Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Furniture Doesn't Move Itself

I've been fiendishly productive since about 4:30 pm yesterday. New things live in my house, such as a broken toaster from the Goodwill (I gambled and lost), a second metal breadbox for hiding earrings from inquisitive cats, a handsome kettle, clean clothes, and groceries. The drawn-out, acquisitive wrangling involved in moving house has become more manageable.

Most purchases come home in my backpack or in my arms, but furniture still sticks it to me with its car dependence. This morning I borrowed a neighbor's car to visit the St. Vincent de Paul outlet store in Lincoln Heights, a somewhat reliable source of used furniture that costs less than $50 per item.

As usual when I get behind the wheel, I was reminded that on the inside of a car, the sound of an accelerating engine doesn't signify ill will toward those outside. You can feel the engine straining, and the faster you accelerate the less it strains, especially if you're driving a finicky old manual car. But when I'm on my bike, I tell you, that sound viscerally disturbs me. I feel like I'm running through a jungle and it is a lion's roar as it pounces on my back.

With some LA party station funk pumping out of the radio, I swung onto the 101 and 110. A few months back I got a ride home from downtown with LA's own bike celebrity, Chicken Leather, and got a different perspective on driving. He had his windows down and talked freely to other road users; there didn't seem to be as much of a separation. That's one thing that I think has to go if we are to create a more humanistic public mobility: driving with the windows up in fine weather. I know it's the dream to be in one's own isolated, climate-controlled, noise-controlled shell, but that's no way to travel at speed through a peopled landscape.

So I left the windows down, but I still found myself driving without paying attention to the speedometer. And of course that insidious frustration with traffic crept in, amplified by my anxiety that people behind me would honk if I didn't cut around things and impeded their own passage through the city.

The car expedition left me more exhausted than running errands on the bus or on my bike. It takes a lot of mental energy to drive. Since I try to do it mindfully now, instead of just relying on the habitus I acquired in ten years of driving (plus 16 years before that of being a passenger in a car-dominated landscape), I think it takes even more energy because I have to guard against glazing over.