It's been two years now since that fateful flight from Atlanta. I'm sure we've all been there. You're bored. There's a SkyMall magazine. You flip though it not really intending to buy anything. Some of that stuff sure looks neat though. What caught my eye this time was an electric scooter. Small, quiet, efficient, and cool looking. Further research showed that the Rietti scooter was probably a piece of flotsam, but the seed had been planted. By the end of summer I had acquired a couple of ebikes, sold my car, and started an adventure. I had purchased a lifestyle change from SkyMall magazine -- batteries and shipping not included. I bet American Airlines didn't know they were selling that. It was also one of the last airplane flights I'll ever take. I bet they didn't know they were selling that either.
The idea planted that day that I could not shake was my relationship to the environment. Here I was on a plane trip for no particularly good reason. The next day I was going to climb into my car and drive three miles to my job. It is certainly worthwhile to have a job, but the only reason I used a car to get there was habit and laziness. And that was the heart of it. It was not how I and most other Americans use the planet. It was how I and most other Americans casually waste the planet. We have rigged up everything to be so convenient we no longer have a moment to consider what we consume. What I wanted to change in myself was to become a more thoughtful consumer and by that process attempt as much as possible to minimize neglectful waste. As most good ideas are it was simple and has ramifications way beyond the obvious. Here are some of them.
Giving up the car. This was the biggie. Suddenly any excursion more than a mile or so away requires planning and forethought. I still do most everything I used to do but differently. Because riding after dark in most seasons is not very safe, I am much more likely to meet someone for lunch than for dinner. I patronize local stores and restaurants exclusively. Before I shop I have a very good idea of what I want, how big it is, and how much it weighs. This keeps impulse purchases to a minimum. I am now a compulsive list maker because running back to the store for the thing I forgot is usually not an option. All the services I use on a regular basis, hair cuts, dentist, doctor, and so forth have to be within a few miles of the house or at least on a bus line.
Paper or plastic? Neither. Whenever I buy something now I either carry it in my hands or a bring a bag to put it into. I don't think that disposable plastic bags are going to kill the planet, but they are a fairly revolting and pointless form of waste. Cloth bags not only do the job better, but you don't have to worry about them breaking. Putting greens into a plastic bag is pointless anyway because two days later they are going to be a disgusting, black, slime-wad in your fridge. The canonical advice is to wrap them in a paper towel and put that into a zip-top bag. If the greens are already in a mesh or cloth bag the paper towel is unnecessary. Just pop the whole thing into a reusable, zip-top bag and Bob's you're uncle. One plastic bag and two paper towels saved. Shopping now requires more planning than it did before, but that is exactly the point.
Ban the can I moved all trash and recycling cans away from where I sit. It's a small gesture, but it does give me a chance to think about the things I throw away. As a result I found a bunch of crap that I was throwing away that I should never have had in the first place. Another trick was taught to me by some Japanese visitors we have at my office now. Most bathrooms in Japan don't have paper towels. Folks carry a small cloth towel or handkerchief with them for wiping their hands. I have only their word for this, but I adopted the trick anyway. Towels work so much better than paper for hand drying . Also, if you're a germophobe, you can use it to open the door to the bathroom. Douglas Adams was right. A towel is a pretty gosh darn handy thing to have with you at all times.
Reduce recycling Don't get me wrong recycling is very good. I used to get a warm fuzzy when I filled up the bin with beer and wine bottles every other Monday without really thinking about all the beer and wine I was drinking. Recycling is good, but never cycling in the first place is better. I wonder if I am the first person to climb on the wagon for environmental reasons?
The ultimate relaxing vacation I used to dread vacations. I never have liked flying all that much, and I have grown to loathe airports. Get up at 4:30 am for an hour drive to the airport so I can stand in a security line that is only an hour long, to sit in an airline seat (that used to be comfortable when I was boy-sized) for a few hours (assuming we're not stuck on the tarmac for an additional few hours), to get to another airport and more lines, to get to another car... and I'm frustrated and exhausted all over again just writing this. Not only does this waste a day of precious vacation on either end, but I have to pay a couple of thousand dollars for the privilege. This is what I used to do to relax? I took some time to figure out what I liked most about vacations: no job, no chores, a change of scene, a chance to read a book, exercise, and eating way too much good food that I don't have to cook. How far do I have to go to accomplish this? Well, last weekend it was five miles. A lovely, late-summer bike ride, an excellent couple of meals, and 24 hours with my wife at a local bed and breakfast and no plans more elaborate than a dinner reservation. Best of all I only took off my shoes when I wanted to. Now that's relaxing!
While this list may seem a little extreme and a little random, these are just the things that have popped up in my life over the last couple of years. I'm sure it will change and grow as time goes by. I'm also sure than a different person with a similar philosophy will have a different list. I always have to suppress a smile when friends mention the "sacrifices" I'm making. I have spent more hours actually vacationing and yet I have more vacation hours saved than ever before. I have lost weight and blood pressure and am in generally better health than I have been for the last 20 years. I am spending more time outside, reading, and with my wife than I used to. I also have much more money left over at the end of the month than I used to. This is not sacrifice. It is a gift. It is a gift courtesy of American Airlines and SkyMall magazine.
I want to thank everyone here and at the old vforum for the advice and support to select my ebikes keep them on the road. Without your help an advice this whole project might have died before it got started. Thanks!