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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

On Walking, Bikes, and Trains

My kind of transportation. Posted by Picasa

Is it just me or is riding trains really cool? This morning I got up at a civilized hour, had a cup of coffee and a shower, and rode a bike about four miles to the train station in Highland Park. I bought a ticket to Chicago’s Ogilvie Transportation Center ($3.80) and about five minutes later the inbound train pulled up—right on time at 10:34. I love the fact that I used two 19th century modes of transportation for the trip.

Two nights ago I got tagged with the run to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. It wasn’t like I needed another reason to view automobile travel as completely insane. Traffic was rather bad but probably better than usual at that hour. There were two pretty serious accidents cleared off to the side of the toll road with fire trucks and ambulances in attendance. The airport itself presents a fairly intense driving environment, especially when you are trying to answer an unfamiliar cell phone. It’s not that I am incapable of handling these tasks hoisted upon us by modern society, but I would much prefer to sit calmly on a train while looking out the window and typing on my laptop as I am now.

The amount of gadgetry and other highly-developed motor skills that we are expected to master in this day and age is something we all take for granted. It isn’t all piled on us at once; it comes to us in degrees. An answering machine becomes voice mail, a cassette deck becomes a complicated mp3 player, an automobile morphs into a high-tech contraption with an instrument panel that rivals a fighter jet. I have more than my fair share of these wonders but that doesn’t prevent me from wondering if it is all worth it.

I have made a conscious decision to bypass the whole text messaging fad. If it turns out to be more than that I can get onboard at a station further down the track. I didn’t learn how to program a VCR and that didn’t kill me. I know quite a few Americans who have never bothered to learn how to drive a car. I have found that I haven’t been able to live without an automobile completely, at least in the places where I have lived, but that will probably soon change when I get settled into my new home.

Today I am perfectly happy to avoid car travel. This train to Chicago is almost completely full so I guess that a lot of other people are also saying “no” to cars. I think that a lot more people would do the same if they were offered any reasonable alternative to driving. If I were driving now I’d be stressed out in traffic and just generally annoyed. I also would have missed the entertaining antics of the group of children on the train making their first trip into Chicago. I love how kids don’t mind ooohing and aaahing upon seeing the magnificent spectacle of the Chicago skyline—we all do it on the inside. I know that this flies in the face of the American ideal of freedom and independence but driving bugs me. I’m not too crazy about airline travel, either, but that is a necessary evil. Cars are also a necessary evil but I don’t find them as necessary as most people and the less necessary the less evil.

When I get to the end of this train ride I will finish my trip with about a mile walk. Walking, bikes, and trains are still among the best means for personal transportation yet many people rely very little on these methods or not at all.

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