Vintage: kids and transportation

We went to visit our nephew and niece a couple of weekends ago. The subversive aunt that I am, I bought them a book on Art Cars, just to expose them to the idea that cars could be creatively made to look different and distinctive, covered in pennies, paint, lego, etc.

We went for a morning walk as our litttle ritual: it started with Grandpa, because at home, he walks two miles each morning to go get coffee at McDonald’s. So here, three generations in five people went for a walk on the trail thoughtfully integrated by the OC developer that meanders through their planned community. The trail crosses the ‘parkway’ via an overcrossing bridge. At the bottom of the bridge, we have a choice: go back the way we came, or walk on the sidewalk along the parkway and cross at the crosswalk.

The kids pick the crosswalk each time. It always makes me nervous, and the kids hold hands with an adult even when we’re walking on the sidewalk (usually we make them hold hands only when crossing the street.) SUVS in six lanes are whipping by at 60 mph. And even though they’re old enough to know not to go running off into the street . . .

We walk along the sidewalk and reach the crosswalk with its prize . . .

the pedestrian push button . . .

“I want to push it! I want to push it!”

It’s not just that the kids are usally schlepped around from parking lot to parking lot with little opportunity to walk across a street at an intersection. Kids like pushing buttons, but kids love transportation and big vehicles. They’re fascinated by trains, buses, light rail, anything that isn’t the family car with the mandatory car-seat in the back that takes you somewhere.

We’re trying to convince Joe’s brother to come up for a visit, so that we can take the kids to ride the cable car, and perhaps even the ferry to Sausalito.

Nowadays, whenever there’s a Spare the Air free transit, the trains are jammed . . . with parents taking their kids for a ride on Caltrain, light rail, etc, not so much headed for a destination, but for the journey itself.

Riding BART was an exciting event when I was a kid. When we went to visit Auntie Helen in Fremont, my mom and Auntie Helen humored me: rather than drive there ourselves, we’d take BART from Oakland and Auntie Helen would pick us up from the BART station. I’d savor the extended ride, with long stretches of great views, and eagerly looked for landmarks like the Coliseum, and a great big green corrugated tank that is no longer there.

Even after the MTR was complete, I still preferred taking the Star Ferry from Central to Tsimshatsui. Million-dollar views for pennies a ride. (I can’t believe they’re tearing down the terminal on the TST side . . . to build a mall. How many more bleepping malls do they need? At this rate, it’ll be easier to buy a Louis Vuitton purse (a genuine one) than a Big Mac in HK!)

We have friends with toddlers who come visit once in a while, just so they can watch the light rail go by. When I commuted on light rail, occasionally there would be kids on field trips, and the car that was usually subdued with nothing but whispers of concatenated announcements would barely be able to contain the chatter and shrieks of children. It was harder to concentrate on what I was reading, but the enthusiasm was mildly infectious.

I just wish there was a way to bottle kids’ enthusiasm for transit (and biking and walking) when they’re young, and then store it in a cellar. When they become adults, it would be uncorked and drunk to remind them how much they loved buses and trains and bikes and walking when they were a kid, and they should once again ride, rather than drive and just drive.

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