15 March 2013

Welcome, surprise readers; and proposed SEPTA fare hikes

After a link from Atrios yesterday, I got over 3,500 views of my post unfavorably analyzing an NYTimes opinion piece on downsizing. (TL; DR: The author has a privilege blind spot preventing him from seeing that he's able to "outsource" his living space because of his wealth.) For the record, that's roughly 3,500 page views more than normal. But what fun! Before yesterday, I had never had a post so popular that I could play Blog Comment Bingo. I got quite a few of them: the reasonable interlocutor; the childfree zealot; the mansplainer; and the one-upmanshipper. The only thing missing was a spammer.

Moving along, and moving to something local to my region, our beloved public transit agency SEPTA has announced a proposed schedule of fare hikes effective in July. Monthly TransPasses, which I get for myself and the household's teenager, will go up by $9.00, or about a day's worth of food. (Cue one-upmanshippers commenting that they feed themselves more cheaply. In response, $9.00 is a ballpark amount. We can and do eat more cheaply, but $9 includes "luxury" items like out-of-season produce, local cheeses, and non-nutritive beverages like coffee and tea. The teenager is a fiend for herbal teas. Cue the childfree zealots telling me they'd never put up with that.) More subtly, the TransPasses will no longer be valid for in-city trips on regional rail, in two ways. One, the North Philadelphia and North Broad stations are shifting to Zone 1; and two, the passes will simply not be good any more for trips to Eastwick and the airport.

These changes are more significant than they seem. Eastwick is an important destination for city residents with blue-collar jobs, and for airport-area residents with Center City jobs. Come July, TransPass users will have to switch to the 36 trolley (or a long, 2-stage trip using the El to 69th Street and then a bus), since the shorter, direct trip via the Airport Line will cost more. And it used to be one of SEPTA's best-kept open secrets that a TransPass gets you to the airport for free. The airport is a destination for workers, too, of course; but this change is irritating for bourgeois professionals like myself who go on trips for business or pleasure a few times per year, or want to meet an incoming visitor and help them save a few clams by taking the train rather than a taxi into town.

My point, and I do have one, is for houseguests after July: You're on your own, kids!

The Zone 1 shift for the North Philadelphia and North Broad stations will work similarly. Residents and workers who need to use those stations will either switch to slower City Division ground transportation, or they'll have to buy Zone 1 passes. And the math you've been waiting for. Currently, a TransPass is $83.00/mo. The proposed TransPass will be $91.00/mo. But people who need to use North Philadelphia, North Broad, Eastwick, or the Airport will have to get a Zone 1 TrailPass, which is now $91.00/mo. but will be $101.00/mo. While I'm whining about a price increase of $9.00/mo., there are others in the city who will have to find $18.00 more in their monthly budgets. And, as a social worker friend of mine put it, these changes will disproportionately affect people who can least afford the changes.

And did you catch the other change in the proposal? Seniors and the disabled will have to use a state-issued photo ID to get a discounted or free ride. Currently, seniors can get a free ride by showing a Medicare card. The proposal is to require seniors to show a state-issued photo ID for their free rides, and for the disabled to acquire a "Photo ID Smart Media," presumably issued by SEPTA, for their discounted rides. I won't go into the politics here, except to note dispassionately and factually that photo ID for voting was a huge problem here in Pennsylvania last fall. Some seniors had a devil of a time getting their photo IDs when an issuing agency employee would deem that their supporting documentation was insufficient. So cynically I'm waiting for the first news reports of a 90-year-old, 88-pound great-grandmother denied her free bus ride because she has her Medicare card but hasn't gotten a state-issued photo ID.

In closing, welcome new readers via Eschatonblog. Please poke around my back catalogue of posts and enjoy yourself. And if you find yourself in Philadelphia sometime, I'll be happy to meet you at the airport and show you how to take regional rail into Center City, unless you're visiting after the first of July.

14 March 2013

The NYTimes "Living With Less" opinion writer is silly, privileged

A fluff piece in the New York Times explains that living in a tiny, sparely furnished bachelor pad is better than living in a big house full of stuff.

Here at Rowhouse Livin', we had a few thoughts. To begin with, it sounds as though the author doesn't have any family members living with him. I don't necessarily mean children -- I'm not "mommyjacking" -- but I'll start there. Clearly, kids need stuff, and in a lot of ways they need more stuff than adults do. You may be fine with a minimalist wardrobe, keeping all your reading material on an electronic device, and working out at the gym. But a kid will need a variety of clothes for multiple seasons and activities; they'll have schoolbooks and homework; and they may choose gear-intensive sports like lacrosse or football over cross-country and swimming. As for other family members, though a number of people do shoehorn families into tiny homes, it's probably not realistic for most families. And what if you're the primary caregiver to an invalid?

Is adopting the tiny home lifestyle one way to avoid being the family member tasked with caring for elderly parents, or a close family member who needs extraordinary care?

It also sounds as though the author doesn't keep a lot of emergency supplies, or really much of anything, on hand. I mean, unless he's storing food and sundries on shelves along his ceiling, I can't figure out where he'd put everything he needs in 420 square feet. This choice raises two issues. One, for meals he has to go to the market, get take-out dishes, or eat at restaurants every day. This lifestyle will end up costing him far more than would preparing all his meals at home. The author is a dot-com millionaire and serial entrepreneur, though, so presumably costs are not as pressing a concern for him as they are for me. And two, he's not ready for an emergency where he loses utilities, or where he's too ill or injured to leave the house for a time. Again, if you're not keeping supplies on hand, then you're choosing expensive contingency plans -- stay in a hotel until the problem is fixed; hire a helper until you're feeling better. Outsourcing these kinds of things is expensive. The author has a blind spot: he has ready-cash privilege.

To look at this personal outsourcing another way, I used to have a neighbor who hated doing dishes and enjoyed a pristine kitchen. He bought a paper cup of coffee from the coffee shop every morning on his way to work. No coffee maker taking up space on the counter, no coffee mug to wash every night. While he supported a local business with his daily custom, every year he generated over 200 dirty paper cups and spent about $500.00 on this coffee. This is "living with less"? Less what?

Further, the author's wardrobe of "six dress shirts" suggests that he doesn't have a job where he has to worry too much about his clothing. He's not getting filthy doing manual labor. He's not working in an environment where dressing the same every day would be objectionable (a lot of business offices) or weird (teaching). He's not required to wear a uniform. He's not coming home covered in food, chemicals, paint, or axle grease. In short, he's a guy who doesn't have to change his clothes when he gets home from work. A person who has only a half-dozen dress shirts to cover his torso is not a person who has to work outdoors or wait for buses in the winter, either. Does he have a car in his building's garage, or a doorman to call taxis for him? Not to set up a false dichotomy. He likely has both.

Of course, there's a happy medium between the huge house full of consumer goods and the 420-square-foot studio apartment. But the author's opinion that anything more than the tiny home is "inessential" and "excess" is flat wrong for those of us who don't have a wallet full of platinum cards and a streak of dot-com successes behind us. And I don't buy his assertion without proof, at the end of his piece, that he's "limit[ing his] environmental footprint" merely by living in a small space. Is he purchasing carbon offsets for his take-out and restaurant meals in addition to his airfares?

The happy medium at the Rowhouse Livin' homestead is two-fold. You can take my wall of books when you pry the shelves out of the studs we screwed the uprights into. And: "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."