5.23.2007

Hostage

One of the many reasons that I loved living in Chicago was that a car was truly a luxury rather than a necessity. I could get anywhere I wanted without having to jump into a vehicle, unless it was public transportation. The buses and trains ran 24/7, 365. I could walk out my door, step to the curb and throw my hand up to signal any of the several taxis passing by. Three large grocery stores were within three blocks, and they delivered. I would walk to the store, choose my food, pay for it, and then tell the cashier where I lived. My groceries arrived within the hour with the eggs not broken.

There were breakfast places for brunch, lunch places, dinner places, bars to drink and watch sports, dance clubs, work out clubs, all within walking distance. And I mean walking distance without breaking sweat or getting leg cramps from over exertion. Since I lived on Lakeshore Drive, I had 22 miles of park, including a golf course right across the street. Wrigley Field was four blocks west. I could open my windows and hear the late Harry Carey sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” during the seventh inning stretch. The only reason I drove was to visit my sister who lived in the burbs. When I needed to fly, which was weekly, I took the train to O’HARE.

All of these memories came flooding back with the news that a gallon of gasoline is $3.49 at my neighborhood gas station today. I no longer live in Chicago. I now live in Cincinnati Ohio, and I'm old enough to remember a gasoline price war between stations in Mt Healthy, where a gallon cost 28-cents. Cincinnati is a city where a car is a must have, even at today's prices.

Urban sprawl is a nice term for it. Usually good restaurants, good theaters and marvelous clubs inhabit the heart of the city. Now, the best places to eat are right across the river, in Kentucky or out in the burbs of West Chester. The purple people bridge is pedestrian friendly, for those wanting to cross the river, but you need a car to get to the bridge. Here, going clubbing usually means driving to Columbus or Indianapolis. As for getting your groceries delivered intact, well good luck. I consider myself lucky if there is a bagger at the checkout.

Since I grew up in Cincinnati, I was well aware of its cultural limitations for the over 25 set of young adults, both gay and straight. If I want to shop, eat or go to the park, I drive. Everyone has a car. Many people have two or three in case one breaks down. Boycotting rising gas prices will not happen here because Cincinnati, like many other former industrial cities of the Midwest, is not people or user friendly. The Midwest is held hostage by the whims of OPEC.

If you don’t have a car, you better have a friend who has one. The wait between buses is about an hour. Getting a bus late at night is pretty impossible. Looking for a taxi? Don’t go to the curb. Dig out your cell phone and call, it’ll be there in about 20 minutes. Elevated trains? Forget about it!

I’ve been looking at Vespas lately as a means of going green. There is a dealership right around the corner. I like the little European scooters. I wouldn’t think twice about buying one, if I still lived in Europe. But here in Cincinnati, I hesitate because I figure the first time I try to ride it, I’ll be run over by somebody in a big ass SUV hurrying to a radio sponsored gasoline sale.
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