Car-Free Diet Skeptics Blog

Matt’s Blog


   

Director Chris Keener quiets the set.

Sound rolling.

Camera rolling.

And without looking up from the camera-

“Whenever you’re ready.”

Welcome to the Studio

And that’s how it began- my first step towards fame.

Of course, everyone’s definition of fame may be slightly different, but let’s be honest, we can play the semantics game all day.

My definition of fame is being the host of a show.  It’s incredible.  My name, being tossed around in the same light as all of the great hosts- Carson, Letterman, O’Brian, Leno.

“And wait, who’s this late comer? I thought everyone had showed up to the party” you might say.

But then the person next to you, who is clearly much more into what’s trending right now, would turn and condescendingly answer, “Nope. That’s Smith.  The party actually just started.”

Cue red carpet, champagne (the expensive kind), and fireworks.  Boom. Boom. Boom. It’s like Mardi Gras and the 4th of July, celebrating my arrival. And then, as the smoke begins to clear, a name, in huge golden lights, slowly emerges through the veil.  Car Free Matt.

And that’s exactly how I remember it all going. Pretty much.

Regardless of whether or not I’m actually super famous now (I am) the show has been a  great adventure from beginning to end.

I was approached many moons ago about a possible Car Free Diet Show.  The details hadn’t all been worked out yet, but the gist of it was that we’d be doing a sketch comedy show based on the Car Free Diet.   I recall being very busy at the time, working on a rough outline of how I could become super famous, and suddenly all the chips fell into place.

But you’d be surprised how hard it is to create a show.  Well maybe you wouldn’t be, but I was.

Content was difficult from the start.  It took weeks of creative sessions involving Arlington County, its partners, myself, and the whole Car-Free gang before we finally had rough scripts pieced together.  There were conference calls.  There were meetings.  There were  vetoes and re-dos.  There was stress.

But in the end, we’d created enough scripts to shoot six episodes of the Car Free Show.  Not so funny that you’ll laugh to death because that’s dangerous, but funny enough that you should be careful drinking too much water right before watching.  Unless you have an extra set of pants near by.  Even then, it’s not the best idea, but let’s say you just ran a full marathon and now you’re super parched and all you want to do is drink tons of water and watch the show.  That’s cool.  I’m just saying you do so at your own risk.

Once we had scripts approved, we still had nothing but obstacles in front us.

Casting

Crew

Scheduling

Location

Shooting

Editing

In the biz, we lump most of these issues into one of three categories:

1. Pre-Production

2. Production

3. Post-Production

I’m just knowledge dropping on you.  It’s not necessary that you know that.  But when you’re super fab in the biz, like me, it’s just stuff you absorb.

Protect Your Melon: Wear a Helmet

I don’t want to bore you with ALL of the details about how we put it all together.  Suffice it to say, a lot of people put a lot of effort into making the Car Free Diet Show a reality.  But like I mentioned in the beginning, eventually, we got to this place:

Director Chris Keener quiets the set.

Sound rolling.

Camera rolling.

And without looking up from the camera-

“Whenever you’re ready.”

I think for all of us, the expression “ready as I’ll ever be” was appropriate.  We were embarking on new  territory.  Part comedy.  Part PSA. Part-y.

I won’t spoil all of the great skits we have in store for you.  But get ready.  We have five more episodes coming your way. Episode one was a success.  It already has over 1,000 views on YouTube.  That’s 1,000 times more than 1 view.  And when you look at it that way, those numbers are pretty significant.  I might be crazy, but my estimates put the population of Arlington at 2,000 which means we were able to capture the attention of HALF of the population here.  I’m not fantastic at crunching numbers though so don’t quote me on all of that. I’m a celebrity, not a mathematician.

One thing I am sure of: The Car Free Diet Show is the next big thing for sketch comedy shows under six minutes, based in Arlington, and focusing on going Car Free.  You might even say we’re number one.

If you haven’t already, peep the first Episode here!

And make sure to stay tuned for all of the upcoming episodes of the Car Free Diet Show, as well as blog posts from me, your favorite host ever EVER, Car Free Matt!


   

Today brings a close to the thirty days Kyle and I spent competing against each other in the Car Free Diet Skeptics Challenge.  I was chosen as the grand prize winner, but the truth is that Kyle and I both are winners; and I’m not talking about the prizes we were given.

Over the past 30 days we have both learned how to survive without a car.  We went from absolute know-nothings to certified know-some-things.  Maybe we haven’t hit the know-it-all status, but we’re on the right track.  The transformation is significant.  There was a time when I would have been terrified if my car broke down, but that seems so very long ago now.

Today I stand a wiser, happier man.  And as I stood with Kyle during Bike to Work Day, I could tell he felt the same.  It didn’t matter what name they pulled out of the envelope as they announced the winner.  In all honesty, for all the times I’ve tried to bait Kyle into a friendly rivalry, the name in that envelope didn’t matter at all.  I looked around at all of the people enjoying the day, celebrating a common desire to lead a healthier life.

The Car Free Diet is about more than Kyle and myself, and it’s about more than Ross and Todd.  I saw that today, as strangers came up to congratulate me on the win.  They asked about my videos.  They inquired about my grandfather.  They’d followed along with the competition.  When I missed my interview, they’d been there.  When I got the job anyway, they were there.  I wasn’t alone in my mission to use my car less.   Kyle and I had become part of something much larger than the two individuals we had been on day one.  And it felt great.

I look forward to seeing who Arlington chooses as Skeptics in the future.  Last year Ross and Todd showcased their own Skeptic style.  This year Kyle and I did the same.  What will future competitions bring? I’m not sure, but I can say that each year, as the competition gains more and more exposure,  the Car Free Diet Skeptics Challenge holds amazing potential.  I moved to Arlington just over a year ago.  I saw people biking and running every day, but I felt like an outsider looking in on an elite group of athletes and hobbyists.  This challenge opened the door and let me into that group.  I wonder how many others are out there, contemplating using their car less just like I was?  From the responses and support I’ve received over the last thirty days, it seems like there are many, many people like me.

And perhaps more important is the connection I’ve been able to make with people who have been biking and going car-free for years.  I found that the group I had perceived to be elite and unwelcoming was just the opposite.  They gave advice.  They cheered us on.  They welcomed us to their bike lanes and trails with open arms.

Bus drivers were always willing to answer my questions as I bumbled along.  It’s POSSIBLE to put your bike on the front of the bus? HOW?! Is this bus headed towards Pentagon City or Tokyo? Are these seats taken? You think of a stupid question, I’ve asked it over the past 30 days.

Monday I’ll probably wake up and walk to the bus stop so I can catch the bus to Rosslyn and head to work.  Or maybe I’ll ride my bike in, or to the metro and metro in from there.  The options are mine now because I know they exist and I’m not afraid to use them.  30 days ago, you would never have heard me saying those words.  But I don’t need my car.  And quite frankly, I have no desire to get back to using it unless I absolutely have to.  I haven’t felt this sort of freedom since I followed up on that dare to streak across the football field when I was in high school.  Or that time I was dared to streak across the parking lot in college.  Or the time Kyle dared me to streak across Farmer’s Market yesterday.  Yes, freedom like this only comes during a few rare moments in life.

So as I stand on the edge of one journey and the verge of another, I can only describe my feeling as excited.  I’m excited to keep losing weight.  I’m excited to keep saving money.  I’m excited to meet new people and learn new tips and tricks.  I am excited about living life in Arlington, for the first time since I moved here.  No more speeding or parking tickets.  No more 4 or 5 dollar gas prices costing me hundreds every month.  No more traffic.  Imagine that if you can.  No. More. Traffic.  It feels like a million pounds just lifted off of my chest.

I don’t know where my path will lead now.  Maybe Kyle and I will continue to blog and post videos of our adventures.  I hope Arlington supports that idea.  I’d love to remain a part of the car-free circle.  But even if not, you can be sure that I’ll keep living my life being as car-free as possible.  I’ll sip orange juice on the bus in the morning, I’ll enjoy the wind on my face during every bike ride.  I’ll use the extra time walking to and from the bus stops to plan for the day or unwind on the way home.

Maybe some of you were able to read the short story I wrote, Life 56 Feet Above Sea Level.  It was about finding my smile again, and taking chances even though you might be terrified.  Moving from a small town to Arlington was overwhelming, and somewhere between the traffic, and the masses, and the concrete, I started to feel very far from home.

But then I was given a bike, and running shoes, and a smart trip card- and I was told to go out and seize the day. So that’s exactly what I did.  And on the streets and railways of Arlington, I found more adventure, and more support than I could have ever asked for. I’ve found myself loving being car-free and loving Arlington.  I found a place to call home.

And that’s more important than any tangible prize Arlington could have given me.


   

Is there any situation where Boys II Men lyrics DON’T help convey an emotion?  I don’t think so.  Go ahead and try to find one.  Boys II Men will have you covered. However, if you find yourself stuck, New Kids on the Block will work as a suitable alternative.  Here’s an example:

You: Hey Car-Free Matt, how have you felt about all of your trips on your bike? Also, do you think you have the right stuff to be able to win this challenge?

Me: (While doing infamous NKOTB leg swinging side to side dance)I’ve loved it.  And I’ve definitely got oh oh ohhhhh, oh oheeeo, oh oh ohhhhh, the right stuff.

So that’s a stretch.  But it’s nearly my last official Car-Free Matt blog post and I wanted to have a little fun.  And what better way to do that then by discussing Boys II Men and New Kids on the Block? Ok, there are probably better ways to have fun.

Sadly, the time for fun and games is coming to a close.  It’s serious face time, decision time.  Tomorrow, there will be a winner of the competition. And it will be me.  Or Kyle.  But let’s stick with me.

And I look back now on the past month.  The ups, the downs.  There have been plenty.  I wish I had more time to show you everything I’ve seen over the course of thirty days.  But like they say, time flies when you’re having fun.

I’ve been able to make several videos.  They’ve definitely helped get people talking to me about the competition and what I’ve been experiencing.  If you feel so inclined, please feel free to repost them on your own facebook, twitter blogs, etc.  I’d love the help sharing:

Trip to Jay’s Saloon featuring the song Happenstance

Capital Bikeshare Scavenger Hunt featuring the song Post Script as well as music created by my very good friend Ryan MayenSchein (Manshine)

Rebuttal to Kyle’s video announcing he sold his car

Trip to Maddy’s in DC featuring the song The Lights in DC

PSA #1

PSA #2

PSA #3

PSA #4

PSA #5

PSA #6

PSA #7

PSA #8

National Walk at Lunch Day featuring the song Two Sides to Coins, Walls, and Us

First Bike Ride, Missed Interview, Shenandoah, and my first video blog

In the past thirty days, I’ve been able to lose five pounds just by biking and walking more.  No gym.  No working out at home.  Just getting from point A to B.  Another eight months of this, and I may just be high-school skinny. We’ll see… but if not, I’m still way healthier than I was and it will only get better.

I’ve also saved between $175-200 in gas alone.  That doesn’t include the amount I’d have spent to park on the street or the almost guaranteed parking tickets I would receive for parking on those streets.  There have been no meters to feed, no parking police watching me from afar.

Learning to plan is something that takes time, ironically.  Because people who don’t plan well usually don’t have time to learn how to plan well…  But through out the course of this contest I’ve become much better at planning ahead, and getting places on time.  When I drive, I show up late.  That’s sort of what I do.  But with using the bus and metro system, I’ve learned to find the time I need to be there, and BE THERE at that time.  I show up places on time.  Mouths drop.  It’s a big deal.

My stress level has decreased substantially.  No more sitting in traffic.  No more wondering where all of the people in the cars around me came from.  No more wishing I lived in 1784 just so I could find an open rode somewhere.  I just sit back and relax and someone else drives me to and from my destinations.  I read, I listen to music, I zone out, I play games on my phone, update my social networks, etc. It’s sort of like being wealthy, or a celebrity.  Take me to Rosslyn driver. Pip pip, cheerio people stuck in traffic.

I’ve also been able to see people and places I never would have seen if I wasn’t going car-free.  Maybe you don’t find enjoyment in seeing the world around you, but I’m a huge fan.  Today, as I sat on the bus, I watched two guys talking with each other.  As an attractive girl passed by them, one of the guys followed her with his gaze and the other guy tapped him and gave him the, “No way brotha.  She’s out of your league look.” Then they both laughed and continued on with their conversation.  I love moments like that, when I get to see people being people.  I call it people watching.  You may call it being creepy. But that’s why you’re wrong and I’m right.  (This style of arguing is a tactic I’ve learned from my girlfriend, Dana.  You can read about it in my new book, Always Be Right, Always.)

And in just a few weeks I’ve already started to accumulate ways to make my commutes easier.  As you go car-free, I think everyone will begin to shape their own version of what works best for them.  But little things here and there go a long way.

  • Bring an umbrella (you can never trust the forecast and a wet Iphone is a uselss Iphone).
  • Wear regular shoes to and from work so you aren’t walking in uncomfortable shoes.  Change at the office or where ever you’re headed.
  • Pick up some reusable grocery bags for groceries.  It’s better for the environment AND reduces the chance that your bags will break.
  • Bring along something to read or something to do while you’re on the metro or the bus.  You can spend your time watching people too if you’d like.
  • Invest in a Smart Trip card.  This a no brainner.  It’s faster and it saves you money if you’re transferring from bus to bus or metro to metro.
  • Try to NOT transfer if you don’t have to.  My commute into Rosslyn could be done a few different ways (bus to bus, bus to metro, etc).  But the easiest way is to find a bus that goes right there.  That way there’s no chance you’ll miss the next bus or metro.
  • If you’re biking, don’t hug the shoulder! I know that it seems like it’s safer to do so, but it’s really not. Be visible and give yourself distance from parked cars.  They’re actually JUST as dangerous as moving vehicles.  People getting out of their cars or stepping out from in between cars aren’t looking for you.  They’re looking for cars.  Slamming into a car door or a person won’t be fun.  Well, it won’t be MUCH fun.  I bet it’s a little fun.
  • Use the trip planner located here. It’s a really useful tool when planning your trips.
  • Planning the “there” trip is much easier than planning the “return” trip.  It’s one thing to know you’re meeting friends for diner at five. But that dinner could go for one hour or four hours and planning your trip home is a little more tricky because of that.  You can never really plan perfectly for the return trip.  So make use of the aforementioned trip planner.  I have it saved on my phone so I can bring it up whenever I’m ready to head off.
  • Make sure you have enough money on your card BEFORE you get to the metro line and try to go in.  This is especially true if you usually only give yourself a few minutes to make sure you get to the metro.  Taking time to put more money on your card can cost you a missed metro which can cost you a missed bus which can cost you a wasted night.
  • Don’t leave your bike unattended.  Sometimes Kyle will sneak by and sabotage your chain.

There are plenty more.  I’m still learning, and so will you if you give going car-free a chance. I’d love to hear any more suggestions any one has.

There’s so much I want to say, and so much I want to learn still.  It’s a shame the contest is only 30 days.  I’d love to extend the challenge, but alas, it’s not up to me whether I beat Kyle in 30 days or 365 days.  But I’ve had a blast doing this and I wouldn’t change any of it.  Has it been easy? Nope.  Has it been possible? Yup.  And it gets easier with each passing day.  So I’m not looking backwards, focusing on stumbling blocks along the way.  Towards the past is no way to be facing when you’re biking, running, and metroing into a new future.  I really do want this competition to be the beginning of something greater for me.  In a year’s time I want to be thinner, richer, calmer, and above all else, happier.

I’m extremely thankful to everyone who has helped out with this competition.  To all of the stores and organizations that donated; to all of the people who have offered up advice, support, and encouragement; to everyone who helped spread the word about the competition; and to anyone I’m missing: thank you.  I joke around most of the time, but I offer that thanks with the utmost sincerity.  It has been nothing short of an amazing month and I couldn’t have done it without any of you.

With any luck, the next time Billy Ocean comes around demanding that I get into his car, I’ll be able to look him straight in the eyes and say, “No way Billy.  I’m Car-Free, plus you’re creeping people out by demanding they get in your car all the time.  It’s really not an acceptable practice and no one enjoys an ultimatum.”

And don’t forget! Kyle and I will be at the Rosslyn pit-stop bright and early tomorrow to hang out with fellow bikers and to find out who will win the competition.  I hope to see you all there.

 

 


   

Going car-free takes planning. I’ve said it before. I’m sure I’ll say it again.

But this week brought about an interesting lesson for me. It brought promise. And then it brought me to my knees.

Let me backtrack a moment. I know I mentioned last week that I didn’t get the job I interviewed for on the first day of the contest. I had already begun to brace myself for that possibility so when the news arrived, it wasn’t as though I was caught off guard.

However, what DID catch me off guard is when they called me on Monday, to tell me about another position. In fact, they didn’t call to ask me to apply or come in for an interview. They simply wanted me to take the job. So I rode my bike to the metro like I’ve done so many times in the past few weeks, and I took a ride into Rosslyn so I could discuss the details with the owners.

On my way into the office, I received a response from The Smithsonian Channel in regards to a position I had recently inquired about. They asked if I would like to come in for an interview as well.

Suddenly my mind was reeling. One job offer and an interview for another job, my DREAM job, in the same week?

“What are you up to Life”, I asked.
“Oh nothing,” Life giggled.

I stepped inside the office for the first position, and after discussing everything with the owners, found myself loving the position they were offering me. There were no negatives save for the possibility of a job at the Smithsonian Channel off in the distance.

I took the return trip home and spent the time biking to consider everything that was happening. After nearly a year of searching for a full time position, it seemed as if things were turning around.

I walked into my house and called my girlfriend, Dana, to tell her all about the good news. Seconds after we hung up, my phone rang again. This time, not Dana. It was Christy Goodman from the Washington Post, following up on a suggestion I had given to her about covering the Car Free Diet Skeptics for a story in the Post. It was a go.

Flash forward in the week.

I go in for the interview at the Smithsonian Channel. As always, I ride my bike to the metro. I ride the metro into DC. I walk half a mile to the building, documenting my entire trip with the Flip Cam Arlington’s graciously given to both myself and Kyle.

The interview goes well, though not fantastic. But that doesn’t bring me down. I had just been sitting in an office at the Smithsonian Channel because they had, at the very least, an inkling of interest in me. Or, in other words, I just sat in an office being interviewed for my dream job. It was the kind of job that made me go to school for film in the first place. It was the kind of job that lets someone like myself be someone like myself. As I walked the half mile back to the metro, I reminded myself that this was only the beginning. Maybe it would only mean that I had a baby toe in the door of my future, but it was something, and not nothing.

I felt like skipping. But men don’t skip. I can prove it, because I turned off the camera while I skipped so there’s no proof.

I rode the metro home, thinking to myself how fantastic the week had been and how much better I’d started to get at going car-free. I began to wonder why anyone needs a car. Life was at a high for me, and I hadn’t used a car for a second of it.

But isn’t that how life works? It’s an emotional roller coaster, and when you reach the top of the hill, I suppose there’s no where left to go but down sometimes.

On Friday, I got a phone call from my mom. My grandfather who had gone to the hospital earlier in the week for a “more than minor but less than severe” issue with his kidney, received more information. It wasn’t his kidney that had been the problem; he had an aneurysm in his aorta. I’m not a medical expert, but I’ve seen Grays Anatomy. And Dr. Derek Shepard is always very clear: aneurysms are no joke and need to be treated immediately.

Suddenly everything was moving backwards. I had to drive with my girlfriend to the hospital, but even that didn’t seem fast enough. I knew the severity of the condition. If I didn’t see him before he was operated on, I might never see him again. There is no such thing as moving too fast when a loved one is in trouble. But moving too slow does exist. Not a bike, not a bus, not waiting for the metro or train will do.

In fact, a car isn’t even fast enough. Perhaps light may be an example speed for travel under those circumstances. But I don’t have the capability. And I reached the hospital after he’d already gone into the operating room.

I sat with my family as the doctor delivered us more bad news. It wasn’t one aneurysm, it was three; and two had ruptured. Due to his age, open surgery wasn’t an option. That meant the surgery would need to be done by entering from a different location, without any actual visualization of the aneurysms other than a computer screen as the doctor maneuvered around inside my Grandpop’s body. And he explained that the survival rate for a procedure like this was 20% or less.

It took my breath away. Those were supposed to be the odds of Kyle winning this competition, not my grandpop’s chances of surviving. I look up to my grandpop. We share the same middle name, Owen. It was passed onto me and he is one of the only people in my life who will refer to me by it.

So I spent the day in the hospital. My grandmom was there, along with their five children (including my mom) and a large number of THEIR children. It was a big group to say the least. And as we sat in the waiting room, watching the minutes tick by, the conversation of the car-free campaign came up.

They’d seen my videos. They’d read the blogs. It was just idle chatter really, something to help fill the silence. But it did do just that. Help pass the time. I made a mental note to include it in my many reasons why I am grateful for this competition.

Six hours passed, and the doctor returned to say that the operation was a relative success. He was very up front. Though he’d removed the aneurysms, the percentage of survival had not increased as of yet. The days following such a complicated procedure, especially for someone in their 80s, were as much of a danger as the operation itself.

So now we wait and I look back at the week which began with such promise and has ended with trepidation. And I ask myself, how does someone do it? Going car-free has so many fantastic qualities, and I highly recommend it still. But what about the moments, like I ran into this week, when being without a car can take critical hours, minutes, and seconds away from you?

In response to myself, I would answer that planning ahead for such moments is the only possible answer. I’ve become much better at planning for a bus in an hour or planning how I’ll travel the following day. But I’d given no thought to emergency situations where I would need a plan of action. I still believe there is a way to address the problem, but the time to do so is not while you’re in the moment of crisis.

So I leave this post with only this recommendation: if you plan on going car-free, or you are already living that lifestyle, do yourself a favor and create an emergency plan. It’s obviously not something you can create perfectly, but give yourself some sort of idea about how you will get to where you will need to get to. Maybe you have a relative nearby. Maybe you use zip car. Or maybe there is some other option which will work for you. But you NEED to give it some thought. If you’ve never feared for the life of someone you love, then you may just have to trust me on this one.


   

We are all molded. Each of us is molded a little more every day. We’re molded by the people we meet, the places we go, and the events we take part in. We’re molded by nature, by blind luck. We’re molded by the chances we take. And we are all molded, all shaped, by the ostensibly infinite number of choices we’ve made, and will make, in our lifetimes.

I say this because the challenge is nearing its final week and I can’t help but begin to reflect on the experience. I wanted this challenge to be more than the prizes, fame, jewelry, sponsorships, record deals, etc., etc.

Obviously, I’m joking. Of course I want all of those things too.

But most of all, I wanted to learn something. I wanted to change. I wanted to BE change.

Still, we’re not all presented with the opportunity to be the first man on the moon or the woman who cures cancer (get a move on sister!) Some battles are fought as individuals who, collectively, form a whole.

I am just one person who has said, “Enough is enough! I don’t need

the gas prices
the stress
the hours wasted
the pollution.

I don’t need a car.”

When did the car become a staple of the American lifestyle? Forty years ago it was fortunate for a family to have ONE car. Now moms and dads each have their own SUV and the 3.5 children each drive their own hipster vw’s. Cities can’t keep up with the inundation of CARS. CARS. CARS. There aren’t enough parking spots. There isn’t enough space. And I don’t have enough patience.

So what’s stopping us from getting rid of our cars or just using our cars less? Fear? The unknown? Laziness? There’s a plethora of reasons I’m sure. And I really am sure. I’ve had those same reasons for years. But not anymore.

I’m still a skeptic. I’m not convinced all things can be accomplished without a car. But I love when things CAN be accomplished without a car; and it’s way more than you would think.

So I’m just one of so many others who have already realized what I’m realizing. Arlington was just chosen as one of the most “walkable” cities in America. It’s also recognized as being one of the top 50 Biking Cities in the country. The resources are at our finger tips.

I know this is my own challenge, one which I will win (mid-speech smack talk bomb dropped on you whaaaaat). But I challenge everyone who’s reading this to give it a shot.

My brother told me that he wants to start biking into work a few days a week because of this competition.

A friend of mine called from outside of Chicago. He told me I’ve inspired him to use his car less. He’s been walking and biking way more. Aside from the obvious health and money reasons, he mentioned that he’s able to go out to the bars downtown and not worry about driving home.

Holy smokes?!

A) That’s probably something he should have been practicing already
B) It’s STILL a valid reason to use your car less. I know it’s not the type of reason you’ll see posted on a metro station sign: Go Car-Free So You Don’t Get DUI’s!

But it’s true. Whether you’re a college undergrad who wants to celebrate turning 21, a couple trying to cut back on costs, or an environmentalist trying to reduce your carbon footprint, going car-free CAN BE and SHOULD BE for you. There are so many benefits to using your car less. After three weeks of doing it myself, I’m hard pressed to come up with more than one or two reasons I would need to own a car at all.

So I return to my original thought. We are all molded. We are all being molded even as we sit here typing and reading away on the computer or phone. I for one like who going car-free is molding me into. I’d like to think that I’ll be able to look back on this challenge and say, “that’s the event which changed my life.” Who knows what you can do with more money, better health, and believe it or not, more free time. Maybe I’ll use the saved money for a vacation. Maybe I’ll use my extra free time reading or playing guitar. Maybe I’ll stand by the side of the road tossing dollar bills at the cars stuck in bumper to bumper traffic while I laugh and smoke victory cigars. That last one is probably lower on the “options list” but I’m just saying, the possibilities are endless.

Who do you want to be molded into? Do you want to drive to work in your car every day and spend two hours in traffic? Do you want to be miserable when you get home? Do you want to be broke? Do you want to add to the overwhelmingly large problem of pollution?

Or do you want to be free, with the wind in your hair as you cruise past the fender benders, bumper to bumper traffic, and frustrated beeping? Do you want to have extra money to spend on yourself or your mom for mother’s day or your kids- or again, maybe just yourself? Do you want to look great? Do you want to feel great? Well? Do you?

We ARE the decisions we make. If you haven’t tried using your car less already, don’t feel guilty.

Tomorrow’s a new day. Just think about it. You owe it to yourself.

I’m Car-Free Matt, and I approve this message.


   

Let us begin this post with a very important message: Happy Mother’s Day! Although my mom is hands down the best mom since sliced bread, I have no doubt there are many close runner ups! Being a mom can’t be easy. So take it easy today gals. You deserve it. Thank you. I can’t express that enough.

Ok. So now that’s out of the way, let’s get ourselves down to some business here. There are a few things I want to cover. And we haven’t much time. It’s Mother’s Day after all and I’m expected to be places. Moms love me.

Capital Bikeshare Scavenger Hunt

On Sunday, I got out to participate in the Capital Bikeshare Scavenger Hunt.  New bike stations were added and to celebrate, Capital Bikeshare created a scavenger hunt.  The mission: use Capital Bikeshare to travel from station to station, finding the clue at each.  When all was said and done, you had to put the clues together to see what sentence was formed.  Given the close proximity to Easter, I found the scavenger hunt especially beneficial.  I tried to enter 38 Easter Egg Hunts with no success.  Apparently all the eggs were for “kids”.  Last time I checked, kids are already enjoying all the Trix cereal they can get their hands on.  Now they’ve monopolized eggs and fun hunting games too.  Well, not at Capital Bikeshare!

I brought my girlfriend, Dana, along with me to enjoy the adventure.  There will be a video of the trip soon.  It’s in the works- don’t rush me.  Despite the rain, and a few complications,  I’d say it was a success overall.  I’ve never used the system previously and I was really impressed with how easy it is to get started.

For those of you who haven’t used Capital Bikeshare in the past, let me just fill you in:

1. You can sign up for a monthly or yearly membership OR you can sign up for a day or five day membership.  The options are pretty open which is nice.  If you live in a city and want to use Capital Bikeshare- boom- it’s covered.  Or if you’re a tourist and just want a bike for the few days you’ll be in town- double boom- covered again.

2. If you sign up for a monthly or yearly membership, you get a key card.  All you have to do is show up to any of the bike stations around the city, put your key card in the slot, and presto, you have a bike to go meandering around the city visiting all of your favorite haunts.

3. If you just want the bike for a day, all you have to do is show up to the station, and use your credit card to pay five dollars.  It prints you out a coupon with a code.  Type the code into the bike station and you get your bike! The whole process takes about three minutes.

4.  You can only have the bikes out for half an hour at a time.  But that’s perfect.  There are TONS of bike stations around the city.  If you want to use the bike for more than half an hour, just drive to the next station, dock the bike, and get a new one out.

It’s a pretty ingenious system designed to be as easy for you to use as possible.  If you haven’t used a system like this in the past, don’t stress.  I’ll have a video up soon to help show you how it works.  In the mean time, you can check out this “how-to” video on capital bikeshare:

 


Dana and I were able to figure out the secret code using our above average sized brains. And yesterday we received our prize packages full of Bike Arlington and Capital Bikeshare swag. Triple Boom.

 

 

 

Other News

 

This week I’ve really been pushing to make Dana join me on Car-Free trips.  She’s been resistant.  That’s pretty typical.  I’m still not entirely sold on going car-free myself.  It’s complicated and requires extra planning.  It can make for long nights if you miss your bus or your metro.  It can make for a VERY long night if its your fault and you have a significant other with you who you’ve forced to come along for the car-free adventure.  Fortunately, that hasn’t happened yet.

And I think that’s a worth while subject to mention briefly.  Going car-free is one thing.  But convincing everyone else in your life to go car-free is another.  Obviously that isn’t the point of this challenge, but I hadn’t really given any thought to how MY decision would affect those around me.  I don’t think it’s an insurmountable obstacle by any means, but it is something to consider if you’re planning on trying to go car-free in the near future.  Not everyone is as understanding as Dana.  And she hasn’t even been overwhelmingly understanding.  Just prepare yourself for a few in depth conversations.  Enough said.

Also, I know everyone has been on the edge of their seat to find out if I got the job I interviewed for on the first day of the challenge.  Put on your frowny faces.  Because I didn’t. Let’s be honest though.  I missed the bus, so I missed the metro.  And more importantly, I missed the interview and had to reschedule.  I think we all saw this one coming.  But it’s a good lesson.  That job was important to me.  There will be plenty more situations like that interview.  Going car-free isn’t easy.  Missing an interview on my first day of the challenge, and subsequently not getting the job, has been a pretty tough lesson.  But I’m better because of the mishap.  I’ve learned to plan better and make sure I know what my options are.

So to recap
1. Get ready for relationship disagreements based on going car-free
2. Don’t miss interviews
3. Plan accordingly

Earlier in the week, Dana and I took a trip into DC to meet with her sister and brother in law.  We used Groupon to pick up a deal at Maddy’s bar/restaurant; so I used the opportunity to document a trip into DC.  As always, I recorded a song to use for the video.  It’s something I actually started to write a few years back and then abandoned.  But, since I need music for the videos, I thought I’d try to finish it up.  It’s not done, but it’s a skeleton and SO, I insist that you please enjoy this new video and song.  Ya’ll come back now!


   

Every so often, a challenge comes along with opposing sides so polarized that the entire future of the universe hinges on the outcome of the competition.  Man vs. Man. Matt vs. Kyle. Good vs. Evil.  It. All. Comes. Down. To. This.

I knew that going in.  I was warned to watch out for Kyle “The Chain Killer” Lewis.  I’d heard rumors about his chain killing obsession.  But it’s different when you see the wreckage first hand.

On Wednesday of last week, I was scheduled to participate in National Walk at Lunch Day, a special day of the year where individuals and groups get together to take a walk during their lunch break.  A group had been organized by Arlington County and we were all meeting in Rosslyn at 12:00 pm.  There were probably balloons, and clowns, and free ice cream.  I don’t know.  I never made it.

Half way through my bike ride to Rosslyn, my chain mysteriously popped off my bike.  I tried to console her, telling her that everything would be fine.  Chains can be fixed after all.  But it was no use.  She wouldn’t pedal.  She wouldn’t switch gears.  She wouldn’t do anything.

And as I sat there on the sidewalk, holding the broken shell of what was once a beautiful bike, I knew there was only one explanation: The Chain Killer.

Rain loomed off in the distance.  Cars sped by, taunting me as I sat: a broken spirit, holding his broken steed, stuck in the midst of what had become the most dangerous of car-free competitions. What would the Chain Killer do next? Pop off another chain? Probably…he’s more or less a one trick pony.

Rosslyn, somewhere beyond the horizon, was no more than a dream to me.  I was stranded.  All hope had been lost.  I gripped the towel loosely in my hand, ready to throw it into the proverbial ring.

And suddenly, I saw him, a vision: Kyle, wearing his long black dress and big pointy black hat, cycling through the skies, laughing his little witchy laugh and making little witchy threats aimed at girls and their dogs, and men and their bikes.  I couldn’t let him win. Not this time. Not on my watch. Not again.

My bike squeaked, so faint that only someone with a deep spiritual connection could hear it.  But I heard it.  It rang out like the liberty bell, telling me to push forward, to keep fighting.  And just like Rocky when he infamously ain’t heard no bell, I too found a second wind.  The show, as they say, had to go on.

I walked the bike the remainder of the distance to Rosslyn.  I was late, that’s for sure.  The group had already left.  On a ordinary day, I’d have just gone home.  But this was no ordinary day, and it was no ordinary challenge.

From my pack, I pulled the ancient Flip Cam bestowed upon me by Arlington County.

“Use this,” they told me, “in your most troubled times.  Let it guide you.  Let it tell your story.”

So I shot. I shot and I shot and I shot until I could shoot no more.  People walking everywhere, enjoying the outdoors, enjoying the exercise, enjoying the company of those around them.  The rain, which only moments before had seemed all but certain to come in and drench the day in its downpour, now scuttled off in search of some other car-free competition.

I ambled along the busy Rosslyn streets, nodding and waving to all of those who passed by.  The battle had certainly been won, but the war was far from over.  I knew I needed to reach Revolution Cycles if I was going to have any chance of surviving.

So I scaled walls, and I crossed bridges and rivers, and I climbed hills.  I continued the journey.  The man at the Georgetown gate was nowhere to be found, and entrance into that land was uneventful.  Revolution Cycles welcomed me wholly.  A magician does not reveal his secrets, so I’ve no idea what sort of spell or charm was placed on my bike, but within seconds, the chain was repaired, and my bike was riding like it was brand new again.

I knew I was still a long way from home, and a long way from victory.  Still, for just a moment, I could breathe easy.  I hopped on the bike, my feet spinning atop the pedals.  With each car that passed, I thought about what still lay ahead for me in this car-free challenge; but I’ve no way to know what the future holds.  All I can do is try to be prepared for the unexpected.  And keep pedaling. Above all else, keep pedaling.

Please enjoy this video depicting my narrow escape from what could have been an untimely end to my car-free challenge. And enjoy the music! It’s a song I recorded just so you’d have music to keep your spirits up during an otherwise dark tale.

 

 

 

First Video Blog for Car-Free Matt

April 27th, 2011 by Matt

   

Every day I receive SO MUCH fan mail asking, “Matt, what have you been up to? Please, please, please, please, please, PLEASE make a video that shows us your day to day.” That’s almost entirely true. Ok, it’s not true at all.

I DO receive mail though. From credit card companies.  And while I don’t open them, I imagine it’s completely realistic to assume they want to see some videos I’ve created.  So for all of the credit card companies (and readers) who have been itching themselves silly waiting to see a video, here’s one for your viewing pleasure.  It’s actually THREE, but I’ve combined the first few days into one video to make it as easy as possible for everyone to enjoy my adventures. Enjoy!

 

 


   

When I won the original challenge to become one of two contestants in the Car-Free Diet Skeptics Challenge, it seemed like there was only one thing anyone had to say: “You have to give up your car for thirty days? I don’t understand what you won.”

I’ll admit, it’s certainly not easy to explain how losing your car for thirty days is a celebratory event; but that’s on the surface.  For starters, Arlington County hooked me up with all sorts of flashy new gear.  Which reminds me, I want to give a big thank you to all of the stores that contributed, especially Revolution Cycles and Potomac River Running.  There’s absolutely no way I could be doing this without the new bike, shoes, and gear to help me go car-free.

Still, going car-free isn’t about the swag (much).  It’s about all of the positive aspects of not having a car.  I can see your faces now.

“Positive aspects of not having a car?!?,” you say.

“You didn’t let me finish,” I say. “Don’t be so rude.”

Yes, I just fabricated a conversation with a generalized version of my blog readers.  It’s my blog, and I’ll do what I want.

But all haha-ing aside, there really are a ton of positives to not owning a car.  Just ask Chris Balish.  Oh, you don’t know who Chris Balish is? Well, good thing I do and I’m prepared to tell you.

Chris is the author of How To Live Well Without Owning A Car. He is also an award-winning feature writer, reporter, and broadcast journalist and began his career writing for Writer’s Digest magazine and Writer’s Digest books.  But, just like his bio will tell you, the most important fact about Chris is his passion for living an improved life by going car-free.

After he wrote the original book, Arlington County commissioned Chris to add a special appendix just for Arlington County!  It’s a really great guide to help figure out how to start your own car-free lifestyle.

 

 

 

As Chris explains in the book, going car-free is for everyone who:

  • Is fed up with high gas prices
  • Finds owning a car is a hassle
  • Has financial problems
  • Worries about money
  • Has credit card debt, student loans, or personal loans
  • Longs for the freedom and serenity of a debt-free lifestyle

 

Of course, there are a ton of naysayers.  That’s understandable.  Going car-free can be extremely scary.  But you know what else is scary? Ghosts. And that didn’t stop any of the following from trucking right along:

  • Bill Murray in Ghost Busters
  • Demi Moore in Ghost
  • The Ghost Writer Team in Ghost Writer

 

And THEY had to deal with ghosts. Ew. All you have to do is give up a car.

Still, it’s a daunting task and it never fails, people will laugh, mock, and dismiss the possibility that THEY could EVER give up their car.  So here are a few facts and statistics from Chris’s book which might help sway the non-believers:

  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2003 Consumer Expenditure Survey, the average American spends eighteen cents of every dollar earned on transportation (1/5 of your income). That makes our cars the second largest expense behind housing.  And don’t forget, that report was from 2003 when gas was $1.55 per gallon.  It’s nearly $4.00 today.
  • According to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine, the best way to cut costs and save money is to go after one big expense, rather than a bunch of little ones.
  • According to a 2004 American Automobile Association study, the average American spends $8,410 per year to own a vehicle.  That includes car payments, insurance, gas, oil, car washes, registration fees and taxes, parking, tolls, and repairs. If you invested that money at an 8% annual return over thirty years, you’d have $1,043,251.  A millionaire people.
  • When you buy a new car you are spending thousands of dollars on an asset that will lose 20% of its value the day you buy it, lose another 10-15% of its value each year thereafter, require you to go into debt to pay for it, make you pay interest on the amount you borrowed to buy it, and force you to spend hundreds of dollars a month to continue to own it.
  • According to the Surface Transportation Policy Project, the average American driver spends 443 hours behind the wheel each year.
  • According to a 2005 Federal Highway Administration study, the average American spends 51 hours each year sitting in bumper-bumper traffic.
  • A study done by the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that sitting in traffic nearly triples the risk of suffering a heart attack a short time later.
  • A study done by the RAND corporation, the nation’s largest independent health policy research organization, found that sedentary suburbanites are more likely to suffer chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, asthma, headaches, diabetes, migraines, urinary tract infections, back pain, and obesity. In fact, co-Author, Dr. Deborah Cohen, states, “To improve our health the study suggests that we should build cities where people feel comfortable walking and are not so dependent on cars.”
  • A study done by the California Air Resources Board found that exposure to air pollution may be up to ten times higher INSIDE vehicles than in ambient air outside.
  • According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration there were 6.3 million motor vehicle crashes on U.S. roadways in 2003.  Nearly 3 million people were injured and 42,643 people died.
  • In addition to traffic and health concerns, cars cause road rage, noise pollution, animal casualties, and sprawl (irresponsible, poorly planned development that destroys green space, increases traffic, crowds schools, and drives up taxes).

 

And I haven’t even gotten through the first three chapters of his book! If you want to retire early, save up to travel, or pay off your house, then I genuinely suggest picking up Chris’s book and giving car-free living a go.

I guess what I’m trying to say, is that some things in life ARE scary, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth the risk.  And it doesn’t mean the pay out isn’t more than you would have ever expected.  If fear or doubt is holding you back from going car-free or going “car-lite”, then take it in steps.  Try it for a day.  Try it for a week.  I doubt you’ll regret the decision.

A few years back I wrote a story for a Creative Writing class at Towson University.  We had to discuss a moment that changed our lives; it didn’t matter how small or large the moment, just so long as it was an event which shaped who we would become.  I thought it was relevant so I wanted to share my story with you.  It’s a very literal tale, smacking of symbolism.  Whether you’re standing on the edge of a cliff or holding your car keys in your hand considering tossing THEM into the abyss, sometimes you just have to take the leap.

Life 56 Feet Above Sea Level

 

In addition, here are a few links to help you calculate just how much you could save if you decided to give up your car.  I definitely recommend using the Car Free Diet Calculator. It’s VERY useful AND if you fill it out, you’ll receive a coupon for a free copy of How To Live Well Without Owning A Car.  That’s a win-win-win. One extra win because I said so.

This link will help you determine how much you can save by going car-free:

Car Free Diet Calculator

This link will show you just how much it costs to own YOUR specific car each year:

True Cost to Own

As always, thanks for reading gangaroos! And if you have any of your own tips, suggestions, or questions, feel free to comment and let me know.

 

 

 

 

Old Rag, New Diet

April 24th, 2011 by Matt

   

Sorry I’ve been distant the past few days gang. I spent the weekend camping along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. Turns out, the wilderness still hasn’t caught up with modern technology. Their version of “wireless” involves absolutely no wires. Ever. That said, I’ve been a bit out of touch for the past two days and I wanted to catch you all up on my adventures.

I woke in Arlington Friday bright and early. My first thought was how much I wanted to drive somewhere to grab some breakfast. It was a little chilly and biking has never been my “go-to” form of transportation so I debated whether or not I REALLY wanted breakfast. Turns out I did.

So I biked to Subway to pick up a delicious breakfast sandwich. The whole world was alive and kicking early in the morning! I can’t stress enough, not using a car really makes you appreciate everything that goes on around you. I saw a father walking with his little daughter, couples walking their dogs, fellow bikers waving as they passed, houses I’ve overlooked the entire time I’ve lived in Arlington, and so on and so forth. Moving from Pennsylvania, and working from home frequently, it’s been hard to really feel like I was part of the community. When I’m on my bike, I actually feel like I belong. So, thanks Car Free Diet!

After that though, I have some bad news. I got in a car. It wasn’t my choice, but the campgrounds were over two and a half hours away, and my dad and brother didn’t seem to think we could get there without using a car. I have to wager that they were probably right. The trunk and backseat were loaded down with tents, sleeping bags, camping equipment, etc. If any you have any suggestions on car-free long distance traveling, or traveling with A LOT of equipment, I’d love the advice.

The good news is that once there, I insisted we remain car free, which wasn’t too difficult since we spent most of our time hiking. My family has been camping in the Shenandoah Valley area since I was just a baby. I’ve spent countless days wandering the trails of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but the one summit we never dared to conquer was Old Rag. My brother and my father and I have always said we’d do it. “One day,” we’d say, “we’ll hike Old Rag.” Saturday was that day.

It’s a 9 to 12 mile hike depending on where you start and involves the “rock scramble”, a 9/10 stretch of the mountain where you are forced to climb up and down rocks/boulders which take the place of a more traditional trail. Suffice it to say, it’s a bit of a task, burning around 3,500 calories when all is said and done. That’s a full pound of calories! I made sure to wear my Car Free Diet t-shirt and was able to talk about the contest with a few curious passerbys (though the conversation was in between deep inhales and exhales)!

We also spent time doing other activities and made sure to check out Shenandoah Caverns while we were there. If anyone gets the chance, you should definitely get down to the the Skyline Drive area. It’s a great chance to do some car-free living for a quick weekend get away. Just gorgeous.

It was a great opportunity to get in some exercise and prepare myself for the next 28 days of going Car-Free. And guess what (you won’t believe this) we got the chance to see a bear. Unlike the last blog post which involved a lot of fake bear talk, this bear was real, albeit a cub, but still real! I didn’t stick around very long to find out what the cub was doing in a tree, or where the mama bear was, but I did think it fit in perfectly with my bear theme!

But now, I’m glad to be back in Arlington and I’m ready to get back down to business here in the city. I’ve taken a few bike rides in the past week and I’ve been using an app on my Iphone called “MapMyRide” which is a great way to track where you’ve been riding along with total distance and calories. For those of you who like to run or bike, I suggest checking it out. I’ll be posting my treks in upcoming blogs so keep a look out for that!

I have so many things to say, and a lot of questions I’ve thought of over the past few days but I’ll hold off for a bit. I’m pretty drained from hiking and for now, I just want to curl up, put on a movie, and be as car-free as possible right from my own sofa!

Here are a few pictures from my trip over the weekend, and a link to more pictures taken by my brother. Enjoy! And let’s keep in touch. I’ve missed yins.

Old Rag Picture Gallery


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