Monday, December 15, 2014

Adventures in transit

Modern apps make transit SO much easier than I remember it being back in the old days of paper schedules and memorized bus routes. 

It's amazing to me that I've ridden buses and trains in lots of cities in the US and Europe, but I've rarely ridden a bus in my home city since I got my first car in late 1997. When I lived in Boston, I was all transit all the time. In the Bay Area, I'd often ride BART and would occasionally ride a bus in San Francisco, since driving there is SO not fun, and parking is the worst! If I was staying in the East Bay I'd either drive, walk, or opt to stay home and avoid traffic completely. In Portland the city traffic is usually reasonable, and parking can always be found if you're patient, so my default (lazy) choice is to drive. Honestly, I remain proud of the fact that the city is driveable - but let's face it, using transit or biking is a big factor in keeping it liveable here!

Thanks to iPhone apps, I've started expanding my horizons beyond borrowing cars and using Car2Go. The most useful is PDX Bus:
As in any good mapping app, I can put in start and end places and times, and it'll tell me what my trip options are. It also checks on the status of the bus and updates the actual vs anticipated arrival time, AND will let me set an alert to make sure I get to the stop on time, or get off at the right place. Finally, it integrates with our transit agency's app, so I can buy tickets and store them there, then access them right from this planner. Genius!

Another terrific app is called RideScout. I tell it where I am and where I want to go, and it calculates how long it will take and what it will cost, depending on how I choose to get there.

So if I want to go from Point A to Point B, it will cost me $2.92 and 12 minutes in my own car, vs $7.61 and 13 minutes if I walk to and use the closest Car2Go, OR I can ride a bike and burn 144 calories in just under a half-hour. (The second Car2Go entry assumes I walk farther, so drive a shorter amount, making it a bit cheaper but requires a longer travel time.) The app also calculates bus routes and costs, and provides great directions for transfers. I can tell it not to include my own car in the calculations, but I think it's instructive to see what it would have cost to do a given route.

For example, looking at the above options, at first it seems like a no-brainer to just drive. BUT when you factor in that it's a round trip, so I'd  have to find and pay for parking, suddenly the car really costs more like 40-50 minutes and almost $6 in gas, and $2-3 in parking. The bus remains about an hour, 1:10, and $5. If it were lighter and warmer out, I would totally hop on my bike to burn some calories before (and after!) I hit happy hour.

I've been without a car for three months now, but I'm clearly still getting in the groove of using alternate transportation options. I'm really glad I didn't rush out and get a new-to-me vehicle, though I'm still certain that will come with the new year!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Thanksgiving is around the corner! I love this holiday, as it's the official beginning (in my mind) to the holiday period, I usually have a couple of days off, and I get to stick around town and be lazy.

This year I'm continuing a tradition of having TG with a couple I've been friends with for quite a while. They do the turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes, and then the other guests bring the rest. This year the guests are me, my sister, and another friend. We are bringing/making:
 I think my sister is also in charge of gravy, and I can't remember if we were ALSO doing Brussels sprouts or not - but for five people, I think we have more than enough food.

I'm hoping to go for a hike in the  morning before coming home and doing tart assembly; we're eating in the early evening so there should be plenty of time for that, weather permitting. I'll have YET ANOTHER friend's car to drive, since she'll be out of town. This is at least the sixth household that has helped me out since I totaled my car in September, for which I am very grateful.

I did spot a super duper cute car on Craigslist, but it sold already (at least, the post is down). I feel a little sad to have missed it (red! two-door!) but I know it would have been silly to try to rush it through. On Friday I have a red-eye to the Dominican Republic where I'm spending a week at an all-inclusive resort with a bunch of my Canadian friends. When I come back I'll have ten days in town before heading East for Christmas (holy crap I have to shop), and then I'll be back before the New Year and THEN I can see what's happening, car-wise. Yep, I plan to obsess about it until then.

Monday, November 10, 2014

More car thoughts

This weekend I borrowed a car (a Mini!) from friends so I could go to the suburbs and get re-certified in scuba. Then I dropped their car at their apartment and wandered through NW Portland and the Pearl District before I hopped in a Car2Go and went home.

I noted a few things:
 - I do like being the person who shows up in a cute car
 - The Mini had great highway handling and good lines of sight
 - The clutch on the Mini was a bit stiffer than the one on my Hyundai; I didn't love that
 - It was great to be able to wander around downtown without caring about where I was heading, as I could see from my app that there were lots of Cars2Go so I was confident I could meander to my heart's content and then easily find a way home.

I'm narrowing down my car wish/want/must have list. It's been helping to think about where I've been, since I've only had three cars in my life.
  1. My first car was my dad's old car that I shipped cross-country for about $1,500, then learned it couldn't pass emissions, so I only had it for a few months before giving it to friends (who lived south of me in a less-emission-strict area). So really, I've only had two cars for any period of time... 
  2. In 1998 I bought a 1985 Honda Accord two-door hatchback for $1,800. That car was totaled twice while I had it - the first time was body damage only, but the second time I was T-boned by a Caddy and the axle snapped, so that was the end of that, in 2005... months before my car was going to turn 21!
  3. Since I was commuting 20 miles each way to a suburb (i.e. had no remotely reasonable transit options), I had to replace my car right away. I got a one-year-old Hyundai Accent two-door hatchback with 15,000 miles on it for $6,300. I kept it for nine years until my little incident a couple of months ago. Fortunately, this time I can take my time shopping.
 I've always been proud that in my entire life I've spent less than $10,000 on car purchases, and I never minded very much when my car wasn't fancy. I DID wish that my last car had air conditioning, so that is pretty high on my list for Next Car. Here's what I've come up with, in descending order of importance:

  1. Low price
  2. Clean title
  3. Manual transmission (I figure there is less to break, and they are usually cheaper)
  4. Low mileage
  5. Reasonably newish vehicle
  6. Air conditioning
  7. Cute factor
  8. Hatchback
  9. Four doors
I'm leaning further and further away from going with a four-door. In my 16 years of cars, it's never been a huge problem that I only have a two-door. I really appreciate all the room that the hatchback model gives me, and I can rent a bigger car if I foresee the need for more passenger space. Yes, ideally I'd have a four-door.. but we'll see how it plays out.

Anyway, I'm not buying just yet. I still want to make this purchase with cash, though I'm not fully clear on the specifics - if I go to a dealer can I just charge it and then pay the bill later? If I buy from a private seller will they wait around for two-three days while I get a check from my out-of-town bank?  I want to leave the vast majority of my six-months-of-living-expenses in the bank untouched, and I don't want to tap my early house payoff fund, and I don't want to tap my fence replacement/new deck money, so I need a bit of time still to save up.

Of course right now it's sunny and dry: It's easy to contemplate forgoing the convenience of a car when the sun is shining!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Too much!

Have you heard the saying "Too much of a good thing is still too much" or have I made it up?

In any case, I'm living that. And, I don't feel like I can really comment on it because it's obnoxious, but here goes: I've been doing WAY too much travel this  year. I love to say YES to every offer I get, and I've been using miles so my flights have cost me very little, but this has been my year:

 - January: work trip to the Bay Area; weekend away with one of my book groups
 - February: 2 weeks in Toronto
 - March: weekend houseguest
 - May: work trip to Detroit, weekend in Toronto; overnight guests 
 - June: two-week trip to Hawaii for (awesome!) family wedding; weekend trip to Ashland
 - July: weekend in Nashville for family reunion;  long camping weekend (of excellent good times!);   houseguest

 - September: week-long bike trip (of awesomeness!), bracketed by houseguests; houseguest and grad school reunion party (of splendor!)
 - October: weekend in San Francisco; 9-day visit to see family in Hawaii;  overnight guests
 - November: weekend in Ashland, bracketed by parents visiting Portland; weekend away with one of my book groups
 - December: weeklong trip out of the country;  East Coast for Christmas with possible day trip to NYC

On top of all that was biking a TON and running a lot; and totaling my car in mid-September. Of the eight weekends left in the year, I'll be home for three.

So, I'm having an awesome time, I'm spending WAY too much on travel (because even if the flights are $100 or less, it costs money to be in other places), and my biggest issue is that it's very hard to enjoy each little piece, because I view it as part of a larger, more-stressful whole.

I solemnly swear I'll be better in 2015. I already have a few things planned (weekend away with friends, between one and three trips to warm places in the spring, trips to Toronto and a family reunion in the fall...), and I foresee a few more (a couple of zero-birthday celebrations, work conference travel), but I'll TRY to do better. Because no one likes a whiner.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Car browsing

This weekend I have a friend's Chevy Aveo on loan. She and her husband are openly scornful of it, but there are lots of them for sale on Craigslist, so I'm glad to borrow it and see what I think for myself. So far I don't know why they don't like it - the radio speakers are kinda crappy, and the engine is a little sluggish, but visibility is good and it's got a billion times more features than my car had!

In a way, I was proud of the minimalism of my car - no clock, no power windows, no power or remote locks, no a/c (okay, that was a bummer). It got great mileage and I could fit my bike in the trunk (when I put the back seat down and popped off the bike's front wheel), and I never worried about it being stolen!

I did always swear that my next car would be a 4-door, so I'm trying to limit myself to those as I browse the internet. I also don't want to have a car payment, and I don't want to spend every cent I have, so I'd like to buy something for under $8,000. BUT I also don't want a ton of miles on my next car. It's unlikely I'll get everything I want (low price, few miles, good quality car, four doors, air conditioning, recent model year) so I have to figure out what's most important and go from there!

At the same time I keep thinking about buying a winter/commuter bike. I visited a bike shop and tried out a couple, but they didn't seem like what I wanted. I think I want a hybrid with disc brakes and a rack... probably I should hit a bike shop this weekend and see what I can buy used.

I'd really rather have some serious couch time, so I may well make it into November without having added to my garage at all!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Seeing the light

Last week I worked remotely from my brother's house in Hawaii. It was so great to spend time with him and my sister-in-law (which is such a funny concept! but she's great so it never feels weird), and it was good to work from there instead of burning vacation time on a place I'd already visited. Plus, that way they could work too, and then we either went out to dinner or cooked at home. Very low-key and nice visit.

Their rental house is high up on a hill with mountains behind them and the ocean in the distance - amazing view! Since I worked 5am-2pm every day (so I could stay on the same time zone as my colleagues), I watched daylight arrive and took pictures when I could.

Best contrast: early in the week picture:

vs later in the week when a hurricane was in the area: 

And most striking:

Now all that rain has followed me home to Oregon. Thank goodness for friends willing to give me a ride or I might not ever get out of the house again. I have a feeling this car-less thing isn't going to outlast the winter!

Fortunately yesterday was nice (and I knew the rain was coming) so I did a bike-errand to the library and grocery store. My backpack weighed over 25 pounds when I was done getting everything (you better believe I weighed it) - that should count as an extra workout!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Car2Go: first thoughts

I've finally used my Car2Go membership - twice! First thoughts: man those cars are TINY. And: I wouldn't want to own one of them, as the transmission is pretty rough when shifting. And: the minutes add up pretty quickly! And: it sure is fun to drive and sing along to the radio.

The way it works is pretty slick - you consult an app to see where the closest car is to your location:
You can even choose your car and reserve it for the next 30 minutes, so it doesn't vanish before you get there. Then you walk up and lay your membership card against a reader in the front window - it must be an rfid chip. The reader indicates it's gotten the information it needs, and you wait while it checks your account. You know you're good when the car unlocks for you!

Then you interact with a touch screen to confirm the car is clean and undamaged; then you remove the key from its slot and insert it in the ignition, and you're ready to go! When you're done with the car you have to wait for some data to upload, confirm you didn't damage the car while you had it, and then exit the car and let the reader in the front window read your card again to conclude the transaction.

It takes a little time for each of the steps, but is reasonably slick and intuitive. Yesterday I used a car to drive a mile to a friend's house - mostly I just wanted to finally try this thing. Today I used a car during my lunch break to drive about 3 miles away from home, and then I ran home (exercise!). That little jaunt cost me $4.51, because traffic was a little slow, so I don't know that I'll make a habit of it. But it was nice to have a different route home than the usual places I've been running, so I like it as a concept.