Day 15 of January Blog a Day: Transportation
Perhaps one of the biggest differences between ‘Sota and Seattle is the way people get from point A to point B. Moving to Smalltown has certainly forced me to make major adjustments to the way I travel, and I’m not just talking about re-learning to drive in the snow.
(Insert me, bragging about my improved cold-weather driving. And we didn’t even end up buying snow tires!)
But back to rural Midwestern transportation. I’m not saying different is bad. I’m just saying it’s…well…different. Allow me to break down a few of the dissimilarities.
1. There’s a serious lack of public transit
While any Seattleite can admit that King County Public Transit isn’t the best in the world (I’m talking to you, Monorail), the city can certainly claim a well-organized system of buses. Scott and I have shared a car for ten years, which meant we would use the bus a handful of times a week while residing in the Emerald City. The bus was cheap, convenient, and a good excuse to sit for forty-five minutes and
read play Angry Birds.
In Smalltown, there is no bus system. I’m pretty sure a light rail is of the question, and most people own multiple cars.
Although our little town does have one surprise up its sleeve.
The Unicorn Rider.
(Alright…so maybe that’s not it’s actual name…but it’s what I like to call it.)
Essentially, the Unicorn Rider is a bus that will pick you up and drive you anywhere you like for only two bucks (five dollars if you need to go more than twenty miles). It’s basically a ridiculously cheap taxi that smells better than an actual taxi. Also? It totally sounds like something LeVar Burton from Reading Rainbow would ride around in.
The best part? According to their website, “small animals may be transported in cages”. Looks like Jolie finally gets to ride on a Unicorn.
2. Everyone drives trucks
Or SUVs. Basically, we get loads of strange looks when Scott and I explain to people that we share an economy-sized Toyota between the two of us. (An economy-sized Toyota that many Washingtonians rolled their eyes at, as it wasn’t a hybrid.)
On a recent trip to visit friends, we were greeted by their five-year-old son when we pulled into the driveway. The first words out of this mouth? “Hey Daddy, why don’t they drive a truck?”
I wasn’t sure such a young boy would understand the concepts of fuel-efficiency or a lower car payment, so I simply smiled and told him that we needed a small car for our small dog.
I think he bought it.
3. Walking is for poor people
I realize this might not be the most politically correct statement, but there’s truly no other way to describe it. In Smalltown, walking to your final destination implies you’re either a convicted criminal, or too broke to afford a vehicle. People still walk here, but it’s walking for exercise or leisure — not walking to run errands or get to an appointment on time.
In Seattle, Scott and I walked everywhere. Walking to the doctor’s office or grocery store was a common occurrence. We walked to the gym, restaurants–even the DMV. Truly, we probably walked more than we drove…with horrendous Seattle traffic and impossible parking, walking usually ended up taking less time.
In Minnesota, I still try to walk as much as I can. Yet I can tell people are watching me with pity…feeling sorry for the down on her luck girl who is forced to traverse to the supermarket on foot while her tiny little dog struggles to keep up.
(Perhaps I should start carrying an empty hat when I walk so people offer me money? I could use a new handbag…)
4. Bike riding is purely for recreation…not actually getting anywhere
This is a lot like the walking thing. Smalltown boasts one of the most beautiful bike trails in the state, and is sort of a hub for recreational cycling. On a warm spring day, the local bike trails are packed to the gills with riders of all ages.
But using your bike to commute? Or run an errand? That’s what cars are for. Heaven forbid you actually ride your bike to get to Wal-Mart or something.
5. People start their cars and then abandon them
When I went to the gym yesterday morning, it was five degrees below zero. Fortunately, we have a garage which meant the inside of our vehicle was a little closer to twelve degrees. Still, it was frigid up in the Toyota. Thank goodness I was clad in my full-length parka and insulated snow boots–I actually felt somewhat toasty.
Until I placed my ungloved hands on the steering wheel, that is.
Our car takes exactly five minutes for the heat to kick in. This meant that the first 300 seconds of my commute were spent steering with the very tips of my pinky fingers, which I’m certain is neither safe nor legal. Still, it was absolutely necessary as gripping the wheel with my palms felt similar to slapping my hand on a hot stove burner. It was literally that cold.
Next time I’ll make sure to bring gloves.
Or I could just start my car and leave it running to warm up like everyone else around here does.
Granted, the vast majority of Minnesota drivers have this fancy thing known as a “remote car starter”. In mild-weathered Washington, such a gadget could be seen as frivolous. But in the midst of my first real Minnesota winter, I can see how many would consider this amenity absolutely vital for surviving an early morning drive.
Still, there’s this unsettling trend of people who don’t own remote starters simply putting their keys in the ignition, starting their car, and leaving it there to warm up while they focus on other tasks.
Aren’t they worried that all of us poor people who have to walk places are going to hop in their vehicle and steal it??
Perhaps my paranoia stems from my South Tacoma upbringing. Growing up, my parent’s cars would get broken into at least once a year. Our wood-panelled station wagon was once taken for a joy ride and found parked at a bowling alley two days later. It got to the point where mom and dad decided to leave the cars unlocked and empty of any valuables so they could at least avoid paying for any more smashed in windows.
Scott is much more comfortable with this generous display of Midwestern trust…but he did grow up in a small town where parking your unlocked ride with the keys in the ignition while going out for dinner was considered normal behavior. Try as I might, my city-girl roots will never allow me to leave our vehicle unlocked in good conscience. Sure, most people here would steal a truck before our modest Toyota, but I’m not taking any chances.
So…gloves it is.
While I do sometimes miss riding the bus or walking to my local Starbucks, getting around in Minnesota certainly has its perks. Traffic? Forget about it. Rush hour? Only down in the cities. Toll bridges and parking fees? Not around here! Plus, we have an abundance of snow plows and salt trucks that keep our roads extremely well-maintained in these winter months.
Dare I say it, I might actually prefer ‘Sota to Seattle in terms of transportation.
Plus…I think we can all admit that a Unicorn rider is cooler than a Monorail any day of the week.
Main photo by Rob Boudon