Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Driving to the mailbox next door

OK, maybe it's not that bad, but I can't deny that I've been driving our new Fit around on the slightest excuse. Yes, I know it's more environmentally sensitive to walk down into Cole Valley to get Benny from school and then catch a 37 bus back home.

Oh, but that car ride is so insidiously ... predictable. Two minutes to get into the car, 10 minutes to drive down and park the car. Once we're back in the car, it's five minutes back to the apartment. Two minutes later, we're walking through the door.

If I walk, it is admittedly a nice 10-minute walk to the school (when it's not raining). Then I get Benny and we walk to the 37 stop. The bus might come in 2 minutes. It might come in 20 minutes. Or 30 minutes. 20-30 minutes is crucial chunk of time when you're on the dinner-homework-bedtime march.

Frankly I'd rather spend it at home than on a bus stop bench telling Benny "No, we are not buying madeleines while we wait. I know you're hungry. Listening to you is making me hungry. What did you do today? Nothing? You sat in total silence for eight hours? Hookay then. No, we are not buying madeleines while we ..." Finally, we lapse into sullen silence and I check my phone for the next bus. 17 minutes.

Whereas if I drive him home and get started doing something else, Benny becomes a fountain of information. He'll follow me around, scattering graham cracker crumbs, and tell me about his kickball games, his teacher and that weird 2nd grade girl who chases him.

If I sound a little guilty and defensive, well, maybe I am. But you can't change people's behavior with abstract expectations. You change people's behavior by offering a better alternative that suits their needs. Or maybe it's the Midwest girl in me; I simply feel more relaxed and comfortable behind the wheel.

For three years City CarShare has suited us well. If anyone asked us about it, we praised it to the skies. But neither Ron nor I fully appreciated how much mental work this system required. Every decision, every errand, had to be parsed out: "When should I reserve the car? Which car can I get? For how long? How much will it cost? Should I cancel the other reservation? Should I make it a Freedom Trip ($50 for 24 hours)?

Then, once you were out and about in the car, you had to make the most of it. Time was money. Yes, this reservation was for grocery shopping, but maybe I should swing by the dry cleaners, too. And take in the vacuum cleaner for repair. And pick up that new book by Robert Reich about how the middle class is doomed.

OK, maybe I'm a little defensive.

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