A car-free year

Some people trade in their old cars for the latest model. Last year, I donated my 1993 Honda, swapping it for a new car-free way of life.

Fourteen months later, I’m happy to report that stepping out of the driver’s seat suits me.

The best part of being car-free? I see the Twin Cities as bigger and more diverse. Outside the metal and glass bubble of an automobile, I’m less insulated and more connected. I talk and ride with people from more races, ages and classes.

This summer, as I stopped at a red light on my bike, a young African-American skateboarder rode up and started chatting. We commiserated about the lack of a bike path, and the pros and cons of riding on sidewalk. That pleasant commuter conversation between a 20-something black man and a 56-year-old white woman wouldn’t happen if I was driving solo.

Sitting on an East Side bus bench, the woman next to me drinking a midday malt beverage chatted me up. “Baby Girl,” she said, “I like your hat.” We talked a bit and she patted my hand, then leaned in closer, to exchange an air kiss. When her friend arrived, she invited me to join them for a drink. I demurred, and they wandered off.

For years, I’ve dreamed of living in New York. I crave the big city. This year of car-less commuting shows me that the Twin Cities are more urban than I had appreciated.

I’ve ridden crosstown busses packed with people speaking Spanish, Somali, and languages I don’t recognize. I hear what’s on the minds of more Minnesotans, not just what’s on MPR.

Walt Whitman exalted, “I Hear America singing… the strong, melodious sounds.” I hear America on the bus: Other people’s music, singing, chatting, laughing, muttering and fighting. I hear an irate man yell at a young mother to get her stroller out of the bus aisle or he’ll report her. I hear small civilities—the chorus of riders calling in unison alerting the bus driver to stop so some frantic latecomer can board, the passenger who digs for change to pay another rider’s fare. I hear– and am part of– city life.
Continue reading “A car-free year”

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Thank you, Mrs. Larzelere

A belated thank-you to teachers

In the shadow of downtown, as I walked toward an urban park, a Great Blue Heron flew past me. I stopped on the sidewalk overpass, mesmerized. Once again, I had seen a big gray bird, the talisman I’ve looked up to for most of my life.

I thank Mrs. Judy Larzelere for that. Every heron I see carries me back to junior high.

IMG_20170607_101249During a unit of regional New England writers, Mrs. Larzelere assigned our eighth grade American Studies class The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories, by Sarah Orne Jewett. We read bigger names, including Thoreau, yet it’s Jewett’s modest characters that have stayed with me for decades. In “The White Heron,” a 10-page story, I met Sylvia, a shy girl who safeguards a heron’s nest, forgoing a bounty that would have benefited her poor family. Every heron reminds me of that lonely country child and the teacher who introduced us.

In this season of high school graduations, with Pomp and Circumstance wafting through the air, I figure it’s time to say a proper thank you to Mrs. Larzelere and the many the teachers whose lessons I carry.

Teachers teach and sometimes, students learn, yet neither teachers nor students can know which lessons will take hold, shaping lives. Sometimes, the lessons sink in long after the final grades are entered, the graduation robes returned.

It’s been forty-three years since I sat in Mrs. Larzelere’s Haverford Junior High class, reading regional New England writers, stories that seemed a world apart from my suburban Philadelphia life. Yet Mrs. Larzelere and Sylvia made me want to see the herons in this world. Continue reading “Thank you, Mrs. Larzelere”

Guns, violence, and hope

We live with guns and violence and we can live with hope.

I have hope that we can change attitudes about gun violence, just as public health advocates have changed attitudes about smoking. Now we have fewer tobacco deaths. In time, if we change attitudes and laws, we can have fewer gun deaths.

I have hope because groups like Protect Minnesota are working to change attitudes and laws.

I see hope in the dimpled smile of Protect Minnesota’s new director Rev. Nancy Nord Bence. Energetic and upbeat, Nancy knows preventing gun violence isn’t quick work, it’s necessary work. She’s organizing groups of Minnesotans who want to make us safer: The Interfaith Alliance on Gun Safety, Health Care Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, Teachers United for Gun Reform, Minnesotans OUT for Gun Safety, Coalition for Workplace Safety and Responsible Gun Owners of Minnesota.

The more Minnesotans who stand together, with neighbors, friends and colleagues, the more attitudes, and in time, laws, will change.

The first step in changing attitudes is understanding the facts about guns and violence.

The fact is, we have 90 gun deaths a day in America. 90. 90 deaths, every single day. Shooting deaths are so common that it takes an odd detail to make us pay attention. A mother pushing a baby stroller is shot. Her death makes national news, because she is the cousin of someone famous, a basketball star.

We pay attention to mass shootings and a few unusual everyday shootings, but often we hear nothing at all about the most common kind of gun death in America.

The fact is, most gun deaths are suicides. The fact is, suicides account for more than half the gun deaths in America. The fact is,  more than 80 percent of gun deaths in Minnesota.

The numbers are numbing, but please stay with me here.

We live with guns and violence and we can live with hope. We can do something about gun violence. We—meaning me and you and many others. We can do something, together.

ATTEND a September 15th fundraiser for Protect Minnesota at my house.

HEAR The Concert Across America to End Gun Violence. The Minneapolis concert at International Market Square is one of dozens scheduled nationwide for September 25th, a day to hear music and ideas of how to make communities safer. I’m happy to pay $15 for an afternoon of hope. Buy $15 tickets

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Choosing hope after grim news

The news is grim, again. Jacob.

Yesterday’s ugly details of Jacob Wetterling’s death stunned me. My legs felt leaden, my mind numb.

I decided to move ahead, to do what I had planned, marching in honor of Philando Castile, on the two-month anniversary of his death. At first, standing with other protesters outside Saint Paul’s City Hall, carrying a sign, “Liberty and Justice for ALL,” I was too sad to speak. Slowly, hearing the voices and energy of people around me, I found my voice again.

I find hope being with others, doing something. Marching with young people, old people, people of color and people my color, I see hope. I hear hope when we chant a call-and-response, “I-believe-that-we-can-win.” I believe, and have hope.

I remember hope, the thousands of people who marched and prayed, cried and searched in the days and weeks and months and years since Jacob’s abduction, October 22, 1989. I heard hope in Patty Wetterling’s voice many times over the years. Yesterday, her voice breaking, she talked about Jacob’s legacy. “He has taught us how to live, how to love, how to be fair, how to be kind.”

In times of grim news, we can choose to be fair, to be kind, to stand with others, marching, praying, singing. We can choose hope, a legacy of Jacob.

The sound of hope

I hear the sounds of hope in so many kinds of music. I hear hope in the Black Eyed Peas’ latest version of  Where is the Love?

Their music video shows haunting images of refugee children, portraits of people standing alone or together, scenes from the grim headlines.

Where is the Love?” washes over me, wiping away the inky dread that seems to coat the daily news.

White blindness

Books and blogs to learn more about our racial divide

Philando Castile’s death two weeks ago forced me to see how little I knew.

I was blind. White blind. I was ignorant about the racial divides, the racism, where I live. I thought the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Samuel Dubose, and Alton Sterling were tragedies that happened somewhere else. Not here.

Now I know. We are Ferguson and Cleveland and Baltimore and Baton Rouge. We are a place where a cop can fatally shoot a black man because he is black. I don’t want another Philando Castile to die because people like me are white blind.

So here’s what I’m reading and following, to see what I should have known years ago:

A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota, Sun Yung Shin, ed.

Showing Up for Racial Justice Minnesota

Continue reading “White blindness”

Goodbye old green

I gave away my car this morning. The old green machine, which I’d never bothered to name, still ran, but its 23-year-old motor was wearing out. Mechanics warned me the car was dying.

That’ll happen after 214,176 miles. Leo jokes that my mileage almost equals the distance to the moon. The 1993 Honda Accord never did any epic to-the-moon, or even to-the-coast voyages, but it traveled to plenty of Minnesota parks and hauled garage sale treasures and endless trunk loads of mulch.

I donated it Minnesota Public Radio through the Car Talk Vehicle Donation Services. I guess it’ll be recycled for scrap metal.  I’m glad the car can do one last good deed—helping my favorite station. Continue reading “Goodbye old green”