The latest sign that I am a neophyte in Platteville came Monday evening.
I had the flash of inspiration to walk, instead of drive, to Platteville Middle School for Monday’s School Board meeting.
As you read in this space of your favorite weekly newspaper in the past month, I walk to be able to think. I also walk as pretty much the only form of exercise I can manage without injuring myself or exposing my total absence of athletic ability. (Except for the time I fell off the side of a road, that is.)
I discovered pretty quickly that walking is really good exercise in Platteville, thanks to the city’s dominant geographic feature — hills. (If Coach W.P. Hill, for whom Platteville High School’s “Hillmen” are named, hadn’t had that last name, the nickname would have stuck anyway.) Given the dominance of two forms of non-exercise in my typical day — sitting in front of a computer and driving — and the fact that once you leave your downtown parking space you may not get it back, I’ve resolved to walk where possible, including to Common Council meetings, interviews at UW–Platteville, where downtown parking is and is not permitted, and the natural gas leak down the street.
So on Monday, I looked at the city map on the wall, saw that the distance from East Main Street to Madison Street looked like several blocks, and left at 7 p.m. That left me 20 minutes to kill when I arrived at the meeting at 7:10 p.m., before any school board member. That, I guess, makes up for the day I followed St. Mary’s School students on their last day, walking from the office to the old school, then to Smith Park, which I was told was just a few blocks away. I wish I’d had a pedometer for the walking I did that day, except that on the few occasions I’ve had a pedometer, it’s never lasted more than a couple weeks before my aforementioned lack of coordination brings to an end the useful life of the pedometer.
Walking also may be a better way to get to various places in or near Water Street this summer or fall, as long as you don’t fall into the construction area. (Which, as previously noted, is a possibility, at least with me.) It’s also a great way to observe nature, even as simple as observing the first fireflies of the summer, or how late the sun is now setting.
Walking is great when you can walk. There remain, however, instances when you must drive. (I wrote this before Tuesday’s Belmont Brass and Brats Music Festival, but I guarantee you I did not walk from downtown Platteville to Belmont. For one thing, I had to get back to downtown Platteville for the Common Council meeting.)
Unless you visit the grocery store twice a day, you need a vehicle large enough to carry groceries. (And if you visit the grocery store twice a day because of your constantly hungry children, you still need a vehicle large enough to carry groceries.) If you have school-age children who are interested in athletics or any other out-of-school activities, you are probably going to have to drive them out of town, and “out of town” is up to an hour or more from Platteville. (Particularly given that there seem to be fewer carpools than when I was a child, perhaps because of more stringent seat-belt or child restraint laws.) The Potosi Brewery is a great addition to southwest Wisconsin, but there simply are not enough people in the Potosi/Tennyson area to sustain a microbrewery by themselves. To survive, the brewery must get visitors from outside even the Tri-States. The entire point of tourism is to get people from outside an area to visit your area, and that involves driving.
I suspect no one in Washington thinks very hard about the effects of either gas prices or the 54.5-mpg standard the Obama administration plans to foist upon us by the 2025 car model year on rural areas. (That was further demonstrated by the Department of Labor’s attempt, rescinded once it hit the blogosphere, to apply child labor standards to family farms.) When gas prices shot over $4 per gallon in 2008, we all discovered how gas prices affect not merely the cost of driving from point A to point B, and not merely the cost of anything that has petroleum content (that is, anything with plastic or rubber), but the cost of getting products from manufacturing point through distribution point to store. Diesel prices are higher than the price of regular unleaded; keep that in mind every time you see a tractor–trailer or a farm tractor.
That 54.5 mpg standard is more than twice the gas mileage a minivan gets. I am not a technological Luddite, but I find it highly unlikely that carmakers will be able to design and build a vehicle, at a price a family can afford, that will be able to transport families, children’s friends, and all their stuff, to out-of-town destinations and still get 54.5 mpg. (Not to mention pulling boats, ATVs or campers.) The Obama administration crows about the money drivers supposedly will save without considering whether families will be able to afford the several thousand dollars more that the 2025 Mileagemobile will cost.
The Obama administration seems to be working against your ability to drive with the 54.5-mpg standard and in other areas, such as its campaign to eliminate cellphone use by drivers under the guise that cellphone use is a driver distraction. Cellphones can be a distraction; so can the controls in your car, other drivers, road signs, and passengers. All are covered under the state law called “inattentive driving,” or if necessary the felony called “negligent use of a motor vehicle.”
Cars remain the best option of transportation freedom there is — getting you where you want to go when you want to go, with whom you want to accompany you, with your choice of background audio and ventilation. It’s a regrettable fact of today’s economy that many people cannot both work and live in Platteville, or Livingston, or Potosi, or Belmont, but it is a fact. You should be able to choose where you want to go with your car, in the same way I can choose to walk.