Thursday, July 31, 2008

live and learn.

Well... my first try riding the bus was, well, interesting. Needless to say I won't be posting any pictures because I am trying to forget most of the experience. The best word to describe the whole scenario: awkward. I was really excited yesterday to give the old CARTA a shot, so I woke up early, check the schedule, and trudged the quarter mile to my stop. The day was looking up, because my stop had a bench AND was in the shade. I was rockin out to my i-pod, reading my latest national geographic, and relaxing in my usual earliness. Then enters.... the creepy guy. He is a wiry, middle aged, three toothed Indian man with breath I won't even try to describe. Since I find it almost impossible NOT to talk to strangers I started asking him questions (clearly before I realized that his breath could incapacitate a 300 lb man) . At first I thought the conversation would be short because he kept answering "9:02" to everything I asked (that being the time when the bus was suppose to come). Then he started opening up. The conversation took a turn for the worst when he asked if I was married (note to self, always just say yes) and realized that I was single. When the bus finally came, I let him get on first so that I could put some distance between us, but low and behold, he turns his body completely around to stare at me.... It was so ridiculous that the lady next to me goes "ooooooh girl. you need to watch out for him." I ended up riding the bus all the way to the last stop just so he would have to get off first. Yes, I had to walk about 2 miles with all of my stuff, but at least I was safe from Hubert. Yes, his name was Hubert.

On a more practical note... I did get to ride the bus for free because I am a student- which is awesome. I also realized that the route maps are ridiculously out of date and there are actually twice as many stops as listed- also very cool. Just for you, and well me too, I went through all of this blindly so we could learn a few things. Make sure you are near the sign and the enter through the front door, flash your student/faculty ID, and exit through the back door when you get off. If you need to stop, you should pull the yellow cord hanging by the windows, which will light up the sign at the front which will say "Stop Requested". This does require that you know the general vicinity of the next stop- something that I learned the hard way. You don't want to have to walk a mile and a half, arms full, when it is 101 degrees out side... trust me. If it is a popular stop or you can already see people waiting, this is not necessary. Know which side of the street you need to be on depending on which direction the bus is going and PAY ATTENTION to what the sign says on the front of the bus. A general rule- whatever direction the bus is facing when it stops is the direction that it is headed, which sounds obvious but whatever. There are also express buses that pick up at one central location and drop off at a central location, ie, Citadel Mall to Downtown; if you get on one of these they will not make any stops in between. If you are a bike/bus rider combo, there are two racks at the front of the bus for bikes, but if they are both full, be prepared for the bus to fly past you (unless its at night and they will sometimes let you walk it on). My friend told me that sometimes they will stop and you can find out when one of the other bikers will get off, so you can try and haul ass to their stop and take their place. Since I am a sissy and totally out of shape, I'd sooner ride at my own pace all the way downtown and skip the bus all together. Also, make sure you dress for the weather; be prepared to be rained on, sun-burned, and frozen. At the end of the day, its really nice not having to park, get gas, or in my case, worry about the car breaking down.

All and all, it was a good "learning experience" and I am hoping that my next try will be a little less creepy/awkward/sweaty/frustrating. I am definitely saving tons of money and I am going to have some sweet calves after all the biking/walking. Problems I still haven't worked out: Do I have to buy one of those old lady carts for my groceries? Should I switch vets since I can't take Sadie on the bus? If I am going to a business meeting, should I bring a change of clothes? How much does a taser gun really cost?
Wish me luck.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Maiden Voyage

(if you are just joining me, scroll down to the first post and catch up!)

Up until now, I have been biking on the happy safe place known as the greenway. While I am forever grateful for its existence, it does have one major flaw; it is only in West Ashley (W.A.). Since I have embraced the fact that the college is not in fact located in W.A. (hence the name College of CHARLESTON), I will have to leave the greenway and venture onto the roads if I ever want to attend classes. Luckily, I have a friend that has plenty of experience biking from W.A. to downtown and he was willing to show me the ropes today. So here is Ryan with his sweet road bike-I am definitely jealous. We took off this morning around 10a.m. to avoid commuter traffic and headed down Savannah Hwy. I immediately regretted not wearing a shirt because every third car honked at us and if we were lucky, someone would hang out of passenger seat yelling. What a turn-on! I mean, it is all I can do not to throw myself in front of their car in hopes they will sweep me off my feet. Umm. NO. I was glad, however, that I was sporting my helmet. With cars whipping by at 60mph, it is the least I can be wearing to protect myself. Anyways...It is important to understand that while you were raised with the idea that it is illegal to ride your bike on the sidewalk- it is just not always practical. In many parts of Charleston, the sidewalk=bike lane. This is especially true for out of shape people like me that can barely get up to 10 miles per hour. It is my goal to eventually do all of my riding on the road, the way it should be done, but until then I am only riding in the road downtown. For those of you that also live in West Ashley and are wondering how the hell I am crossing either one of the bridges, here is a play by play. Just get on HWY 61, get on the left side of the sidewalk, and pray to god you don't hit any rocks when you are crossing over the bridge (you will be riding against traffic!). Since the city was generous enough to make the path all of 2 feet wide, you will have to dismount if someone is coming the other direction. If you are feeling saucey and choose to ride over either of the bridges on the road, then be careful crossing the grates- it could be one of the creepiest feelings possible. Mom, if you are reading this, please don't get all freaked out. I am adding a clip of us riding over the bridge, to give you all a feel for it, and yes I was biking while doing it. After you cross over, it's up to you which way you go into downtown.

It's funny, because you would never know unless you are on a bike, but there is an unspoken kinship among bikers. We passed people of all ages and races on a variety of bikes and everyone of them nodded, said hello, or started a conversation. When is the last time you were in your car at a stop light and the person next to you asked you how your day was going? I'm thinking never. Not to mention the fact that you never hear about biker road rage... if anything you are making friends. Plus, you also end up really seeing the city you live in. Not just letting the streets fly by through your window, but being able to hear, see, and smell every block (which can be a good or bad thing depending on the part of town). As for the ride back, well I did that all by myself, just like a big kid (just look at that happy face below)! I road over 7 miles, it really didn't take long at all, and the only fuel I burned was my breakfast. I checked out some of the bus stops on my line when I was biking-so tomorrow I will be tackling that adventure!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Goodbye Car, Hello Bike

So, this is where my adventure begins, with the selling of my car. After years of memories, both good and bad, I realized it was time to say goodbye to "the turtle". There are so many reasons that I decided to take the leap to car-free, some because of money, others because of the environment. The one thing that I knew for sure is that I was tired to dealing with my car. Fixing it, filling it up, and trying to find places to park it. For those of you that have had first hand experience with my little green girl know that she has serious mood swings, attracts stupid drivers, and has a knack for giving up during rush-hour. So when my mechanic gave me the ultimatum to buy a new engine, I knew enough was enough.

Yes, I could keep draining my bank account into this vehicle. But do I have to? NO. I live on the bus-line, next to the greenway, and in walking distance to stores AND bars. Granted, I am a full time graduate student working two jobs, one of which is on John's Island and on any given day, I have to be in three or four different parts of town, but I will just have to work out the details later. Few things in life are easy, this change included, but there would never be a better time than now. So, I cleaned up my car (for the first time in six months) and posted an ad on craigslist. To my complete shock, I sold it six hours later to the first person who called. Clearly I under priced it... but there was no looking back now!

Today was my first day coming outside to an empty driveway. Luckily I had planned ahead for this occasion and bought my friend's mountain bike, although it had not been used in a while. When I first brought it home and took it for a spin, I ended up getting bucked off the bike when the kick stand came loose and then had to walk it home when the back tire popped. If I was going to depend on this thing for my main transportation, it would need some work. So today, I decided to get it ready for action... I needed a lock, tire pump, blinking tail light, basket, and maybe even a bell. I hit the greenway and headed over to the local bike shop where I stocked up on gear. Things I realized at this point: thank god for the greenway, bike accessories are expensive, and guys that bike are attractive ( just another incentive!). On the ride home, I also realized that I am definitely going to be in great shape, someday.

I have never had the illusion that living in today's society without a car is easy but I also know that it is not impossible. You simply have to train yourself to think differently- something that I know will take me a while to adjust to. Until I get everything figured out, I know that I will have to depend on carpooling, the bus, taxis, and rental cars. I am excited to see a new side to this town, especially one that will force me to learn the streets, take in the breeze, and think ahead.

My hope is that my journey will blaze the trail and that you will follow behind me. At the very least, I hope that I can entertain you. :-)