Cars – Got the Jimmy Legs


It's the only way to live in cars

Every New Yorker without a car should force themselves to rent a car at least once a year, if only to reiterate the inherent smartness of living the rest of the year without one. Sure there is the initial joy of feeling like you can go anywhere! do anything! You feel possessed of the heady sense of self-determination that no-doubt drove our forefathers to wagon-train into the Great Unknown of the Louisiana Purchase only to settle in what is now Utah. Then you realize that all the assholes who get in your way on the subway are now in front of you, each in their own metal exoskeleton, and each of them with as little clue as to where they're going or how much room they're taking up than on the L train platform.

I just returned a rental car (from Image on Empire Blvd, cheapest Sentras in town!) and despite how useful it has been over the past four days, I am relieved to not have to drive one for the foreseeable future (at least, not in a major metropolitan area). We got the car to drive to Baltimore to surprise Jeannie's mom, who turned 80 recently. We snuck down and stayed at a friend's house for the night, then emerged while the Moms was at what she thought was a casual dinner at her friends' house. The surprise worked (video to follow, I left my camera in Jeannie's purse), and a lovely time was had by all. We got to spend some time with her and I got to see the many faces of Baltimore, something I had wanted to do since Female Trouble. A misreading of the map landed us in West Baltimore, which indeed does have that Wire feeling, although to me it looked a lot like Bushwick in places. Our friend lives in Hampden which is like a flower-filled and silent Williamsburg, with better architecture. In between we saw sweeping mansions and blasted out hovels, historically-significant buildings and an influx of skinny jeans.

The rest of the time we were driving, to Baltimore, to Bel Air, back to Brooklyn. I know Robert Moses didn't invent the superhighway but I still like to curse him every time I'm in traffic. There was a lot of traffic to and from Baltimore, mostly severe jams that lasted hours and seemed to have no cause whatsoever. Also there are like a bazillion tolls between Brooklyn and Baltimore, whose costs were only slightly less annoying than how the constant stopping and paying affected traffic. It's impossible to relax while driving, and relaxing isn't something I'm that good at anyway, so I'm still a bit frazzled from the trip.

One shining light was the fact that Costco is right off the BQE, and we got back into town just in time to duck and grab more cat food and dish soap. Our car was minuscule but it held all the crap we got there, as well as all the crap we bought at the Bel Air Target (I know we have one in Brooklyn but it's always so picked over). The Costco trip was something we needed to do anyway so it was a nice perk to get that out of the way. We dragged the stuff home and thankfully got a decent parking spot in front of the house. Despite the positives, I still can't see how people can live like this every day.

I took the car back in the morning, thinking the trip would be a nice cruise over to Crown Heights, but once again the Impossibly Stupid Drivers of Brooklyn were out in force. It should have taken 20 minutes, tops, to get over there but it took twice as long, due to bad drivers, a plethora of red lights, and perhaps a bit of my own poor driving skills. With the car dropped off, I walked around the corner and got on a 5 train taking me almost directly to my office halfway up Manhattan in less time than it took me to drive a few miles in the car. Now that's transportation.

Where the cabs don't stop

Get out your shovels, originally uploaded by Jimmy Legs.

So we finally got some real snow! I wonder how long it will last this time, the afternoon forecast is for "Wintry Mix" which always makes me think of "Winter Blend," the combo of cauliflower and broccoli sold in the Key Food frozen food section. So it never sounds as bad as it actually is.

This morning I got to take a barometer reading of how Bushwick is affected when Old Man Winter descend upon us. As you know, I've been trapping feral cats and getting them fixed at BARC through a new program. I was planning on bringing in a cat this morning, but had to give up because everybody was using up all the car services.

I've done this before, call up a car service around 8, jam up to BARC to drop off the cat(s), then hop on the L train to go to work. But every single number I called was either busy or giving me that interminable 'hold' recording ("Your call is very important to us"). I did get one answer from a poor soul who seems to have received the phone number of what I'm guessing is a now-defunct livery company ("why people call all the time this number?!')

What I can't figure out is, who's taking these cars? When it snows a lot, isn't mass transit still the preferred mode of travel? The streets weren't too bad, at least there wasn't much traffic when I headed out later, the cat back in its room to wait until tomorrow to go in. But what few cars were out were moving slow; I can't imagine anybody was getting anywhere faster this way.

So who is it taking up all the cars on these days? Is it people taking their kids to school? Somehow that seems to be the only possible justifiable reason, even though that too doesn't make a lot of sense. Don't people know that those cars are needed to cart stray cats around town?

I suppose I could just take the cat on the train, though the prospect of walking with my poorly-designed cat carrier from the Marcy station to BARC is fairly daunting. So maybe I'm just a wimp, but at least I won't annoy people on the train with a yowling space-taking-up box.

If I win the lottery, I'm buying BARC a helicopter just for pet transport.

It ain't a crime to be good to yourself

Last week was rough. We were both sick to varying degrees, and the addition of the new kittens was really weighing heavily. At first we were afraid to let the kittens into the cellar so we closed the door and brought the litter boxes upstairs. This had one major positive effect: after months of sleeping in the basement, Decatur was forced to come up to our bedroom (though she slept in the closet most of the time). But most of the kittens had diarrhea, the litter boxes were beyond gross, and we started thinking that even crazy cat ladies are better prepared than us.

But we got things under control eventually. A pal of mine works for a rescue group and was kind enough to give us some dewormer for the kittens. A better brand of cat litter helped control things in between cleanings (which I now do twice a day, with patrols throughout the day). The kittens have settled in and are all quite happy to be here. Well, all except Monkey.

Monkey, the lone female in a sea of boy kittens, she's still pretty skeptical of her human hosts. She's getting better though and spent a good deal of last evening playing with the other kittens.

Rusty, the orange kitten, has almost totally been tamed. The only thing he doesn't like is being picked up. But hey, a lotta cats don't like being picked up. His two brothers (Baby Bones and Ira) remain standoffish, which bugs me since they're getting really big and I am dubious of the market for full-grown cats who don't like people.

Chester, the Russian Blue kitten, is also super tame. He is darned cute and will be difficult to part with. I wish his sister (Monkey) would come around, as they really should be adopted out together.

Shoehorn, the gray tabby kitten, is also doing very well. He's a bit skittish, but will accept petting and has been sleeping on the couch next to us.

Ira, the darker of the gray tabby brothers, soooo wants to be a housecat. I can see it in his eyes when we're playing with the other kittens. But alas, he has a psychological block he has been unable to overcome that prevents him from allowing us to touch him. Still, he has been pouncing on our toes while we're in bed, so I think his defection is imminent.

Baby Bones, named for his resemblance to Mr Bones, has been the slowest to progress. This is odd since he was the first of Gladys' kitten to come into the house over a month ago. Perhaps he's too self-sufficient, or maybe he's just too smart for us. He knows that eventually I'll put out food for him, and he gets a lot of attention from the other cats. So maybe he thinks there's no reason to make nice with the humans. I'll think of something!

One of these things is not like the other

Cheese!, originally uploaded by Jimmy Legs.

Work is kicking my ass, so all I have today is … more kitten photos. Plus the news that Matt and Leland are adopting the calico kitten! One down, three to go! They wanted an orange cat, but were so charmed by her feminine wiles that they could not resist. They did justify their choice by noting she does have some orange on her, however obscured by the rest of her fur. I'm glad she's staying in the neighborhood at least. We're not sure how Lucy will react when she notices one of the kittens is gone, but I kind of think she won't even notice. To her it mostly means one less pair of jaws clamping down on her tail when she's trying to sleep.

Give me convenience or give me death

Here's a breakdown of car ownership (or actually non-car ownership) in the 4 boros:

Most NYC residents don't own cars. New York City total: 54% (vs. 57% in 1990), The Bronx: 60%, Brooklyn: 54%, Manhattan: 78% (vs. 77% in 1990. Unclear if this is actual decline in car ownership or from rounding the numbers.), Queens: 34%, Staten Island: 20%. [bicycle universe]

I should be heartened by these figures, but I wonder how accurate they are. On the one hand the stats are from 2000, so things are probably different now. Also, lots of people who live here keep their cars registered in other states to save on insurance costs. Then there's this article in the Times that notes how New York is falling behind other more enlightened cities who are shutting parts of town down to car traffic. Not surprisingly, Mayor Bloomberg hasn't been very inspirational for bicyclists. Commenting on one of the many bike/car fatalities of the past year, he advised cyclists to "pay attention."

The article suggests the reason for the increase in problems over the past few years has something to do with the city attracting an increasing number of people who, for the past 50 or so years, normally would opt for the suburbs to roost. As usual, these folks know the melody of the song but get the words wrong. They flock to the Big City, but want to take their suburban accoutrements of convenience with them.

If something is convenient, it seems to nullify all debate. Case in point is the ongoing moral struggle seen in patrons of Fresh Direct. They love getting fancy food and fresh produce delivered to their door, but have serious misgivings about the pollution, congestion and waste produced by the company's trucks and packaging. While I do think FD could probably find better packaging methods, I'm not sure I see a way the company could feasibly maintain their delivery schedules without using those big trucks. It kind of seems like the people who are complaining about them are trying to assuage their own guilt over using the service in the first place.

The Brooklyn Record had a recent post which led to a lot of discussion about ways in which food delivery companies could reduce pollution. I commented that it was important to remember what a luxury it is to have such a service, and how it comes with a price. At that point I was told that FD is a 'necessity' for certain people, mainly because there is no decent grocery store in their neighborhood. This got me to thinking, we live in a city with one of the most extensive mass transportation systems in the world which, despite its problems, provides its citizens with flat-fare access to most of the city. Yet despite this we have a whole bunch of people who apparently live so far off the grid that they must compromise their ecological morals and, regretfully, have to have their avocados brought to their door. Yes, they have to do this because there is no other option; it's not like they could hop on the bus and get the stuff they want.

The unspoken, irreducible element here is convenience. Nobody wants to really use that as a defense but that's what's going on here. It's not like I'm above this, I'm a slob for convenience as much as anyone. I'd probably use Fresh Direct sometimes, if only it came to my neighborhood (it's amazing I haven't starved to death yet). But I wouldn't kid myself as to what I was doing, I'd at least be honest enough with myself to admit I could get pretty much anything I wanted if I just hoofed around the city more.

People will claim they don't have enough time and so simply must use services like FD just to keep it together. I sure hope these aren't the same people who whine about emissions from the trucks. Maybe you need to reorder your priorities more than you need to worry about some fumes and some cardboard boxes.

But like I said, I'm not immune. Lately I would kill for the convenience of a car or big pick-up truck. I have all this stuff I need to get into my house, but have to jump through all these hoops to get it there because I have no vehicle. For the basement soundproofing project, I'm having a bunch of drywall delivered from a local contractor's supply house. The delivery charge alone was $75. Now, I could have rented a $20 a day van from U-Haul for less, (usually it's more like $50 a day when all is said and done). But getting the van is a pain, and driving it is particularly stressful for me. So not only am I paying for not owning a vehicle, I'm paying for the convenience of having it delivered to my door. I admit it.

But if I want some exotic vegetable, I also know I'm gonna walk over to 49th street and go to the fancy grocery store before I go home tonight. It sure is nice we have all these subways to get around.