A week late, but then again, last week’s schedule discouraged me. Sick on Monday; drove on Tuesday; rode on Wednesday; drove on Thursday; drove on Friday.
Blame all the driving on the kids’ practices. Sometimes Bobby can leave work early. Last week, he couldn’t. Even when he can, losing hours (read: $) from his job isn’t always the most sensible thing. After all, I’m on salary at the Eye and am done with KSLG in time – if I drive. Weighing Bobby’s paycheck against the cost of gas, comparing the cost of gas to bus fare, figuring out how to get who where….
Point being, this commuting by bus and bike is more indulgent than realistic. The truth is inconvenient all right – I’m inconveniencing everyone else in my family every time I opt out of driving.*
I did ride today: the Fernbridge-Ferndale-CR miles. Shaved another minute off in the morning. Survived the wind in the afternoon. As I careened down the hill toward the Hookton Road exit, the wind blew strong enough to reduce my speed on the speedometer. I felt like a kite about to take flight. When I rode over the Fernbridge, the gusts threatened to blow me over. This riding is much more work than fun. Only the sense of obligation – free bike! free gear! – and the sense of accomplishment at the end keep me going. The ride itself does not offer enough pleasure on its own.
That sounds petulant. I do enjoy riding the bike. I wish I could ride somewhere without fast cars and swaying semi-trucks – somewhere without gravel and potholes. I love getting stronger. Watching my average speed increase, realizing my legs are doing more and hurting less – these things make me happy. Choking on fumes and spending the whole ride tensed for disaster – not so much.
Riding the bus reminds me of how ingrained my own classist thoughts are. Sure, plenty of people on the bus are students and working folk, similar enough on the surface to me – although in a case of real weirdness, I now appear to be better off than I am, what with all my fancy bike gear. But the bus also contains plenty of people that I’m glad I’m not. Fat, dull-eyed, physically or mentally impaired – but the repulsion stems from more than any of those alone. And yes, I say “repulsion” fully concerned about how that might sound to someone who doesn’t know me, doesn’t know that I am a kind person who does her best to be respectful to all people regardless of external appearances. Or so I like to think. But I see this certain type of person, dull-eyed and doughy, whether from lack of imagination, too much TV, too much poverty, not enough time at the beach or river or forests, perhaps simply from being born without a spark – I don’t know. What I do know is, I have this immature and insecure reaction – “I don’t want to be like them. I am not like them.” – and that reaction immediately divides me from them.
And yet, having spent most of my adult life below the poverty line, I am more like them than the successful young couples I often hang around. I know the dingy chairs and institutionalized humiliation of the welfare office. I know the embarrassment of my food stamps coming up short in line – and the panic of having them cut off because I didn’t get the umpteenth copy of the gazillionth form in on time. I spent years serving people like I see on the bus chicken-fried steak and biscuits and gravy, hoping they would tip me enough that I could afford organic oats and tofu for my own family. (And generally, they tipped much better, percentage-wise, than the hoity-toity lawyers and court secretaries I used to wait on elsewhere.)
But I’ve always been hung-up about looking poor – hence my obsessive cleaning habits and complete aversion to clutter. I’m just lucky enough, smart enough (barely), attractive enough (again, barely), that I can pass as a non-loser by our cultural standards. But lump me in with those less fortunate and I panic. Guilt by association. Other people feel that, too – this is an adult version of trying to sit with the right crowd in the junior high cafeteria. Of course, in the movies, the geeks and “losers” always turn out to be the best people. I realize, too, how much I love to read stories about the working class, the welfare class, the blue-collar workers – think Raymond Carver, Richard Russo, Kent Haruf. And yet, sitting on the bus with those same sort of people – and yes, I know people are people and all that – is different.
I mention this not just because I’m examining my own issues, but also because as I imagine encouraging other people to take the bus, I realize the classism factor pervades far beyond my own screwed-up thinking. The American Dream is to “climb up the ladder,” right? We have a hierarchy, depending on one’s wealth. Poor people take the bus; poor people are not “successful”; therefore, riding the bus is a symbol of failure.
These are not my definitive thoughts. I’m still working it out.
*That may be a slight exaggeration, but my family isn’t exactly cheerleading my efforts.