Slow Go means wherever I have to go, I get there the slowest practical way. I have never been enamored of speed; fast planes, fast cars, fast women, they all leave me bewildered. But I never really appreciated the virtues of going slow until last summer, when I took seven weeks to travel 3,000 miles by bicycle that could have been traversed in an afternoon’s flight or a couple of days of automotive comfort. I started the journey because I wanted to do something different. Then I realized that going slow was not just different, it was often better, and by the end of my trip, I realized that going slow is almost always better. When I reentered my regular life I decided to test the notion of traveling slow, and I have decided Slow Go is for me.
I have five basic modes of transport. I fly in airplanes, I drive a car, I take the bus (or subway), I ride my bicycle, and I walk. There is the occasional cab ride and recreational run, but those five get me from point A to point B most all the time. My preference in terms of enjoyment is inversely proportional to their speed. I like to walk, love to bicycle, abide the bus, dislike the car and abhor flying.
Flying is just terrible these days. The planes are packed, the schedules tight, the security noxious. Actually, the planes are noxious as well; everyone catches colds on planes. Planes are a rapacious use of resources by any measure. I thought I was a responsible energy user until I took a carbon footprint measurement test. I was well below average in every category, but since I fly 20-30 times a year, my carbon footprint is the size of the Lochness Monster. Still, when I have to get from, say, Boston to Port au Prince in a day, it is the only option and so I hatchet my consciousness, hold my breath, and climb aboard.
As long as I can stay on the ground, my travel habits are much better. I own a car, though I do not know why. If I drive 100 miles a month that is a lot, except for business trips when I rack up 55 cents a mile and it turns into a profit center. My economical, paid off, not-so-old-it-needs-a-lot-of-service car operates for a lot less than that. Still, I do not like to drive. The vagaries of traffic violate my sense of control; I don’t like wrapping my anonymity in metal and glass, and the moment I step behind the wheel I suffer acute road rage. I consider it a community service that I rarely drive; I don’t like being on the road and neither does anyone else.
When the weather is bad and I need cover during travel I take the bus. Even though it takes twice as long as driving I like it much better. The bus breeds virtue; I am comrades with the common man, sharing our burdens while competing for a seat. Studies show that public transportation uses just as much energy as private cars per passenger mile. But that is because no one uses public transportation. Where there are buses, as in my neighborhood, the marginal energy difference between me riding the bus and driving my car is real. The bus is making the trip whether I am on it or not. If I tag along, I contribute less total energy burn to the system.
Bicycling is my most beloved form of transport, and I have expanded the scope of acceptable cycling conditions to encompass nearly all my travel. I don’t bicycle if I wake to downpours or snow or temperatures below ten degrees. But I might pedal to work in a drizzle, and I never let grey skies or a bad forecast push me to the bus. The bicycle is the default mode for any trip under twenty miles, It usually takes three times longer than driving, but the benefits are worth the time. Bicycling is good for my health and great for the planet, I feel in control of my destiny and parking in the city is a breeze. I love the way the world looks at ten miles per hour, a speed that is fast enough to give the big picture yet slow enough to highlight the details in our built environment. I have learned that cycling to a business meeting has multiple benefits. No one expects you to look all polished, which I can never quite pull off anyway, and I arrive with fresh energy even in midafternoon. I make time to wash up really well, but that is all factored into the trip. Realistically, my time is not all that valuable and if most of us made a critical assessment, we all waste more time in frivolity than I spend on my bike. Besides, have you seen my legs? I am the Betty Grable of middle aged men; I have terrific legs.
Walking is wonderful, but unrealistically slow except for the most leisurely adventures. There are places I prefer to walk. The grocery store is four blocks away; I almost always walk. Ditto the library and the park. On a late summer afternoon there is nothing finer than strolling down Brattle Street to eat in Harvard Square. When I walk the world is nothing but detail. I completely lose the scale of the forest; I get to savor every flower.
So the next time you have to go somewhere, ask yourself if there is a slower option. The time you spend may restore your sanity.