Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Green Thumbing Across Texas

As a performing songwriter, I am expected to be a troubadour as well, traveling from town to town, serenading strangers in different settings. But driving from town to town is not so green. Nor is it cheap. I sat down and did the math for a performance I had scheduled last weekend in Far West Texas, one of the most remote regions in the country. The truth in the math suggested to me that I should cancel the gig. Why ? The round trip in my red Volvo, “Ruby”, would cost me about the same in gasoline as I was getting paid for the gig. And driving solo all the way acroPublish Postss Texas is the sort of guilt which keeps me awake at night. Not wanting to let down the venue or lose work ethic points, I was determined to find a solution.

Amtrak services the Big Bend area, but from Austin, it is $150 round trip and includes a 9 hour layover in San Antonio overnight...making the total journey over 50 hours long on the train ( vs 16 hours round trip in a car ). There is no bus that goes out to Big Bend from Austin and no mass transit of any kind once there in the area.

So the only answer was to find empty seats in cars already going out there.

I had participated in many rideshares before, but only between major cities, and never for a gig where I needed to haul my guitar and other related paraphernalia. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to pull this off. I closed my eyes and thought about all the vehicles whizzing around everywhere with all their empty seats. Surely I could do this. The adventurer within was awakened.

The first part was easy. I got on craigslist and searched the rideshare ads. Luck struck ! There was a driver heading out West from Austin Texas to Marfa, TX for a Film Festival. I contacted her. Even though her email alias was tagged as “Creepy”, I took a chance. I attributed the name choice to the Greenland/Iceland reverse psychology theory. She turned out to be rather normal, not overly normal, and a very good driver. The other passenger and I had some friends in common. After our rideshare team was assembled, we headed out west. The trip to Alpine cost us each $13 in gas in her Toyota Corolla, and placed me within 80 miles of my final destination. My Volvo would have charged me close to $60 if I had driven these 400 miles solo, each way ! Ruby demands premium gasoline. I have tried to trick her a few times, but she knew the difference and did not react kindly.

In Alpine, I stood on Hwy 118 and stuck out my thumb. Hitchhiking is technically illegal in Texas, but when the sheriff drove by, he smiled and waved. A new red pick up truck pulled over. Kaleb told me that he had seen me perform in Terlingua before and offered me a ride. After he dropped me off about 15 miles from Terlingua, I accosted the mailman. He told me he was heading into town, and so I rode with him to Terlingua. In Terlingua, I got lucky again and encountered the bartender of the “Thirsty Goat” in Lajitas, the bar I was playing in that night. Against the will of the drivers, I pitched in for gas for these shorter journeys to help the drivers a bit with their guzzlers. All in all, I got from Austin, Texas to Lajitas for $22. There is no bus that comes out this way and no mass transit of any kind in this tiny town.

In addition to the savings and free adventure, my final reward came from a very appreciative gentleman in the audience who started throwing $100 bills in my tip jar. No Joke !

Yes, it pays to travel green.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wasted Energy in the Name of Exercise

I can’t help dwelling on the energy I wasted today.

I spent my hard earned money to buy organic calories at Whole Foods only to throw it all away on the elliptical machine at the YMCA. I spent $1.49 for each apple ! They were good apples, but I remember when apples were only 50 cents. It is not hard to remember back that far, because it was only last year. The gasoline that my Volvo used for the 6 mile round trip to the gym also cost about a buck fifty, however, my Volvo used 18,000 calories for the trip ( 3000 calories per mile ) ! If I made the same trip by walking or running, it would have only taken 600 calories for the entire trip. If I rode my bike, I would have only used 210 calories, about the same amount of calories as two apples. My Volvo used the equivalent of about 180 apples to get me to the gym and back. The readout on the elliptical machine informed me that I burned 500 calories.

What a waste !
I could have used those 500 calories to :

Do a couple of errands by foot.
Do all of my errands by bicycle
Get to a job and back
Plant a veggie garden

Here is the math :

500 calories = 5 apples
5 organic apples at Whole Foods costs $7.45
Being that 35 calories on a bicycle can get me one mile, 500 calories can get me about 15 miles on a bicycle, enough to get me to work and back ( when I had a job ) and do all my other errands.
15 miles in my Volvo in the city uses just under a gallon of fuel, or about $3
A gym membership costs me about $2 a day.

Putting this all together, I wasted $12.45 today and caused unnecessary damage. If I wasted this amount 5 days a week for a full year, I would waste $3237 dollars.

The fossil fuels took millions of years to produce the 18,000 calories it took my volvo for the short trip to the gym. The apples took just one growing season. If I were to drive to the gym 5 days a week, it would use up 4,680,000 calories, or about 46,800 apples. That doesn't include all my other driving.

I and my Volvo, together, wasted 18,500 calories today in the name of exercise. I am trying to figure out how I got duped into thinking this made any sense.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stocks on Steroids

Is it really the right solution for the federal government to inject the economy, particularly the stock market and credit and loan bureaus, with 200 billion more dollars worth of federal emergency loans ? Where is this money even coming from when our nation is already in debt trillions of dollars ? Who does this injection benefit ? Who will pick up the tab and when ? What do the federal interest rate cuts actually do and what is the lasting benefit ? Are there any policies or rebates which encourage people to save, be resourceful, and avoid debt ? What are the tangibles which back up our currency ? Is it oil ? Is it housing ? What will we do if our currency can no longer purchase cheap goods and services from subordinate countries ? What if our leaders' eye on the prize in the middle east doesn't result in a return on our investment as they had hoped ? These are important questions to stop and think about. As the true reality of our economy presents itself, we may find great opportunities to be creative and make positive and necessary changes.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ceder Fever

Here in Central TX, Ceder trees grow everywhere. Some consider them to be invasive, since they are not native to the area. They are known to horde water even. Yet, they continue to multiply. They are very beautiful trees and happen to make excellent wood for building. In setting up for the Texas Natural Building Colloquium, taking place in Kerrville TX, we spent a few days harvesting Cedar Trees from a neighbor's ranch. Harvesting Cedar Trees in Central TX is guilt free. Using mostly human power, we carefully and considerately plucked our trees from an overgrowth, leaving only small gaps where extra sun rays can peek through to help grow smaller trees whose size have been hindered by the shadows of their neighbors. This practice is much preferrable to clear cutting, the industrial standard of quickly capitalizing on lumber with no consideration of the long term effects. They maximize their profits and minimize expenses by taking ALL trees in an area while leaving the earth below to regress quickly into a desert scape that then loses its ability to hold water and plantlife.

When Cedar Trees are stripped of their bark, what is left is a very unique beautiful and smooth custard colored wood, which Erin the volunteer coordinator refers to as the wood used in Texas country porches. The bark can only easily be stripped within 24 hours of harvesting the tree. After that, as the water dries out of the tree, the bark sticks to the wood like glue.

Getting a few friends together and finding a rancher who wants an overgrowth of trees cleared can get you some of the highest quality wood available for free, with minimal impact to the land.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Tour Share

What is tour sharing ? It's when musicians on tour combine itineraries ( and a ride ) in order to save money and increase efficiency. When Raina Rose and Hunter Paye asked me to join them on tour down the West Coast back to Austin, TX ( where I was intending to fly to ), I knew that this was the universe stepping in with a better alternative. Raina's van gets 25 mpg, which is pretty good for a van. With 3 people, it gets 75 mpg per person ! This is a great improvement, considering that songwriters often tour solo. In addition, Raina transported a mattress ( a paid craigslist gig ) for someone in Austin. There is no quesstion that we maximized all usable space in the van. The universe was good to us in return and carried us safely without incident. Most music venues will put a few artists together on one bill anyway. This method of touring offers an already completed bill to a venue. Venues like that. It also combines fanbases for better attended shows. Being that Raina is the tour monger, she already had the shows booked, but for songwriters with less experience on the road, combining tours helps to also split up the work getting the gigs. We basically put the money from the tip jar towards travel expenses ( gas, etc ) and then we each kept our own CD sales to put towards our futures.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Crow House Collective

The Crow House Collective in the Alberta neighborhood in Portland, Oregon is disbanding after two years of shared living, as members are getting ready to launch on various endeavors and international travel experiences. Members may regroup in a different location when they return. The current residents of the Crow House include Hope, Emile, Christa, Laura, Matt, and Christopher. Their ages range from the early 20's to early 40's. The Crow House is planted in the middle of the Alberta Arts District. What would otherwise be a very expensive area, this shared living experience drops the price of rent to only $300 each per month. Bills are split 6 ways, delicious home cooked meals ( usually shared ) are an everyday experience, and group outings are always being planned. Other than Hope and Emile ( a couple ) sharing a room, each resident gets their own private room. The basement has been transformed and devided into an art space, music rehearsal room, shared internet station / movie room, and even a guest room for me during August 2007. There is at least one backyard camp fire each week, usually including music and sometimes even wine. Before their decision to disband, they had 6 egg-producing chickens, a garden attempt which was hindered by a large tree, a compost system, rasberry bushes galore, many visitors, and now lots of memories. Living with 5 other people has its share of challenges, but the positives outweigh the negatives exponentially. Sharing a living space enables residents to learn new skills from each other ( new recipies, different ways to clean dishes, how to play an instrument, etc ). The financial savings coupled with sharing chores frees up many hours each week to work on personal projects, make art and music, plan for the future, and enjoy life.

Thanks to the members of the Crow House for being such generous hosts during my visit to Portland.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Go ByCycle

Check out ByCycle.org. It is a point to point mapquest-like mapping program which navigates cyclists through the city along established bicycle routes. Right now, it is only available in Portland, Oregon, and Milwaukie, Wisconsin, but there is hope that it will be available next year in Austin, TX and other potential municipalities.While cycling is one of the greatest ways to save money, stay healthy, and protect the environment, route safety is a big barrier for most commuters. This is where ByCycle.org helps most.