Amoeba’s Lorica: A Walk to the Bank

First of all, Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba wishes to acknowledge the good fortune – one item out of many – from which the circumstances of this post arose.

YFNA is in his seventh decade on this somewhat damp space rock. For the first time in those seven decades, he is actually getting paid to play music. Not ‘quit your day job’ pay, to be sure, not within a couple orders of magnitude. Besides, he likes his day job, and hopes his day job likes him.

Still, receiving is a considerable advance on shelling out, which, until now, he had accepted as both ‘the norm’ and an accurate reflection of his musicianship. He’s not altogether certain that the abilities have changed – but the circumstances have, and while they’re out there, he’ll accept the checks. Which needed to be deposited …

It was a quiet and peaceful Saturday morning in Centipede Pacific Paradise, USA, and, for once, Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba had nothing on his calendar, so he could kick back and …

Remember that he had to get to the bank that morning.

[expletives deleted]

So now he had to get dressed, get into the car and …

Waitaminute.

He didn’t have any other errands to do. He could make up some errands … but that would require a lot more imagination than he had at that moment. And, whereas there are banks out there which could do what YFNA had to do online, his bank wasn’t one of them yet.

He could wait until he did have other errands to do, so that he could justify, in this supposedly global-warming-conscious age, burning gasoline. But he knew himself too well. The bank business would get forgotten in the press of all the other business, next Saturday would roll around, and he would still have to go to the bank.

Route from YFNA's house to his bank and back

Route from YFNA’s house to his bank and back

Until a few months ago, there would have been no difficulty. The bank in question was just around the corner from where YFNA was living, and it was a simple matter, and had become a routine one, to walk the required 1500 feet and get the job done. But YFNA and Dame Amoeba – Quilly – had moved to a new place, one with slightly more space than a sardine tin and without the two flights of stairs needed to sardine into it, and the bank in question (still the nearest one) was now more than 3 miles away.

Just a little more than the 2.2 miles it had taken for YFNA to walk from his house to his work in Friday Harbor

Yeah, OK, Kailua Kona, Hawai‘i is a tad warmer, any day of the year, than Friday Harbor, Washington is on the hottest day of summer. And YFNA was contemplating hiking those three miles, each way, with squishy pseudopods, on hot asphalt that threads its way through what, in a normal, non-El Niño year, is a near-desert.

Bah. How hard can it be?

So YFNA got on his walking clothes, and his walking sandals, and his big, floppy, Australian-outback walking hat (less the corks). And, of course, his cell, so that when (to name one of the several near-certain disasters that YFNA was courting) the soles of his feet burned off, he could send his Quilly a ‘Rescue Me’ message. With all of these, he set off.

He got there. He got his business done. He got back. The walk took less time than Google said it would. No ‘Rescue Me’ call was necessary; a blister on the side of one foot was the only significant difficulty. Unless one counts the stress on the local water supply caused by YFNA, on his return home, putting his open mouth under a running faucet and leaving it there for half an hour.

The not-empty roads on a Hawaiian Saturday morning. Corner of Lako Street and Mamalahoa Highway, Kailua Kona.

The not-empty roads on a Hawaiian Saturday morning. Corner of Lako Street and Mamalahoa Highway, Kailua Kona.

“Do this more often”, YFNA mused, “and I might even be entitled to say something about fossil fuels and global warming – as it is now, the only word that is consistent with my actions is ‘I love fossil fuels, I need more!‘”

Then, he considered what he had seen on his walk.

The roads were all but empty – of bicyclists and other pedestrians. Motorized vehicles – motorcycles, cars, trucks – were a different story. YFNA might have thought it was a lazy Saturday, but the traffic volume wasn’t much less than during weekday rush hour – and this during a ‘slow’ season for tourists.

Pedestrian not-friendly stretch of road. Kuakini Highway, Kailua Kona.

Pedestrian not-friendly stretch of road. Kuakini Highway, Kailua Kona.

Except within 100 feet of the bank, there were no sidewalks. At some places along the highways, the berms were wide. At others, however, they were narrow, and constrained by guardrails, with very little space separating the pedestrian/cyclist strip from the vehicle travel lane.

Nor was that space always level. At one point, while YFNA was squeezing himself to fit between the guardrail and an oncoming car that was hugging it, his left foot slipped on one of those uneven spots and he very nearly turned his ankle [Note to kama‘aina: this was not at one of the places torn up by recent flooding]. That little episode could have turned out very differently than it did.

Pedestrians must be poor and desperate, therefore dangerous. Kuakini Highway, Kailua Kona.

Pedestrians must be poor and desperate, therefore dangerous. Kuakini Highway, Kailua Kona.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that whoever built the roads in this part of Kailua Kona, Hawai‘i did not think that there would be many pedestrians. ‘You lolo, brudda? Too hot! Where your car?‘ Anyone too poor to own a car, or can’t get a ride … well, they’re probably trouble. Gotta watch out for them!

But YFNA has spent a lifetime navigating pedestrian- and bicycle-unfriendly infrastructure, and has lived to tell about it. What he has not spent a lifetime doing has been dealing with grumbling body parts. The knees, neck, and upper back finally did loosen up … but it took awhile.

YFNA has prospects for overcoming the grumbling knees et al., figuring that, for the most part, they have suffered the effects of disuse; they’re rusty, not worn out. Which is going to be important if YFNA is going to reduce his carbon use in the only way that’s going to amount to anything, in the absence of major changes in global energy infrastructure, changes that the bumper-to-bumper cars on the Mamalahoa Highway on a supposedly-lazy Saturday morning suggest aren’t anywhere near being implemented at a useful scale. It’s also going to be important if YFNA is going to lose the 75 pounds needed for him to look at himself in the mirror without screaming … to say nothing further about his personal carbon footprint – or, should he say, his personal carbon belly roll.

But the grumbling knees will be back, sooner or later. If the heart or brain don’t fail first. And what about the many people for whom the knees are no longer grumbling, they’re on strike? Quilly can’t comfortably walk 50 feet, never mind three miles. As with so many aspects of modern life, the mobility of the disabled is a boon that’s been bought with the energy generated by fossil fuel burning. What boons do climate-change activists have for them?

For until there are such boons, all the sound, accurate climate change science in the world will not clear the Mamalahoa Highway of cars. Even if the evidence were 100% certain that such clearance is required, people will not accept immobility as an alternative. Honolulu has acted in a climate-sensitive way by trying to build a rail system, but it can’t finish the job because rail costs are perceived to be too great, and its boons too small. And this in a city where automobile traffic grinds to a halt daily.

And in a nation that is seriously considering a Donald Trump, a Ben Carson, or even a Bernie Sanders for President, and that (still more to the point) persists in electing members of Congress with ignorant or hostile (or both) attitudes towards science, it is unclear where the will, or the money, is going to come from to develop the fossil-fuel-free energy technologies that are going to permit people to see enough benefits from them that they will be willing to give up their current machines.

YFNA will walk where and when he can, realizing that it will never be enough to cancel out his real vote, the one he casts every time he drives, or powers up the A/C: the one for all fossil fuels, all the time. And he will continue to say ‘have you thanked a scientist today’ to any who will listen, and urge greatly enhanced support for their activities. While there’s still time. If there’s still time.

For all the good it will do.

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