Knute Berger, aka Mossback, has some fun at my expense in the Seattle Weekly. He calls me a moocher for bumming rides from others on occasion rather than owning a family car.
Knute is entitled to be snarky; in fact, as a Weekly columnist, he’s pretty much obligated.
Still, his column merits a thoughtful response. What should it be? Submit your own draft in comments, and I’ll make sure Knute sees the best ones.
UPDATE: The Stranger and Seattlest have rallied to my defense with a lot of bile, but also some thoughtful points. Also, City Comforts.
UPDATE 2: Even more Stranger commentary here.
At 5:20PM this past Monday, it took me 40 minutes to get from the north end of Queen Anne (8th & McGraw) to 50th & Brooklyn. I was watching the clock intensely because I pay extra for picking my child up after 6pm. I do not call this “shaving time off” of my commute. I would bet real money (the amount wasted from the time & gas spent sitting in traffic) that a bicyclist, via the Burke-Gilman trail, could have beat me to my destination. Though pragmatic in his arguments, Knute doesn’t even touch the issue of time spent in your car not moving. In our complex global society that demands ever more customization & choices, we will need more than cell phones to call this time “productive”.
Fine tooth comb
I found Mossback’s snarky comment that you are a moocher for bumming rides to be ridiculous. Isn’t that what it is all about—using whatever means necessary to reduce your auto use? One must assume that the folks giving you rides were heading the same place or nearby. I think it is called…carpooling.
Carless? No, but my family of four barely uses the one car we have and we couldn’t be happier with the priorities we set that got us here. We paid a premium four years ago to live on the top of Queen Anne hill. Our home is a 30 minute walk to my husband’s job in Fremont, and was a 20 minute bike ride to my job downtown until I quit to stay home and care for our two children (a two year old and a newborn).Our car gathers dust most of the time because our combined walkshed (Fremont + Queen Anne) provides 95% of the goods & services we need – Trader Joes anyone? We chose doctors and schools that are a five minute walk away. Queen Anne has a neighborhood library, pool, shops, restaurants, parks. Yes, one of my favorite bakeries is in a different neighborhood, but I’d rather live without the best pumpkin muffin on the planet than put up with the expense (time and money) of a drive across town. Most of all, life is too short. I no longer have the time or patience for even short trips. Best of all, since the kids and I usually manage to join my husband on his walk to work, all of us look forward to his daily commute. It doesn’t take away from our real life, it is our real life. Our morning walk gives us: a) Stress-free time together. We can’t leave the house until everyone has been fed, diapered and clothed, so once we’ve broken free of the blackhole-like gravitational force that appeared out of nowhere once we became parents, there is really nothing left to worry about. Our morning walk give us: b) A tricycle ride and trip to the playground for our toddlerc) Exercise for our very energetic dogd) Time away from the house that keeps me sanee) Social time with friends and neighbors thanks to chance meetings at the park or along the way.I hate to be smug, but what could be better? We’ve got the perfect life!
Great points all, and great story, Joanna. Wow!Knute is right, I think, to place the fulcrum of his column around time. What fascinates me is how different people assign different values to various uses of time. For me, being out on foot or bike or even bus is (usually) living. Driving is sometimes, too. But more often, it’s what I have to do to get to another instalment of life.Also, as I pointed out in my “Dead Man Walking” post, walking time is added to your lifespan; it’s time you would have spent dead. Now, that doesn’t help you squeeze more things into today. But it’s something to think about, especially when it reminds us to be present to life rather than simply trying to squeeze more things in.I do think Knute is on to something essential, even primal, when he calls me and my family “moochers” for not having a car. That is, Knute he accurately articulates a key norm of our culture: to be a member of society in good standing, you must own a car. My wife and I are finding this social pressure the most interesting lesson of our car-less experiment—so far. In fact, Amy and I have been making notes for a post on this subject exactly. Maybe if I had more time in each day, I could get it written sooner. . .
Rottin in Denmark
I’m a born-and-raised Seattleite currently living in Denmark, where I’ve discovered the joy of biking, walking, and the occasional bus/train ride. I think you’re right, Alan, that biking or walking is ‘living’ in a way that driving simply isn’t. Even though the subway here in Copenhagen might get me into the city 5-10 minutes faster, I would much rather bike. Driving, especially in Seattle, can be a very stressful experience, and it’s great to use a form of transportation that is always pleasant. I never have to turn a corner and find a construction site, or a traffic jam, or anything else beyond my control that’s gonna make me 10 minutes late. Biking or walking feels like I’m actually *doing* something, whereas driving just feels like time subtracted from my life. I think Knute’s editorial perfectly personifies the problem with this debate in America: If you don’t own a car, you’re a loser. It’s a cultural problem. If you showed up for a date, and found out that your dinner-mate had biked for 30 minutes to get there, wouldn’t you be a little weirded out? I think most Americans would be. Seattle is amazingly hostile to bikers, both in its infrastructure (Burke-Gilman notwithstanding) and in the attitudes of drivers who refuse to give bikers room or look in their mirrors before they open their doors. Seattle’s such a NIMBY city, and most people don’t want to accept even the slightest inconvenience (carpooling, a bit longer commute via the bus, pedaling furiously, etc) in the name of sustainability. It would be great if people like Knute could lead the charge on encouraging people to try something outside of their comfort zone and challenging the attitudes that keep bikers and walkers so marginalized. It’s too bad he’s content with just parroting the conventional wisdom.
I, for one, would like to see far more ride-mooching happen around the Northwest—it’s a habit that is greatly underappreciated in our corner of the world. In poorer countries like Ecuador—where I lived in the 1990s—even small towns have a rich, informal, and diverse transportation infrastructure consisting of buses, taxis, pickup trucks, car-sharing, and feet. The idea is that if you have access to a vehicle and it isn’t full, you share the wealth. Towns are walkable by default, and shops and services are on every corner; because the predominance of foot traffic dictates it. Obviously, there are lots of factors at work here: Poor countries have fewer vehicles and the design of cities and transportation fits this need. (Ecuadorians certainly don’t idealize their lack of cars.) Public transportation in such countries is often unregulated and not terribly safe—I don’t know if I’d ride those buses today. But it is a free-market system that seemed to do a decent job of meeting the needs of old and young, disabled and healthy, rich and poor. It’s said that the mark of an effective transit system is that riders don’t need a bus schedule—that was certainly true.More mooching here would reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, car-fatality risk, dependence on foreign oil, and probably help us shed some pounds, to name a few small benefits. “Ridemoochseattle.com” anyone?
I am saddened that the nuance between anti-ownership and anti-car is so lost on most people; it is certainly lost on Knute. People often ask me why I am “anti-car”. I am not anti-car, I just think too MANY of them exist. I enjoy my little jaunts in FlexCar very much.
I called my dad a moocher the other day, which in all honesty, he is. But it is important to note that the mooching he does is getting the little kids rides to places with their friends who are going the same place they are. And, he doesn’t do it all that often. This Mossback character, however, refers to mooching as a horrible thing. In my little world, friends mooch off me, and I mooch off friends all the time. The only people that arn’t allowed to mooch are the people my friends and I don’t like. you know, “those people”. I would definitly say that Mossback is kind of a loser who was only allowed to mooch off very reluctant people. Plus, his status as a columinist in the seattle weekly proves that he isn’t nearly as cool as he’d like to be. I’d rather read the Wall Street Journal anyday.
Alan is being a gentleman, and he also seems to have taken my main point, which is the issue of time. I am not anti-bike, anti-Flexcar, anti-walking, anti-bus or, though you might not believe it if you read some blogs, anti-puppies and kittens. I am a four-day-per-week bus commuter myself. Do I think that’s a lifestyle others should emulate? No, because everyone has their own tough choices to make about how to survive, live well, raise their kids, etc. (see Sightline’s own Clark Williams-Derry’s April 26th post about why he and his family weren’t ready to give up ar commuting). I do think that much of the resistance to making changes in our lives has to do with the way our economy has turned time into a precious commodity, something most of us feel is scarce. As to mooching, I raised that because I think if you’re looking at being “car-less,” or perhaps more accurately on a “car diet,” the free rides should be part of the equation, just as Alan totes up the costs of gas, insurance, cabs, bus fare, and Flexcar use. I’m not sure there is such a thing as a free ride in the context Alan’s experiment. Someone is burning fossil fuel to get family members here and there. Perhaps recognize some percentage of that cost in the ledger. It wouldn’t be a point to raise if the carpooling was reciprocal because with shared driving, the costs would cancel out. I look forward to reading the Durnings’ installment about the pressures and stigmas of not having one’s own car. I think the social aspects of this experiment are the most interesting part.
The other day, as I left work, I realized that I was really looking forward to my hour-long commute home. That might sound odd, and I certainly didn’t feel that way before I began bike-commuting. Getting in a car for a half-hour drive to Bothell from Seattle? A waste of time that made me tense and cranky. Now, I either bus or bike. Busing is better than driving—I can sleep, people-watch, etc.—but the bike commute I actually ENJOY. My commute changes from a way to get from here to there into a time for contemplation and enjoyment of the world around me.Does it take more time than driving? Yes, but I’m still a happier, more relaxed person. Bike-commuting makes it easier for me to keep up with my goal of staying in shape, and increases my sense of place. I don’t feel like I’ve “lost” and extra hour of my life when I commute by bike; I feel like I’ve regained the hour I used to spend commuting by car. Lots of money is being spent on finding ways to fight the epidemics of obesity and depression that are sweeping through the U.S.: commuting by bike and bus can help with both problems.As for mooching, I’d be happy if more of my friends mooched off of me for car time. My husband and I own a truck (like Finish, I’m pro-alternative transportation but not anti-car), but we use it rarely. As Gary and Elisa point out, what Knute calls mooching can be experienced as sharing the wealth, cementing the bonds of friendship and community.
” I am not anti-bike, anti-Flexcar, anti-walking, anti-bus or, though you might not believe it if you read some blogs, anti-puppies and kittens.”Could’ve fooled me, Knute. Actually, I couldn’t quite figure out where you were coming from. Your characterization of “mooching” was rather harsh as the term is definitely one of derison and contempt. And not really accurate as I think it is fairly well-understood that
… fairly well-understood that getting rides (for those without a car) or receiving other on-going favors carries some sort of implcit reciprocal obligation. You are going to do something nice for the other guy at some point. So it’s not mooching. It may not be stated, but the poor old retiree who lives down the road and who you might take to the distant store for groceries once a week, will do his damnedest to do something for you within his capabilities. That’s not mooching at all. And in the case of the Durnings, I can’t imagine that there wouldn’t be something which would come up over the course of the year which would act as a return favor. (I hate to be personalizing this but I guess we are talking about the lives of specific people.)Knute, I’ve read your post over several times—and hey! I’m a “car-guy” and can’t really personally imagine living without one, so I don’t have a dog in this fight—and while I could see that you find the issue compelling, I still couldn’t quite get your take. Is it at base that you are more wistful than anything else?
Sorry to nitpick, Alan, but I prefer to think of my Seattlest post as spleen—the Stranger does bile. That’s our differentiator. Anyway, I think we can all agree we’re following the car-less story with interest.
Gary Durning, I’ll talk to you at home about remembering your manners. ; )Michael, my apologies. I had some of the Stranger blog comments in mind when I chose the word “bile.”Kberger and David Sucher—more later. This mooching/reciprocity theme is ripe for a more-thoughtful treatment. But I’ve got a bus to catch.
I’m one of Seattle’s carless contingent and should admit that sometimes I do feel like moocher. Not very often, because the rides I catch with others are often “on the way” and warmly offered. And I regularly—especially when friends or siblings take me somewhere far away, like my mom’s house on Camano Island or on a hike—pony up gas money and then some. Another carless friend and I recently treated a friend to a meal for her willingness to be the designated driver on all of our excursions.It has crossed my mind from time-to-time, though, that maybe someday I should get my own vehicle and pay some sort of “car-mic” retribution by giving people lifts. I don’t know. Is it an issue of fairness? What would I do if I decided NOT to ask friends for rides? How would I visit Mom? What if none of my friends had cars?In an age marked by dwindling oil supplies, rising energy prices, and the specter of climate change, it’s unfortunate that our communities are designed in such a way that these questions don’t have easy answers.
Hi everybody! I’m Alan’s daughter (i’m in 6th grade)and i just read the article that that man wrote. Knute? well in my opinion, he has a right to say what he wants about my family and my daddy. (although it did hurt my feelings.) it’s just that i don’t think he HAS much of a story from his perspective. (Reading what all of these people have wrote, it seems like they’re all on “The Durnings” side when it comes to “mooching”.) I don’t understand what’s so bad about mooching off of other people. We all do it. We never said we were against riding in cars we just don’t own one. And despite what Knute might think, IT’S NOT THAT BAD! seriously, having no car isn’t that bad. We get along pretty much the same as we did before we didn’t have a car. We aren’t different people because we don’t have a car. Oh well. I have one more thing to say that personally didn’t sit well with me. “Totaled a car” sounds recless and like a stupid teenager crashing down the street. Gary is one of the most careful drivers I know. I don’t think Knute portrayed Gary well at all. How the car was crashed is kind of a long story, but it could have happened to anyone. That is all. “Respect” father, respect.
Clearly, the Durnings’ actions need no further support (especially after Gary and Kathryn’s spirited defenses), but I thought it might enrich the discussion to consider two other reference points that come to mind regarding the behavior that Mossback characterizes as mooching.In the SF Bay Area, commuters self-organized “casual carpooling” stops, where people with space in their cars pick up fellow commuters and give them a ride over the Bay Bridge. The drivers save the toll and get to use the carpool lanes, so there is an instant mutual benefit, even apart from karma points. Eventually, someone (possibly Environmental Defense) set up a casual carpool station in SF, so people could gather by destination to receive offers of rides back to Oakland, Berkeley, etc. Is this mooching? And would Mossback have a quarrel with it?The whole debate reminds me of the situation in Cuba, where drivers (not sure whether only gov’t vehicles or all vehicles) are expected to stop to take on passengers if they have room. Yellow-uniformed attendants flag down passing vehicles, find out where they’re going, and communicate that information to waiting riders. This system arose in the face of an extreme scarcity of fossil fuels (brought on by the abrupt end of Soviet subsidies). It’s something people do when they make it a priority to save fossil fuels.
About 10 years ago, my car was hit by someone and damaged beyond repair. I got some money out of the insurance settlement, but instead of buying another car, I took a break and went without. At the time, I thought I’d do this for a month or two, but it was 18 months before I bought another.I remember this as a time of great liberation and only occasional incovenience. It was when I developed a love for taking the bus and walking everywhere. My girlfriend at the time, however, remembers a lot of “mooching” (using her car for every trip we took together). We’re married now, so I guess it didn’t harm our relationship very much.We have two cars now, and two kids to fill them. The old Honda is showing signs of wear, and in anticipation of its demise, I’m gradually starting to talk with my wife about not replacing it. Since I leave the home to work, this will mean that I won’t ever have a car to take to work, and will undoubtedly cause some additional inconvenenience. I’m o.k. with this, and I hope I can convince my wife.