's not really our old car,
but...  that might be our old car.
I'd barely been walking for ten minutes, but I was getting the itch to move a bit faster.  I had allotted myself plenty of time to make the trip with over half an hour to spare, but I was still getting slightly impatient, yearning for faster progress.  Of course, I wouldn't have minded running the whole way, but we don't have shower facilities at the office.  If I arrived at my cubicle all sweaty and nasty, I'd have to answer to nine other co-workers with sensitive noses.

     "Oh, what the hell," I said out loud, as I began to jog at a slow clip.

If I'd been wearing my regular running shoes, I probably would have picked up the pace and started sweating almost immediately.  Today I was wearing my new Vibram Five Fingers Bikila barefoot running shoes.  I'd been wearing them everywhere to walk around, but I'd only run in them a handful of times.  They worked in my favor, preventing me from picking up the pace to 'sweating level'.  Instead, I scampered along comfortably, taking short, quick steps, feeling the rock-solid concrete of the sidewalk below the balls of my feet.

When I first started reading about barefoot running, I came across repeated reminders about the importance of contacting the ground with the midsection or ball of the foot, instead of the heel.  When running in heavily-cushioned shoes, it's almost impossible not to land on your heel.  But heel-striking in barefoot shoes can potentially lead to injury almost immediately, without the extra protection of traditional shoes.

Before I bought the Vibrams, I was worried about making the transition from 'heel-strike' to 'mid-foot/ball strike'.  However, once I squeezed them on for my first run, I realized that the design of the shoes automatically corrects your stride.  Without the thick heel padding to get in the way, my stride was shorter, and the balls and midsection of my feet struck the ground naturally.

As an experiment after one of my runs, I had intentionally attempted to heel-strike in the Vibrams, just to see what would happen.  After a few strides, I realized that this was not only awkward, but that I'd probably injure myself if I continued running this way for more than about fifty yards.

I continued jogging along down the street.  I was moving fairly slowly, but I was taking short, quick steps.  It felt great to let go and open up just a bit.  I was actually accomplishing something...  making progress...  I was getting somewhere were I needed to be, and I was doing it without a car.

In the 1960 Olympic Marathon in Rome, Abebe Bikila
of Ethiopia ran the entire race barefoot...  and won.

Believe it or not, this was probably the first time since the days of my childhood that I was running to get somewhere...  to a destination...  and not just for fitness.  I needed to be at the office by 8:30, and dammit, I was going to get there by running.

After rounding a bend, I approached the first intersection of my journey and made a left at the stoplight onto the sidewalk.  I slowed down to a walk, not wanting to let any rogue perspiration get the best of me.  The traffic along the main road was busier.  It wasn't rush hour traffic by any means, but it had definitely picked up since I'd left the house.

I passed a Sunoco station on my left and a Burger King and Tim Horton's on my right.  Gasoline was currently $4.06 per gallon, and there were six cars waiting in line at each of the drive-thrus.  Ten of the twelve drivers in both lines were on their cell phones...  talking or texting.

I felt like an outsider as I observed my fellow members of society in their element...  necks craned forward, heads down, focus narrowed onto their lighted, 2-inch screens that blinked and beeped.  All of these people were probably headed somewhere in their cars, trucks, and minivans, to destinations that they probably needed to reach.  But from my perspective along the sidewalk, they were all completely oblivious to the journey.

Even when I was out for one of my regular runs, I didn't feel this isolated from society.  Aside from its cars and trucks, every neighborhood street and main route has its bikers, recreational runners, dog-walkers, and other miscellaneous pedestrians.  All of these people are players and roles in the system...  all having their place in the machine that we've created.

But a crazy dude in an obnoxiously bright windbreaker, weird shoes with wiggly toes, and an orange backpack, walking and jogging for over 7 miles to get to work?

I have to admit, I wasn't really sure exactly where, or how, I fit in.

But I didn't care.  I absolutely loved it.

I actually felt a bit sorry for the twelve drivers in line, waiting for their watered-down coffee and  lifeless muffins made from Yellow no. 5 and decompressed trans fat.  They had no idea what they were missing.

One of the drivers who wasn't glued to a phone looked to be in his mid-20s.  He was seated in the driver's seat, staring ahead with a stoic expression.  In a few minutes, he'd pull forward to the Tim Horton's take-out window and take his bag of chronic disease from the employee.  I doubted that his sugary, highly-caffeinated breakfast would make him feel any more inspired.

I didn't know the young man, but the message he conveyed in his body language seemed vaguely familiar.

I'd actually been there myself, almost ten years ago.  After graduating from college, my mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and she died just over fifteen months later.  For the next two years, I coasted through the days, weeks, and months as a zombie, miserable and bereft of all life and self-confidence.  I'd stop for coffee and a sugar-laden breakfast bomb at least four out of five weekday mornings on my way to work.

%#cking bastard...
When lunch hour rolled around, I'd struggle into Wegmans and drop over twelve dollars on a premium takeout meal and a large cafe mocha topped with a mountain of whipped cream.  On some days, I'd get a 12-inch Italian sub or two slices of meat-lovers pizza.  On other days, a trip to the $6.99/lb Asian takeout bar would be just the ticket.  If I was feeling really frisky, I'd stroll over to the 'gourmet takeout line' and get a lunch meal that came with a heavily-fried main course, and two 'healthy' sides...  deep-fried potatoes and a mayonnaise salad, perhaps.

My gluttonous lunch would satisfy me for all of three minutes.  Eventually, I'd descend back into the depths of my self-imposed hopelessness for the rest of the afternoon.

Part of me wanted to cross the street, tap on this young man's driver's side window, and let him know that things would eventually get better .  But then, I wasn't exactly sure whether or not he was unhappy in the first place.  Perhaps he was simply embroiled in a fleeting moment of passive reflection between text messages.  Or maybe--


I jerked my head around, startled by the menacing hissing sound.  About fifteen feet ahead, a lone Canadian goose stood guard in the middle of the sidewalk, letting me know that I'd entered its territory.

     "KhhhhhhhhiiisssssssSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHH," it hissed again.

I paused for a moment before inching forward carefully, not wanting to further disturb the agitated bird.  The goose continued to stand its ground, glaring at me with beady, black eyes.  I stepped off the sidewalk and tiptoed along in the grass, hoping to avoid a confrontation.

As I passed it by, the goose craned its neck forward, flattened his head, and began waddling towards me swiftly.


The goose flattened its neck even lower to the ground and picked up the pace.

I jumped back onto the sidewalk and began move along swiftly, wanting to avoid being eaten by the ornery creature.  I turned around for one last look.  After staring me down for a few more moments, the goose retreated down the embankment and plunged into the retaining pond in front of the office park to the left.

Once I was sure that the threat had dissipated, I resumed my journey and headed towards the next intersection.

Traffic was still fairly sparse, so I jogged across the street and turned right down the next road.

To be continued...

Have a great day, ya miserable old bastard!

No comments:

Post a Comment