I’m feeling quite virtuous today.

Of course, you may not be terribly impressed, but I managed to get to the airport today via the red San Diego Trolley and bus. At $2.50 for the trolley and $2.25 for the bus, it meant that I saved about $50 over what it would have cost to take the airport shuttle.

Now, I would feel even more virtuous if it were some kind of sacrifice, but it isn’t really. I learned from my parents (whose belief in public education and public transportation rose to the level of orthodoxy) to seek rich experiences over slick efficiency. My mother, who loves to travel, taught me that the most fun you can have is found in blending in with the locals. Until my father’s recent illness, she traveled globally several times a year, always spending about a month in Paris every year. There, she’d rent a pensione in a residential neighborhood and walk to the local market for her pain quotidien. I think she blamed these habits of frugality on growing up during the Great Depression, but when it dawns on you that the inside of all hotels, taxis, meeting rooms, and fancy restaurants everywhere in the developed world look alike, her choices offer a richer alternative.

As a result, I’ve made it a point to become informed about public transportation everywhere I go. In Brussels, you can get from the airport to city center for less than 3 euros in about 20 minutes. Contrast that with the 10 times more you’d pay for the taxi (and the 45 minutes it can take in the morning) and it’s clear it is no sacrifice. The same is true all over the world.

But what really makes it no sacrifice is the amazing sense of place one gets. On the trolley today, a young latino guy with the shaved head and neck tattoos of a local “social club” got on with his pale, pretty girlfriend, sharing the same secrets of young lovers everywhere. A gaggle of Chaldean (Iraqi) grandmothers were chattering away as they climbed on and never slowed down until they disembarked. A multi-hued crowd of kids grew at every stop until we reached City College where they took their United Nations to school. This is a rich cultural stew and I see the future when I ride public transportation.

Oh, and in the current economic climate, it makes me terribly virtuous, too.

Your virtuous friend,

Doug

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