Living With Socialism, 30 Minutes At A Time

It’s been a busy, crazy year at the Berg household.

Not all of it in a good way.  But it’s been one of those things with its upsides.

Due to a variety of issues dating back a few years, I was in a subprime adjustable rate mortgage that I was having a hard time getting out of, last winter.  And when I say “subprime”, I mean Slobodan Milosevic could have gotten a better loan that me, at the time.  It was pretty bad; it started adjusting about a year and a half ago, and by the time it was done it was eating up about 2/3 of my takehome pay (and I make decent, albeit not spectacular, money).  That, along with a few other family crises, made things a wee bit tight around the Berg house.

So along about last Christmas, when my car broke down, I gave it a long, hard think.  My employer pays for my “all you can ride” card on Metro Transit.  My kids’ schools are nearby.  Most of what I needed to do in my life was walking, biking or busing distance away.  The upshot; if I absolutely needed to get by without a car (and all of its attendant bills), I could.

And by that point, I absolutely needed it.  The savings on repairs, car insurance and gas alone, at that point, made it worth it (and this was back when gas was still at or around a mere $3 a gallon).  Not having those bills kept things on the level while I sorted out the rest of the mess.

My “experiment” ended up running about ten months.  I bused to work until mid-april, when I started biking – which I am still doing, although it’s getting more and more difficult as it get colder.  The kids bused to school.  We did a lot of getting around via bus, bike, and good old-fashioned shoe leather. 

And boy, do I have stuff to report!

On the upside:

  • Pants: I fit into pants 2-4 sizes smaller than I did last winter.  My belts are all verging on too big.  Everything I own fits better, unless it fit perfectly before, in which case it’s gotten kinda loose and baggy.  I like that.
  • Money: I can say honestly that I bought not one drop of $4/gallon gas.  That aside, I saved enough to help get the family through what was probably the nastiest financial hurdle I’ve had, except for my stretch of un/underemployment back in 2003.  In some ways it was worse; when you’ve got little to no income, there’s an ineluctible logic to it all; it just makes sense.  You stretch, you scrimp, you do what you have to.  When you’re working hard and making decent money and still feeling broke?  That sucks. 
  • Party: When you take the bus or bike to Keegans (or,  y’know, wherever) and driving a car is not an option, and you’re one of those guys whose tolerance has dropped from 4.5 to 2.5 beers in the past decade, let’s just say it’s one less thing to worry about. 
  • Hah:  Back when I was an adjunct instructor at a MNSCU university, I had the option of paying my “fair share” for collective bargaing or, for $8 more, joining the union.  I joined the union, because most of my liberal, “pro-labor” friends had never been in a union.  I figured this gave me bragging rights.  In the same way, while I see no empirical reason to believe in man-made global warming, I’ve rather enjoyed being able to hector my “liberal” friends and neighbors about their patrician “carbon footprints” and gas-guzzling Priuses.
  • Good:  That’s how I feel, these days.  I feel  better, walking and biking and just being generally more active.  My attitude’s better (and believe me, I’ve needed it to be better).  And sailing past the Capitol, seeing the High Bridge over the Mississippi in the distance, and zipping into the canyon on Saint Peter between Babani’s and Saint Joe’s is a wonderful way to kick off a work day.

Of course, it’s not all hearts and flowers:

  • Expectations: I want to laugh when I see some of the lefties – especially the transit-oriented leftybloggers – yapping about running their lives on transit.  I notice that not a single one of them seems to have kids; children are the big clinker in the “transit-oriented lifestyle”.  If you have to get kids to an after-school event, it’s a major expedition; if you have to take one to urgent care, it’s either miserable (hauling sick kids on the bus is a rotten feeling, although I never had to do it) or expensive (cabs in the Twin Cities are nothing to write home about). 
  • Metro Transit Is A Black Hole of Suck: Although the stats show that the Twin Cities’ metro transit system is less of a money suck than many/most other major cities’ transit setups, it is not ready for prime time.  The part that bugged me the most?  Bus-driver acquaintances tell me that absenteeism is a problem – and when too many drivers call in sick, and they can’t find a replacement in time (which is not at all uncommon), MTC shaves routes.  They’ll skip a bus departure on some of the lower-traffic routes – including the one I use to get home.  I can’t tell the number of times (usually once or twice a month) where I’ve had to wait the extra half hour for the twenty-minute bus ride home, because the bus never comes.  Even the hideously-expensive Ventura Trolley often runs a few minutes late, and if you try to ride it on weekends (as I did on Saturdays for much of this past few months, getting to and from AM1280 on Saturdays when I didn’t have the legs to bike from Fort Snelling all the way down Highway 13), the line is staggeringly likely to be down for maintenance along one part of the route or another, replaced by “55″ buses that make the half-hour train ride from downtown to the mall an hour-long ordeal. 
  • Minnesotans Are Terrible Drivers: Being a bike commuter was a great experience; there is really very little in life better than blasting downhill on Shepard Road or Constitution on a beautiful summer morning; it’s a stunning way to kick off a day.  But you can only enjoy it so much, because so many Minnesota drivers are too busy putting on their makeup, changing their IPod settings, or nodding off to Willie and Jay to pay attention to things like, I dunno, bikers.
  • Tote That Load: One of the reasons I lost so much weight was because I spent so much time hauling loads of groceries home from Rainbow – about a 3/5 mile walk.  Yes, I could have taken the bus, but hauling bags on the bus is a major hassle, and frankly the quiet time was often nice – unless I had to bring a couple of gallons of milk and stuff home.  Then, it just got heavy.  And no matter how much you haul, you still have to go shopping in a couple of days, again.  Which nullifies some of the savings from not paying for gas and such, I thought, muttering to myself as I trudged home more than once.   Much more than once.
  • Government “Services” Demean and Degrade The Consumer: After a few of those missed buses, and bobbled schedules that left me standing for wasted half-hours at one bus stop or another, I found myself adopting the sullen, angry listlessness that PJ O’Rourke observed among anyone who has to sit and bark on command for government “services”, only to be implicitly told “you’ll take what we give you and you’ll like it”.  It’s not the better me.

So this past week or so I got my mortgage squared away.  It left me with a few extra bucks I wasn’t used to.  I fixed the car, bought insurance, and updated my tabs.  For the first time in ten months, I’m driving again.  I kinda like it.   I do not plan on going car-free again.  But then, who plans on these things? And I’ll still be biking (weather permitting) and busing to work, because as long as there’s an option, it’s cheaper, and I just flat-out enjoy it.

It was interesting doing it, and knowing that I can do it.  And with that said, I’m more than ready to relegate it to the “ephemeral anecdote” drawer. 

Really, really ready.

37 thoughts on “Living With Socialism, 30 Minutes At A Time

  1. The light rail line is run quite well. And during special events (Twins, Vikings, Gopher games), then run extra trains that really move the people efficiently.

  2. > After a few of those missed buses, and bobbled schedules that left me standing for wasted half-hours at one bus stop or another, I found myself adopting the sullen, angry listlessness that PJ O’Rourke observed among anyone who has to sit and bark on command for government “services”, only to be implicitly told “you’ll take what we give you and you’ll like it”. It’s not the better me.

    You tell ‘em, Mitch!

    We gave up our vacation car trip in favor of a deregulated private airline.

    Private airlines are always on time and provide perfect customer service.
    /jc

  3. False comparison, Slash.

    And a key difference is that I can buy an airline ticket if I want to: I’m paying 2/3 of the cost of Metro Transit whether I like it or not.

  4. I take both the Minneapolis light rail and the DC Metro, the DC Metro is absolutely fabulous – it handles hundreds of thousands of riders per day for nominal cost, and turns a profit as far as I know.

    MPLS light rail needs more lines to be effective, that said, it’s ridership is far above what they expected, and I expect is entirely self-sufficient – while the bus system isn’t.

    BTW – congrats on your health improvements – wish i was you, and on getting things straightened out in your life. I agree that kids vastly complicate the idea of using public transit, and damned few people I know with kids use public transit exclusively. I used it AFTER I dropped off my kids – OR rather, my wife dropped off the kids.

  5. Congrats on getting out of a nasty trap, Mitch.

    ….and since when are airlines deregulated by any stretch of the imagination, Slash? There are more government employees than private at most airports! (government allocates gates, flights, prevents the pilot from defending his plane…..if this is “deregulation,” I’d hate to see what you call “regulation!”)

  6. Don’t get me wrong – the Ventura Trolley is perfectly useful for what it is. The biggest problem I have with it (besides getting ambushed three times in three months by line shutdowns on the weekend) is that the connection I’d usually take the get the bus to the station gets me to the Mall of America with THREE minutes to spare to catch the bus to AM1280, if it’s exactly on time. If it’s two minutes late, it makes for a hectic transfer. That, and the bus connections back to Saint Paul are…easy-going? There are too many twenty-minute waits for an 84 or 21 bus on Saturdays.

    And yep, Pen, that’s one of the things I’ve also noticed; it helps to have a healthy two-parent family to make transit and kids mix.

    BB: Thanks. It feels dang good.

  7. Peev-

    The DC metro is a nice way to get around, but it is also pretty heavily subsidized:

    “For Fiscal Year 2008, WMATA approved a budget of $2.2 billion, an increase of $116.7 million over FY 2007. Since WMATA only takes in $654 million in revenue from riders, the bulk of budget is paid for by a combination of local, state, and federal funds.”

    Source: http://www.house.gov/hensarling/rsc/doc/pb_022808_dcmetro.doc

    I’m also not sure by what you mean when you say that you expect that the Minneapolis LRT is “self-sufficient.” I believe that fares only pay about half of the annual operating costs.

  8. I take both the Minneapolis light rail and the DC Metro, the DC Metro is absolutely fabulous – it handles hundreds of thousands of riders per day for nominal cost, and turns a profit as far as I know.

    Not the last I heard, although it’s less of a money pit than most IIRC.

    MPLS light rail needs more lines to be effective

    Here’s the part that bugs me – and I’ve talked about this on the show many times with my good friend Erik Hare, “the Transit Geek”. The Twin Cities is building the wrong kinds of rail. The Northstar makes some sense – indeed, North Star and Red Rocks have the *potential* to be revenue neutral. But building the Central Corridor as Light Rail down University is madness; by stopping every mile (roughly) it only replaces one bus, the #50 Express (the #16 will have to continue to provide local service). And yet it’s the 16 that causes the congestion. The Central Corridor should have been a trolley line; if they HAD to have light rail (bigger and faster), it should have used the rail corridor to the north of the Midway.

    that said, it’s ridership is far above what they expected, and I expect is entirely self-sufficient – while the bus system isn’t.

    Actually, fares pay about 1/3 of its operating costs. As startup costs (all $700 million worth) get amortized, that’ll improve, of course, but at the moment the taxpayer funds 2/3 of every ride.

    It could be worse. Seattle’s new light rail costs, if divided up by ticket, come to around $90 a ride (according to Michael Medved, with whom I had a long conversation on the topic).

  9. You should have waited until Obamessiah nationalized our houses, Mitch…would have saved yourself money in the long run.

    Meanwhile, not a day goes by that Peevee doesn’t give lie to the old “that’s the most ignorant thing you’ve ever said” trope as it applies to him.

    “and turns a profit as far as I know.”

    Pffft. There isn’t a light rail line in the country that comes close to even breaking even.

    “MPLS light rail needs more lines to be effective, that said, it’s ridership is far above what they expected, and I expect is entirely self-sufficient – while the bus system isn’t.”

    A) See above

    B) The party of Scrubs never finds it hard to exceed expectations that are set on the fly to accomodate a their lies.

    Those was the most ignorant things you’ve said, Peevee……today.

  10. Yeah, Peev, why should rail be subsidized? Everyone knows highways and bridges pay their own way.

    Oh wait, they don’t. Swiftee’s a shithead.

  11. penigma, these statements:

    “and turns a profit as far as I know.”
    “it’s ridership is far above what they expected”
    “and I expect is entirely self-sufficient”

    tell me more about what you are willing to assume is true, rather than what is true. And judging by what you will assume:

    * people you don’t know are “filled with hate”
    * that you know what “neo-con” means
    * lawyers can’t work outside their specialty

    even a person who doesn’t know the truth can choose wisely by choosing the opposite.

    Isn’t there a betting system based on this premise? ;-)

  12. Everyone knows highways and bridges pay their own way.

    Oh wait, they don’t.

    Clownie grows all of his organic diet in his sustainable neighborhood farm commune. The rest of us appreciate trucks delivring our arugula to the local co op.

  13. That was pertty weak AssClown, you must have cracked open that back-up bottle of Nighttrain, eh?

    Why not just call it a day, settle back in your dumpster and savor it. Probably by Moday you’ll have sobered up a little and can try and resume keeping up with us.

  14. Everyone knows highways and bridges pay their own way.

    Last I checked, they paid their way and then some. It seems most state governments wind up stealing from their gas taxes to do everything from provide alternative transportation projects to general revenue expenses. NJ and CA are prime examples of this.

    Swiftee’s a shithead.

    I can’t verify that statement, but I can verify that you’re full of shit.

  15. Hey, Angryclown doesn’t claim he made such a compelling argument about government subsidizing transportation. But it’s near the end of the day on a Friday, and Angryclown might not have another chance to call you a shithead until Monday.

    Angryclown has no regrets.

  16. Everyone knows highways and bridges pay their own way.

    Oh wait, they don’t.

    True, sort of (most of our economy runs on roads and freight rail, so SOMETHING must be working) and irrelevant.

    Look, I’m not an anti-rail zealot. I merely want rail to make economic sense.

    The streetcar lines that kept the Twin Cities running for decades? They largely supported themselves up until about the 1920′s, when the Cities were dense, urban cores (46th Street was the outskirts of the city into the 1930′s) surrounded by farm fields and small towns.

    Commuter rail – Northstar and Red Rocks – COULD be self-sufficient, provided ridership climbs (not unreasonable) and government economizes on stations and rolling stock (not likely).

  17. Jeezus, take some guesses on stuff – and get pilloried, btw Trojan Man – you proved fully how hate-filled you folks are – to wit, your reply.

    Tell me, Trojan, please tell me how highways and airports aren’t subsidized – you join Shiftee today as a jerk. usually don’t, but apparently today you needed to vent. oh well.

    I was trying, fyi, to simply comiserate with Mitch – Frankly, the idea too many of you righties is miss is that mass transit systems are typically lost leaders initially. Mitch frankly seems to get that, and I agree the timing of LRT in Minneapolis is not well coordinated to the bus schedules, which is D U M B dumb.. it IS coordinated in DC

    As well, even if LRT doesn’t turn a profit, or even the DC metro don’t – DIRECTLY (and as others said – they don’t) – their net benefit on traffic, especially in DC is massive, and probably offsets their own perspective losses in simply work hours saved. Perhaps, wehn you start to lecture, you might want to consider that not everything is purely the myopic empirical point you bring up. That said, I spoke to profits – and obviously I’m incorrect, sue me – or as is obviously the need of you right wing sycophants, have a fuxin party – good god, it’s like the party you threw when I typed NE instead of NW – small minded people do small minded things I guess…. I have no issues admitting, but I didn’t claim to know it either. Mean spirited doesn’t begin to describe the average commentor on this blog – you’ve usually been better than that – but apparently not today. That’s a mark on you, not me. I won’t call you what AC called Shiftee, because you’re better than Shiftee, and you don’t deserve that, but grow up a little, ok?

  18. Peev-

    No hate here. Just wanted to get the facts straight. I never said that I was against subsidizing transit either. We just should be clear about what the real costs are. There’s no such thing as a free ride.

    And you’ll get no argument from me on the screwed up nature of the bus system in the Twin Cities. We get a lot of foreign visitors here for work (sometimes for extended periods of time) and they often don’t have rental cars. Unfortunately, unless they want to go downtown or maybe the MOA they have few transit options for getting around.

  19. Just wait until Jan 20th of next year. Then it will be warm with no wind every day for you to bike, the drivers of cars will be more aware, and the buses and trains will all run on time. Four years from now, we can say, sure things suck, but at least Obama made the trains run on time!

  20. “I won’t call you what AC called Shiftee..”

    Time for my weekly reminder to anonymous moonbat keyboard commando’s.

    When I type out a comment that points out that you (plural and singular) are stinkin’, lying, scumbags always remember that I’m not typing anything I wouldn’t say standing right up in your grill. The truth is eternal and translates well from the written word to oral presentation.

    I don’t hold anonymous moonbat keyboard commando’s to my high standards for personal integrity because A) You’re moonbats; my dog has more honor and B) You’d be crapping teeth for a week if you tried to match my standards.

    Have a nice weekend moonbats….the mockery re-commences Monday at 7:00 am sharp.

  21. Peev, the reason that highways are not subsidized is because the money needed for them is collected from taxes on the users–gas, diesel, registration, and so on.

    We’ve probably said this before to you.

  22. Swiftee seethed: “When I type out a comment that points out that you (plural and singular) are stinkin’, lying, scumbags always remember that I’m not typing anything I wouldn’t say standing right up in your grill.”

    Gee, Swiftee, I guess the fact that you’re a psychopath in person as well as online gives you some kind of pride? Doesn’t alter the fact that you’re a shithead.

  23. Congrats on the health effects, Mitch (I NEED THEM!) and on getting the car back. I’ve taken the bus, I’ve taken the train – but I still drive. Mass transit frankly sucks when its all you have, I know. Even if I do say Alan Shephard’s prayer everytime I get in the car, I still love it and there’s nothing you can do to force me back onto that bus (the train is nice, though). Too many “wait on a dark street corner at 10 below for half an hour” episodes, too many sketchy riding “companions” – liberal as I am, government services should be “last resort”, and I want everyone to have a car and as many choices and toys as possible … PLUS a safety net. Call me greedy.

    I think all of our transit agencies need to take graduate courses in “connecting the dots” – what coordination there is, is frankly laughable. Which is why if you wanted to cross east/west over 35W this summer you either had to go north of Lake Steet or south of 494.

    I thought you had a CD on that house? A bit surprised that you fell into one of those ARMs that reset (what happened? Did you hit a clown with a pie on a website banner ad?). Well, maybe there wasn’t much of a choice at the time.

  24. penigma,

    I really don’t see how my comment demonstrates any hate at all, penigma. Perhaps a little disdain, but hatred? Not at all.

    I am an adult, and I can take all the childish name calling you want to throw my way. And, whether you realize it or not, you do and often.

    You friend and neighbor,
    Troy

  25. Peeve blathered: Frankly, the idea too many of you righties is miss is that mass transit systems are typically lost leaders initially.

    Really? And when does the loss leading ever stop? Seriously, I don’t know of any system but one that hasn’t run a loss since it started. You might have credibility if you could list one that has STOPPED being a loss leader.

    But maybe you really meant lost leaders. It’d be that rare case when you got it right.

    …their net benefit on traffic, especially in DC is massive, and probably offsets their own perspective losses in simply work hours saved.

    You know, I suspect you’re right but I’d ask you to point out some justification for this before I accept it, and preferably not from someone with an economic interest. Whenever I have to go to DC I do public transportation. Dealing with San Fran is similar.

    Still, you can’t beat Tokyo for public transit. Clean, fast, safe, and utterly reliable. If you’re 10 seconds late there, you’ve missed your train. But their transit cops have tactics that would have made the Stasi proud and would never fly in this country.

    Mean spirited doesn’t begin to describe the average commentor on this blog

    What’s that about fingers and pointing? Between you and the clown, the leftie side of this blog makes Leona Helmsley look more like Mother Teresa.

  26. “”joined the union, because most of my liberal, “pro-labor” friends had never been in a union. I figured this gave me bragging rights.”"

    Hmmmm, sounds like the same reason I joined the NRA *grin*

    Congrats Neighbor. I guess that means you won’t be conveniently walking by the garage as often *grin*

    Flash

  27. Congrats on recovering from that alien abduction. Peev says that scars from the anal-probe go away, eventually.

    http://anti-strib.blogspot.com/2008/11/local-blogger-abducted-by-aliens.html

    Next time you have a car issue, you might let some of the MOB members know. I’m sure one of us could have loaned you one or at least kept you going with a beater for a while.

    But hey, it’s gotta be hard to think straight while you’re memorizing the bus schedule in -20 weather.

  28. Thanks, Tracy. But it was a good thing, all in all.

    And actually I was able to memorize the schedule in my home office, which overlooks the bus stop maybe 100 feet from my front door.  And yep, the bus  drops me off essentially at my office’s back door.

    I don’t know if it’d have turned out quite the same if it hadn’t been that convenient.

  29. If I lived and worked in that dense grid of homes, with all of the other sardines I might see the MTC as a viable option. In my younger, less affluent days I was compelled to use the bus for commuting. It helped reinforce my antipathy for buses and those who drive them.
    Embrace the automobile. It is a symbol of freedom.

  30. with all of the other sardines

    I guess I don’t see how I get to work as a key indicator of my identity, values, or worth as a human being.

    Or of anyone else, really.

  31. I’ve thought of a way we could pay off the balance on the Minneapolis LRT: simply get Angryclown and Swiftee together at Keegan’s sometime — and sell the Pay-Per-View rights!

  32. And a key difference is that I can buy an airline ticket if I want to: I’m paying 2/3 of the cost of Metro Transit whether I like it or not.

    Actually, in 2006, 18% of the FAA’s budget came from the taxes paid into the general fund, and historically, the percentage has fluctuated between zero all the way to 100%. Taxpayers also subsidize about 2/3rds of the TSA, whether they fly or not.

    Peev, the reason that highways are not subsidized is because the money needed for them is collected from taxes on the users–gas, diesel, registration, and so on.

    True enough about highways, but gas taxes and vehicle registration fees didn’t build city streets and don’t pay for their maintenance and repair. Property owners pay property taxes and assessments to maintain virtually all the streets Mitch would take to get to work by bike, car or bus.

  33. Pingback: Shot in the Dark » Blog Archive » Northstar-Struck

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