Nearly six months have now passed since we gave up our car. Replacing our car with public transportation has sparked an interesting shift in our reality - the kind that forces one to step out of their comfort zone and approach life with a whole new perspective. We’re both depending on CARTA now more heavily and have become comfortable with the various routes, etc. And with the holidays’ passing it seems everyone has geared into full throttle. We’re right there with the rest of you. For 2008, we’re pretty much in bust your ass mode 24/7, with an ‘ole familiar focus on personal, business and spiritual advancement. All of the regular working folks have now returned to the bus routes we frequent most often during the day as well.
Miss Mary, a poised, sixty-ish, proper Southern black woman, has returned from her Christmas travels and wowed all her lady friends with stories of her children and her Grands in Florida (grandchildren in Southern speak). She confessed she wanted to stay with them and not come home to Charleston - the yearning of a Mother. Glad she decided to return, though, as she would otherwise have been missed. Miss Mary has secretly been labeled “The Bus Mother” by us. With a satisfied understanding she sits in her seasonally coordinated attire, a matching hat always tilted atop her head, watching all that goes on within a ten foot radius assuring an orderly ride. When the bus gets over-crowded Miss Mary will direct young guys first, then older gentlemen, in that exact hierarchy, to evacuate their seats to make them available for women boarding the bus at later stops.
Miss Mary won the affection of the writer the day she infamously asserted her power over the one guy on the bus that actually looked like he wanted to (and could) pop a cap in somebody’s ass. The bus was getting full and two older men were already standing while one younger golden-toothed man ignored the crowd and maintained occupation of his seat. We were at the last major stop and several ladies log-jammed in the entryway after the first of them realized there were no seats left. The seating hierarchy had already been violated and the situation was clearly not to the Bus Mother’s liking. With a newspaper rolled into a long and perfect extension of her forearm, she angled authoritatively in Grand Master CARTA’s direction and said, “go ahead now, and make room!” GMC looked around for a moment, coming to some kind of internal conclusion that leaving his seat was the better of all choices, and quietly assumed a spot among the other men grasping the overhead straps in standing position. The guy looked as if he’d been slapped. Miss Mary thanked him and proceeded to sit there pleasantly smiling until bidding us all goodbye when her stop was reached. We are glad to see the feisty Bus Mother back safely from her far-away journeys. This woman has no idea that there are people out there in the world that stand in awe of her magnificent powers!
With the regular players back on-board, riding CARTA is not much different than any other social activity in which people brought together for any singular purpose become familiars thereby forging a sense of community. In this case, the purpose is that we all happen to ride to and from work and school together.
We here at The Cosmopolitan Charlestonian have been thinking a greater sense of community will inevitably be born as our daily routines shift slowly from an automobile-based society to a public transit society. Many of those around us may not be completely prepared for this type of shift, but there is a very high likelihood it will eventually occur whether we like it or not. Such a shift may have to happen sooner rather than later considering recent interactions on the Straights of Hormuz with the Iranians (enflaming situations in the Middle East), the situation in Pakistan as well as continued missteps in Iraq and Afghanistan. The muddier the water gets in the Middle East, the more risk this country is under of suffering near-term oil shocks, seventies style. Aside from all that, the shear price at the pump is getting to some.
Found at CNU’s site, The Washington Post’s, The End of Sprawl, notes that high gas prices may be behind an emerging trend in middle-class movement toward urban areas supportive of public transit. While focusing on the economic vitality of cities and towns with the ability to move people about without reliance on a single resource, namely oil, they also touch on the social benefits of tweaking the habits to which we have become accustomed via life in cars.
Charleston has a lot already going for it to support a movement toward urbanization as America adjusts to peak oil and any potential future disruptions of Middle Eastern supply. We are a port city with rail lines, shipping access and waterways that may be relied upon to fill niches above and beyond the vital roles of current day shipping. The City could once again be connected to electric rail cars as it has been in the past, providing another option as well. Regardless of high gas, oil shocks or other threats to our current systems, we will not stop moving things. People and goods may just have to be moved around differently. And in the process, we may experience a Renaissance of Community. The trick for us will be in knitting together communities on the outskirts. The Post’s article concludes:
Although the end of sprawl will require painful changes, it will also provide a badly needed opportunity to take stock of the car-dependent, privatized society that has evolved over the past 60 years and to begin imagining different ways of living and governing. We may discover that it's not so bad living closer to work, in transit- and pedestrian-friendly, diverse neighborhoods where we run into friends and neighbors as we walk to the store, school or the office. We may even find that we don't miss our cars and commutes, and the culture they created, nearly as much as we feared we would.
Back to work on Monday, it’s most likely we’ll be reading the paper, a book or chatting with one or two of our new acquaintances. We’ll be trading salutations with Miss Mary and we will not be missing our car.