Friday, June 17, 2011

What a World: Transit’s Zen Lessons Ridiculed

Sometimes you just have to laugh when talk radio turns to rail. Today, for example, the morning show host ridiculed zen.

Actually, it wasn’t exactly zen – just the zen lessons learned from riding transit by blogger Leo Babauta, whose site is one of the top 25 blogs on the Internet, according to Time Magazine.

Star-Advertiser reporter Gene Park’s column today features Babauta’s June 10th post, Lessons We’re learning Riding Mass Transit. Babauta’s family has been walking and riding transit almost exclusively for a year in San Francisco -- “…one of the best things ever for us,” he said.

He wrote about the seven zen lessons he’s learned from riding transit, including how to wait, how to live sustainabiy, how transit can be more convenient than cars and how to deal with humanity. Regarding the humanity lessons, Babauta said:

“We’re often shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers, which is something you never experience with a car. We deal with smells, with annoying people, with those who talk loudly, with the mentally challenged, with plain crazy people. In other words, with people. And this is a great thing. We learn that we come in all shapes and sizes, that life isn’t perfect picket fences you see on TV, that the world is real … and that’s OK. We’re learning to celebrate differences.”

“That’s a Virtue?”

Talk radio is probably society's least likely place to stumble across zen-like lessons, so it wasn’t surprising this morning’s host ridiculed Babauta’s column. Here’s a close paraphrase:

It’s interesting that the most ardent supporters of transit really have to really go deep to justify their views. Riding the bus teaches you about humanity? There’s some humanity I don’t want to be around in the morning. That’s a virtue? That’s a virtuous argument? If you ride the bus you can be next to a guy who hasn’t bathed in seven days. Well, there you go…. He also embraces other transit riders, including the smells. Embraces the smells…(laughs)…with annoying people, those who talk loudly, the crazy people… He says cars have disconnected people from each other, from community, from nature…(laughs).

Babauta's zen lesson that transit can be more convenient than cars also didn’t sit well with the radio host.

"Sure, it’s nice to be able to hop in your car and go somewhere quickly, no matter the weather. That’s convenient. But there are inconveniences with cars that we forget about: the frustrations of parking…, traffic jams, rude drivers, car accidents, flat tires, car maintenance, having to stop for gas, having to actually drive instead of relaxing on the trip…. I’m not judging cars, but all of that, if you think about it, makes riding on a bus or train actually seem nice."

The talk show host wasn’t buying it:

Automobiles are the source of the expansion, one of the great revelations of our tech society, that has advanced our society. I know you get caught at the H-1/H-2 merge, but that’s not the fault of the cars. That’s the fault of the engineers who should have designed a way around it…. (Rail) is all about going from point A to point B. I bet they have to take a shuttle to the rail stop or take the bus. They get on, then get off, then go straight home. There’s nothing here about picking kids up at school, going shopping….. I don’t disagree that for those who can’t afford a car transit is a lifeline, but this blogger veers away from reality. It isn’t necessary to free us from the automobile to solve society’s problems.

We won’t belabor the point made frequently here at Yes2Rail that rail isn’t for everybody, especially those who want to/need to make three or four stops after work for laundry, groceries and their kids' soccer practice. But rail indeed can provide congestion-free commuting between points A and B here on Oahu, just as it does for millions of commuters in cities all over the world.

We’ve bookmarked Babauta’s website and will be a regular visitor, and we’ll continue to listen to talk radio, too. After all, Sun Tzu was incorporating zen principles when he wrote his famous tract about understanding who you're up against.

1 comment:

sumwonyuno said...

What is reality? It's not your own experience, but society's collective + what we cannot yet comprehend.

There are actually people out here that do all their family errands by bus, while caring for kids at the same time. Just because someone can't imagine doing it themselves doesn't mean there's no one out in that position. They're those faceless people waiting at the bus stop while the privileged ride around in their own cars.

The car-centric rhetoric sounds good, but it's not the only understanding out there. Cars, highways, and suburbs are results of our technological society, not the drivers. Yes, it has changed habits and has economic benefits. But we are chained down by the limitations of this 1950's ideal.

Is it just supply not meeting demand, or is it insistence of an unsustainable path?