Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Car Story

My car tried to commit suicide the other night. Saturday. I was headed up to the West Hills for a party. The noisy, crowded party of a long-time friend. I was alone, since my partner Lindi is permanently excused from attending any event she perceives as torture.

Even the most hard-core cyclist is not seen attempting the West Hills at night in the rain. Too hilly. Car lined streets, poorly lit at night. Few bikes are seen even in the daylight. Even pedestrians have been designed right out of existence. No sidewalks.

A basic requirement for living as a functioning human being in the West Hills is to possess a car. That’s a pretty huge requirement when you consider that it’s possible elsewhere to fully participate in city life with merely a set of legs. Even in the absence of legs, one can make do with a wheelchair. But not in a place with 45 degree hills and no sidewalks.

Do they even have bus service up there? I doubt it. There, I just checked. “There are no TriMet stops within walking distance of where you are going,” said the online trip planner. Probably not enough users to warrant service of any frequency. Why not enough users? Because no one reliant on public transportation would be fool enough to move up there, that’s why.

So what am I saying – that hills should not be populated? No. In Italy you have towns made up of nothing but hills. But have they eliminated sidewalks? No they have not. They’ve built in more of them. You’ll find charming stairways of the most artful stonework snaking up and down the steep hillsides where cars can’t even go. In some towns you can ride the funiculari, the cable-drawn street cars, designed at a slant to accommodate the angle of the hill (a cable car and an elevator got together and had a baby).

But not here. Here it’s “let’s just load all these hills down with ritzy houses, quadruple their real value for the fabulous views, cut costs by leaving out sidewalks, and relegate all these people to 100 % dependence on the automobile.” Make a lot of people happy, at least until the gas for the cars runs out, or until we have an extra-heavy rain year and the hills can’t take it anymore and all these homes go sliding down the slippery slope (as they say) into one big mud puddle at the bottom. "Hey," said the builders. "Why don't we set out to deliberately plan and build, on purpose, a mud slide waiting to happen? –- which, while it’s waiting, is a giant consumer of oil and an upscale prison for people enslaved by their cars. "

Sounds like a good idea to me.

Getting back to my car and its flagging will to live: As I was driving up the steep hill, an impatient driver clung to my tail, some resident who didn’t need to slow down to read the signs like I did. I pulled over to let them pass. My car stalled out. I thought, oh well, I’ll just take this opportunity to give my car a nice drink of oil. It needs that once in a while.

As I emerge from the car I smell the alarming fumes of a parched motor and I wonder if this time I’ve gone too far. I open the hood and smoke billows out. Not thick smoke, though. Thin smoke. The billowing is plentiful but short lived. Not bothering with the dipstick, I pour in a whole bottle of 30-50 –- the extra thick kind, in hopes it will be slower to leak or burn or whatever it’s doing. I can barely see and I dispense with my usual finely honed skill of pouring it all in without spilling a drop outside the hole. Though half a second bottle usually fills it to the H on the dipstick, I pour in a whole second bottle out of fear of imminent car-death and guilt over being a neglectful mother. By the dim reflection of a nearby porch light, I can see that I’ve slopped some of it outside the hole, and I don’t care. My car doesn’t care either.

I head up the hill and the car’s good as new. The next day on the way to another bike-unfriendly destination, more stinkiness. I pull over to check and I find a small plastic bag melting onto the engine. How did that get there?

Anyway, enough about cars. Time to get back to the essential premise of this blog.
Cars: bad. Bikes: good.


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