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Commuting in 2012

English: Bus 2909 of TriMet, the public transi...
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You may recall I’ve had a varied commute in all the years I’ve lived here, in Portland. 2012 marks the start of the 9th year I’ve lived here. Nine years. It’s a little surprising that I am working towards being here for an entire decade. While I was still living in Michigan, I was able to finally figure out my purpose, if you will. I wanted to educate people on the importance of a sustainable society. Once I got, here, to Portland, I began studying Sustainable Urban Development and living out my green dreams to the best of my ability.

I partook in regular bus commutes. I refused to own a car. I toyed with riding my bicycle. I bought organic foods and preached to others the importance of doing so. I bought recycled toilet paper. I ate more beans than meat. When I moved closer to work, I walked to work forgoing all fossil fuel options and using my own two feet instead.

Then, life changed. I got a curve ball. I got pregnant and married while still in school. What a humbling experience this has been! I used to eat arugula salads all the time, but then I found myself married to someone who’s taste buds hadn’t been acclimated to the slightly bitter green. Then, we found ourselves with a huge budget crunch: no income while taking care of a baby! Organic dreams went by the wayside. Always lurking in the background, but not something we could act on when we had $300 to spend, per month, on our total grocery bill (including the WIC and SNAP benefits allotted).

At the same time, I got the best bus pass – ever. It was good for five years and was an all-zone pass. That’s right, I got the benefit of being the partner of a TriMet employee. While I got the best bus pass, ever, I stopped commuting! My husband drove me to and from school on the days I went. Then, I finished school and I stopped needing to go places save once a week or so. Then, instead of taking the bus, driving, or walking – I found myself driving an SUV!

Next, life changed again, and I got employed. The only problem was that I didn’t look close enough at the job description and the job was twenty miles away. I was looking at a 45 minute commute by car or a 90 minute commute by bus. I had to factor in day care, so commuting by car became my new norm.

Well, the beginning of this year has proven another change. The office moved downtown. Downtown! My commute decreased by 15 miles! Challenges remain, especially in regards to picking up Levi. However, I took the one bus to work. I walked. Walked! I listened to NPR, sent emails, checked my schedule — all while on the bus.

The ride home was a little more stressful as the bus was running late. I might benefit from changing my schedule a half hour on the start and end time to allow more flexibility with picking up Levi. We made it home though, not without complaint. And, my feet just aren’t used to walking fast anymore, so they need to be retrained. Tomorrow, I will try a park and ride option. This means, I will bus to work then home, and then pick up the truck and get Levi.

Commuting in 2012 will mean a driver’s license renewal. It will mean an all-zone, five-year bus pass renewal. It might mean Levi gets his own bus pass. (I can’t remember the age kids are supposed to have their own tickets.) Yes, 2012 will have changes in commuting. Here’s to less driving and more bus riding.

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My Understanding of Benefits

Getting ready for bed
Levi wearing luxuries we appreciate: pajamas, robe, hat. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

July 21, 2010 – Contemplating Benefits

Growing up, my parents were either in a family business or working retail/food service. The benefits we had were minuscule, as in vacation time, bonuses for work, medical. We never had prescription benefits, for example. This was a little trouble as I got strep A a lot in 6th & 7th grade. Being that I’m not a creator by nature (I have to work really hard to produce and get over many mental blocks to earn money on production), getting a job with benefits has always been a milestone. It was a very important milestone when my husband and I brought our little son into the world.

When Levi was two months old, my husband lost his job as a bike mechanic. The benefits had barely kicked in. We could only afford the “benefits” for him as the family plan would have taken $700/month of his salary of $1400. I brought in about $900/month and we struggled to make sure our living expenses were under $2500.

January 15, 2011 – What Benefits Mean Today

I began this post almost 6 months ago, when TriMet‘s talks of changing employee benefits was a little more than rumor. The day Peter got the job offer for TriMet (July 19, 2007) we were overjoyed. We found out that a month after his start date, the benefits would kick in. What did that mean for us?

  • I would be able to visit a chiropractor. The last visit I had was in 2005. Since then I had been pregnant, had a child, and then of course every-day-running arounds that make an adjustment helpful.
  • We would be able to find a new doctor for Levi. His pediatrician (Family Doctor) at the time, didn’t seem to think that Levi being born in the 90th percentile with a then current weight in the 3rd percentile was cause for concern.
  • We would have enough money and wouldn’t need to rely on food stamps.
  • WIC wouldn’t go away.

So, the benefits and salary where what really helped.

January 18, 2011 – Entitlements

Lots of people argue about benefits in a way that suggests they are entitlements. FDR proposed an extended “Bill of Rights” during his tenure that described health care as one of our inalienable rights, as humans. I think, though, we get caught up in want vs. need vs. what we can do as a society.

Benefits are not something we are entitled.

Benefits help defray health costs.

Benefits in such a rich society, as a concept, are laughable that they are argued so much and divided between the haves and have nots.

Needs. What are needs? What do we need as humans? We need air to breath and some nourishment to sustain the 1500 kilo-Calories our body needs for basic functions. Beyond that, everything is a luxury. Seasoned meat, beans, rice, food diet varieties, shelter, clothing, family to ease our pain and share our enjoyment: all luxuries. Going to the doctor, enabling our children to go to the doctor, fixing wounds with band-aids, getting our Grave’s Disease properly diagnosed. All luxuries.

These are all luxuries I’ve grown quite dependent. Luxuries I don’t want to see disappear. Luxuries that are common sense luxuries when we have collective means. Luxuries that should be no-brainers when considering the least amongst us.

Who gets the work done? The idealogical person on top with the ideas or the man on the bottom pushing the broom? Answer: both. Without both, it’d be hard to get anything done. The bum on the plush cannot exist without the bum on the log. It’s time we started paying more attention to the bum on the log.

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My Commute (in 2005)

I wrote this in 2005 for the Portland Transport blog for the “My Commute” series.

I moved to Portland nearly two years ago. The trip across country took our trusty van as a sacrifice for making the distance in Missoula, so my ex and I arrived without motor powered wheels. Since I wasn’t willing to drive the beast we named Bert, this was not a concern. Especially given the fact that Portland’s transportation system is leaps and bounds beyond Michigan’s, another one of those places where you must have a car to get around.

I have lived in Southeast, Southwest, and now North Portland. All places have given me different aspects of commuting to work (next to Willamette Park) and other areas of interest, whether it be a party in Gresham, school at PSU, or seeing a friend’s band (Port Authority) play at Kelly’s or Porky’s.

I have most of my frequently used stop IDs memorized (1152, 11812, 3619, 4466). Recent living without internet has familiarized me even more with 503-238-RIDE (7433); press one to pick your bus stop. Navigating Tri-Met’s website is old hat.

Living in Southeast and now North Portland has brought me back to transferring, which I prefer not to do. Living in Southwest was less than one mile to work, so I walked every day, generally on Macadam. I am elated to learn of Metro’s desire to study the travel from Lake Oswego to Portland, since Macadam is smelly, noisy, and not pedestrian friendly.

I took the bus to school after the 8-5 quota is over, and generally the bus home, although riding my bike was about the same amount of time as waiting for and then riding the bus (10-20 minutes). Work pays for my bus pass currently because it is school related. But, this too comes at a discount (summer all zone for 2 ½ months was $75).

I haven’t ridden my bike much this summer, but it is another form of transportation I use. I love the exhilarating rush I get when speeding down a hill at 25 or 27 mph, the wind in my face, and the fact that I created that rush with my feet, the pedals, and the bike I partially maintained myself.

Flex Car fills in when I need to be somewhere very soon or a planned event: moving across town, last minute trips the ocean, dinner with a friend who is going to where I came from; emergency Vet visits to Dove Lewis; grocery shopping when carrying laundry detergent, food items, and TP just doesn’t quite work on the bus. Flex Car spending ranges from $0 to $200 a month, since my uses for it have varied incredibly – but do not forget that covers maintenance, gas, insurance, and the car’s depreciation.

Although the commute is now back to around an hour (50 minutes is the best bet, but I get to work at 7:15 instead of 8), I wouldn’t trade it for waiting in rush hour traffic. You can’t read a book while waiting for the stop and go to cease. You can’t let your mind wander at a red light that’s about to turn green. You can’t ponder effectively the days upcoming events while paying attention to other cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists.

The more I slow down my transportation, the more I notice which new store is coming up, which one left, the garter snake scurrying out of my way, and the many slugs Portland has to offer and other bugs you must step around. Don’t forget the beautiful flowers I now have time to stop and smell. I step outside of my reclusive box everyday to familiarize myself with strangers on public transit with all of its glory – the smiling bus drivers to that odd urine smell. I won’t trade that for rush hour and an air conditioned cage.

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