Sunday, January 25, 2015

Riding The Bus

I can't sit here and tell you that the Lincoln/Howell/KK bus stop is the most attractive bus stop in the world. In fact, the general consensus is that it's actually pretty ugly.

South-facing wall

South-facing wall from a distance (Keith not ugly)

It also doesn't seem to offer much protection from the elements, which is usually the point of a bus stop, but that's an entirely different story. 

The other story is about me taking the bus for the first time since I've lived in Milwaukee. I had planned on taking the bus home from Bay View this morning, which would have required me to wait at this stop on Lincoln and KK. Unfortunately, in my lack of experience taking the bus, I missed it and ended up having to catch it at a stop a little farther north down KK. [In a moment of surprise hilarity, my friend Elisabeth from my last post pulled up while I was waiting and asked me if I needed a ride. I responded that I was "experimenting" with riding the bus and declined the offer. Just as a note, this is a great way to seem like a crazy person, if that is something you are ever interested in doing.]

As someone who owns a car, you might ask why I was choosing to take the bus. Recently, I read a book by Will Allen called The Good Food Revolution in order to gain some knowledge about a piece I plan to do over the summer. I read the book with the intention of learning about the problem with the food system in inner cities, but I ended up getting way more out of it than that. It ignited an old flame I used to have inside of me about leading a sustainable lifestyle. I used to be quite passionate about it, volunteering with the Student Conservation Association and Growing Power, and even devoting my senior project at Lawrence to the topic. But I became slightly apathetic to the movement in the two years after graduating from college due to a lack of security in my life and therefore a lack energy to devote time to less introspective activities. Sure, I biked to work all summer, but that was just a small act of sustainability compared to the many actions I can take to ensure a more sustainable future for the planet. 

In the past week I have done the following:

1. Started to crochet my own grocery bags out of leftover yarn
2. Biked to work (this is something I did all summer but have not been doing in the colder temperatures)
3. Bought a membership to a local co-op grocery store
4. Made sure that the food I bought all came from Wisconsin
5. Started a compost bucket in my apartment
6. Bought a french press coffee maker, the least wasteful form of coffee
7. Learned how to ride the bus

When I say "learned," I mean that in a very literally way. I had to ask my roommate everything from how much it costs to how to figure out when the buses come and where they go and how often and which stop to get off at....etc. I'm a complete novice to buses.

Despite the initial learning curve, once I was on the bus I realized I miss public transportation. Riding in a car by one's self can be a lonely, introverted experience. On the bus you encounter many different types of people, all with the common goal of getting where they need to go. I recall an experience I had in London where I am pretty sure I encountered a primordial dwarf while riding on a lesser-traveled portion of the Underground. [A recent search revealed that there are only about 100 primordial dwarves in the entire world. If the man I encountered was indeed a primordial dwarf that's a pretty remarkable public transportation story!]

With the recent addition of four new bus routes to Milwaukee's public transit system, riding the bus will be an increasingly easier task if this is something I want to continue to do. Which brings me back to the Lincoln/Howell/KK bus stop above. Designed by architect Roman Montoto, the piece was supposed to be an "eco-friendly," focal point/landmark for the Bay View neighborhood. It was funded by the City of Milwaukee along with several individual donors. It cost more than $200,000 in the end, and nobody really likes it all that much. In addition, I am not entirely sure whether or not the proposed solar panels are even functional. They certainly weren't installed very well. The piece overall is kind of a flop.

But I still think it's a flop in the right direction. My least favorite part of the bus riding experience this weekend was doing the actual waiting for the bus. It was cold, and I sat in a boring plastic cube and stared across the street into a women's gym where I watched older women doing barre exercises. A young man came and stood in the stop with me, and we didn't look at each other or say one word to each other. At least the bus stop on Howell and Lincoln can invite some kind of conversation between bus-waiters. Something like...

-"Hey, this bus stop's pretty ugly, don't you think?" 
-"Yeah, I agree. I don't think the city should fund 'art.' What is this bullshit?"

Although this is an imaginary conversation, it's a realistic one. In the end I would rather see this kind of conversation happening rather than no conversation at all, and I would rather that the City of Milwaukee put their money into a public art project, even one that is largely unpopular, rather than not put their money into a public art project. 

If, like me, the rest of the world has some kind of revelation about the way that they have been living, perhaps art can help to ease the process of transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle. When I started to crochet my own grocery bags I at first wondered if it was a waste of time. Then I thought to myself, "Just think of this as an art project for the good of the world." This, in my opinion, is the challenge for artists right now. We have an important task to work alongside gardeners, farmers, researchers, scientists, composters, naturalists, conservationists, etc., etc., to help figure out how humans are going to live in this world in a more sustainable way. Reimagining bus stops is a good step in the right direction. Down with the plastic cubes!

I once had a dream that aliens came to the planet and we had to describe to them the way that we live. When we told them, they responded in complete surprise, "You mean you pour toxins into the water that you have to drink to survive?" "You mean you create plastics that you can only use once and then throw them away?" "You mean you drive around in cars that are harmful to the atmosphere?" They flew back to their home, laughing at us.

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