We are only a slightly abnormal NYC city family in that I work in coffee shops in Brooklyn, Scott works in midtown Manhattan, one child goes to school in Brooklyn, and the other goes to school on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. It’s a tiresome but ritualized set of commutes, involving subways, buses, a car, and once in a great while for fun ferries and bikes. We do it every day.
And then Sandy destroyed North Brooklyn’s public transportation and gas shortages cut out the car and car services. We have bikes, and we have feet. And winter is coming.
There is a story that works as a perfect metaphor for transportation disruptions, one I have thought about often as fears of peak and post oil have grown in my mind: “It’s Such a Beautiful Day” by Isaac Asimov. In the not so distant future, everyone gets around by teleporting Doors. Vacations to China can be done in a weekend,; everyone is literally a doorway away. But when they stop working, our hero is stranded and forced to think about what a Door really is, and where people really are.
There’s also the subplot in Hyperion, in which the gates everyone relies on for precisely the same thing get shut down, and people find themselves suddenly halfway across the universe with absolutely no way to reach their loved ones.
Currently there is no easy way for me in North Brooklyn to get to and from Manhattan, or Bedstuy or other points south or west, not with two kids. The hospitals we rely on in case of emergencies are either across the river or south of us. Besides the possibility of danger or emergency, there are work and life disruptions: the hour it takes me to bike my son in to school and back is an hour less that I have to write.
(and today, with winds gusting over the Williamsburg Bridge, it was particularly miserable for the poor kid)
I’m not going to make this a big anti-gas monograph about how our towns, working lives, and society are built around the assumption that everyone can commute between two and fifty miles whenever they want easily every day. That is, unfortunately, just the way things are now and changing that will take some radical philosophical changes and time.
But just stop and think: would you have the job you have, live where you live, keep the rest of your family where they are, if you were reduced to horse-and-wagon speeds?
Our Doors and Gates are temporarily closed, and it makes me think…