Monday, September 26, 2005

Thoughts on using Public Transportation

None of us here at the community have a car. When Kate and I moved to Chicago in 1999, the car we had brought with us rapidly developed mechanical problems we could not afford to fix. Had we been living in LA still we probably w,ould have bit the bullet and fixed the problems but here we had the freedom to choose to live without a car and afford other things. So, from our first month here in 1999 Kate and I have used the CTA. We could probably afford to buy a inexpensive car now, but then we'd have less money for other things.
For me though choosing public transportation over purchasing a car is more than an economic decision it is also a spiritual decision. Taking public transportation everywhere you need to go (except in those rare occasions where you may get a ride from someone who has a car) is to be exposed to a wide variety of humanity , not only on the bus or train but on the walk from the bus stop or train stop from ones home or to ones ddestination In contrast the car allows one to side step all that: one can go from the private space of ones home to your destination and never have to encounter the unrelated and pperipheral humanity. While this is convenient and efficient to some extent, it also means when using a car I for the most part only encounter those I choose to encounter. I only need to face the human reality I chose to face. Using public transportation means that as I travel about the city I am forced to encounter all sorts of people I would chose not to encounter and eengage and some of them quite forcibly insist on being engaged. One instance of this is the homeless man Leonard who I have mmentionedhere before. If I had a car and drove everywhere, I would rarely if ever meet him, I wouldn't be forced to work out a relationship with him, or to decide how to deal with his occasional request for money or food. I would be spirituallypoorer. However, it is not simply the homeless I am speaking of, though it is perhaps the most striking in comparison with my life in LA. There were two ways I encountered homeless in LA, on free way exists and at traffic lights where they begging for money, and the places like Santi Monica Promanade or Melrose Ave. I would only occasionaly meet a homeless person and I never had a chance (except if I was part of some ministry to the homeless) to regularly encounter the same homeless person day after day, excpet very imprsonaly with metal and glass between myself and this person. Now of course regularly taking the CTA does not gurantee that you will enage the homeless. In fact the regular encouter could make one cynical and bitter. One could certainly choose to be angry at the homeless people one encounter regularly both on the streets and on the trians. However, my point here is that chosing to take public transprotation rather than chosing the private car forces one to face things about the city and our society, forces one to engage. Now, what one does with this fact is another spiritual decision. I know people who have ridden the CTA for years who are quite bitter and cynical, who either attempt to ignore everyone on the train or bus, that is act as if Public transprotation is a private means of conveyance, or who are quite rude to those who insist on an encouter.
I also will admit that making the transition from car to public transporation was not easy. I'd much rather not have to encounter people everytime I go somewhere. I don't always have the energy for all hte people I meet everytime I go anywhere in the city.
At times the encoutner is pleasant, you end up striking up a conversation and although you don't become friends it made your day or at least the time getting where you were going. Kate I know has made several friends on the train. I am less gregarious, so I have yet to make friends on the train.
Lastly, I think I am more familiar with Chicago and the people that live here than I would be if I had a car and drove everywhere. I know I am more familiar with the human reality of chicago than I was of LA. I believe, that by chosing to be a pulbic person in this way, and choosing to accept the encroachment of my "private" space by strangers that I am more human.
This is not easy, and I will admit that at times having a car looks very inviting. Yet, I also couldn't imagine doing minsitry in Chicago without taking the CTA. If I took a car everywhere I would be much more isolated.

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