When I was around 5, my Dad bought me my first bike. I got it for Xmas during a snowy Maryland winter and it travelled with us along the northern route through Wisconsin, North Dakota, Montana, and Washington and then down along the coast through Oregon to Northern California and the sub base on Mare Island. My Dad loved the west and horse country. I grew up in those early years, after my Dad came back from the war, watching him repair or build just about anything we needed. Change the oil, spark plugs, tune the engine, he was on it. Make a breakfast nook out of our garage, we got it. After all, he’d put himself through school to become a doctor. But, and this was really strange when I think back on it, he wasn’t very good at communicating with his kids, me especially. So the day I tore my bike apart to give it a complete cleaning and repair I thought he’d really like it. Instead, he laughed at what he called “the mess I’d made” and didn’t even notice that I put it back together again without his help.
I think about this incident quite often whenever I am faced with working on things mechanical. Over the years since I’ve discovered that instead of being easy with machines like I was on that day I am constantly hesitant. Doesn’t mean I can’t work on bikes, I repair my 25 year old Raleigh all the time. Doesn’t mean I don’t know how machines and, nowadays the computers which run them, work. They’re logical after all. But somehow, my mental machinery and the mechanics of things have gotten all confabulated.
So when I look at the choices available these days for vehicles and the fuels that run them, I have to really step back and think. I could go to Consumer Reports but that just puts me into their subscription cycle. I could go back and re-read Micheal Crichton’s State of Fear but that leads me back to what I know I don’t know.
So here’s what I do know. From 1970 until 1990 or so, I couldn’t drive up to LA without starting an enormous smog-induced headache. In fact, I once applied for a job up in Pasadena and the Principal was touting the golf course across the street as one of the benes. Problem was I couldn’t see the golf course nor the low lying mountains behind it for the smog layer. These days, that layer still exists, but because of the change over to unleaded fuel, the headache aspect is gone. I, also, know that even though I have been riding my bike to work and for transportation around my city since 1970 the only increase I have seen in other bike riders is in the weekend bike groups that suit up and parade up and down the Coast Highway as though they are really doing something for the environment. Most all of them have bike racks for their SUVs. I know, too, that on any freeway I choose to drive that also has a carpool lane, I will see 100 cars with single drivers for every one in my lane.
Lets just say this then. I know enough about the environment to know that science and intelligent planning can make things healthier, safer, and longer lasting. At the same time, I see that most of the people who live in the environment are acting in denial of their share in making things sustainable.