I had been standing there for about ten minutes before someone saved me.
Entering the bus for the first time a few years ago, I went to the ticket punching machine and place my ticket inside. And I stood and waited for the machine to automatically clamp its electronic jaws on the ticket and officially stamp my presence on the bus. The machine, naturally, did nothing. I stared in impatience. I placed it inside again. I waited again. Nothing.
At this point, a kind stranger came over to me and wordlessly ended my puzzlement. He grabbed the lever and pulled, stamping my ticket.
I thought about this incident again recently in contemplating more ecologically friendly ways to get to my office. There are in fact a lot of alternatives available to me besides driving my car every day.
The price of gas in Belgrade (as I write this) is RSD 108 for unleaded. By next week, the price will have gone up to anywhere between RSD 115 and 5,000 per liter. Back in the 1970s, during the infamous Energy Crisis, we were all asked to economize on oil and gas because of the real and present danger of depleting the world's natural resources. We started car-pooling (in fact we invented the word); we started wearing sweaters and jackets indoors; we complained about huge lines for pumping gas; and we complained about the prices.
Today's energy crisis has a different tone, however. Although world demand for fossil fuels has never been higher, it is harder for us to believe that this crisis is not fueled by the flagging dollar and US economy, by underproduction from OPEC, and by the government(s).
But whatever the mixture of causes, the fact is that we are paying a significant portion of our household incomes for the privilege of being stuck behind the red Zastava Koral in a line of traffic.
So I looked at my alternatives:
While number four is tempting on rainy Monday mornings, it seems the least likely scenario. But when I set it side by side with the others, maybe it is the least painful.
Walking is healthy, or so I am told.
All things being equal, I could walk to my work in about 20 minutes. However, add to this that I would be in a suit, that I would be schlepping my computer, that I would be tempted to stop for a coffee along the way, that I would have to cross Branko's Bridge, that I would have to avoid the cigarettes and candy wrappers as they fly out of the windows of passing cars, and that (let's face it) I do not REALLY want to walk.
Things are therefore NOT so equal. I would need an hour to get to work and arrive sweaty in a dirty suit and 83% asphyxiated by carbon-monoxide. Not to mention the possibilities of rain, snow, hail, muggers, and disaffected former government ministers which might also be ready to add spice to my pedestrian experience.
This is interesting. It should only take me five minutes to do the bike thing. Although the same sweatiness, dirtiness, and asphyxiation could result, at least I would be exposed to it for only a fraction of the time. I could bring a change of clothes, take a shower, and be fresh for work!
This would be fine until I realize that in fact I have no shower at work.
The problem which bicycles present is their own bulk. Do I cram it into the elevator or carrying it up five stories to my office? And then where do I put it? If I leave it outside in the morning, will it still be there in the evening?
3. The Bus
The Bus is a good eco-solution and keeps me off the sidewalks. From an environmental point of view, the bus continues to go even if I choose not to take it. There is also the thrill of unpredictability in taking the bus. You never know when it will show up. You cannot guess who else will be there with you. You never know if it is the RIGHT bus (even though the numbers apparently correspond to a set route).
Cramming into an early morning bus like so many sardines, you immediately (and sometimes intimately) get to know your neighbors whether you want to or not. You can ascertain how many of your fellow passengers believe in the morning or the evening shower. You are exposed to the collective ownership of the contents of your pockets as someone could thoughtfully lighten your load by removing your wallet. And arriving at the office, you could find yourself a fundamentally changed person.
Given such choices, the real problem will be figure out which one will impact my life the least and will impact the environment the most. It will give me something to think about as I drive to work tomorrow.