For several months now we have been surrounded by water, and by nature. Recently, we have been also surrounded by dolphins and an incredible number of birds: osprey, pelicans, terns, herons and more. Most of the time, the only “traffic” we encounter besides other sailboats going 5 knots, is the occasional powerboat or fishing boat. We have been completely removed from what I call “Car Culture”. The harbor towns we have been stopping at, for the most part, are old towns that were built BEFORE the advent of car culture, when the main form of transportation was BOATS, along with walking and horse drawn carriages. These historical towns have their center oriented on the waterfront, and they are easily navigable by foot. We have been delighted at the number of times we have been able to anchor for free in PRIME waterfront real estate, take our dinghy to shore and walk around some of America’s most charming cities, all without having to deal with parking, traffic, etc. (I guess we do have to deal with gale force winds and freezing cold…..but hey, who’s complaining?) Pre-“car culture” cities are built on a more “human” scale, and a person walking around in such places feels at ease and a part of the surrounding landscape. Other people in a “human” scaled city also seem more approachable and connected to each other. There is a coherent “Pattern Language” in the architecture that makes things feel balanced and harmonious.
In contrast, “car culture” cities are built to the scale of large American cars, and large American appetites. Yesterday we arrived in Some Florida Town, and anchored our boats in the harbor with dolphins swimming all around us. The local long term boat resident of the harbor (he has been living on his boat for 15 years in that spot) came over to our boats in his dinghy to introduce us to the area and tell us the lay of the land. Our goal was to go to the beach and get some food. The beach was not far away, and we figured we could walk there quickly. We found the “parking” area for dinghies and made our way ashore. Immediately we found ourselves on the side of a highway, with cars speeding by. We were near a large strip mall complex of big box chain stores. It looked the same as any other one in Anytown, USA. There were no sidewalks, or if there were they were partial sidewalks, that went on for a random length and then suddenly stopped. There were no crosswalks, for this place was not designed for pedestrians. It was not designed for humans, actually. Alienation and depression seem to be inevitable by-products of this style of urban design. We immediately felt like we had arrived on another planet, the culture shock was so great. Cars driving by honked and yelled at us like we were strange aliens to be actually WALKING. The beach was about a half hour walk down the “strip”. Normally that wouldn’t be a bad walk, if we hadn’t been out of place pedestrians in Big Car Land. Miraculously we stumbled on a bus stop with a bus arriving in a few minutes that could bring us closer to the beach. We all hopped on, and soon I was freaking out about how FAST we were going! We have been traveling at 5 miles per hour for months now, and 35 miles per hour felt unnatural and rushed! Funny!
Those of you who know me know that I have a hatred for cars: a car killed the person I love most in the world. I have always felt a frustration with the alienation and stress that seems embedded in the world we have built up for ourselves to accomodate cars. I remember a particular day right before we left on our sailing trip, when I was in my car in Big Box Store Strip Mall Land, and was absolutely HATING it. All of it. The cheap Chinese crap that is sold to us in all these stores, the pushing of stuff and more stuff that we don’t need, the waste and inefficiency of the whole system. I vowed to stop participating in this part of our economic system. (as much as one can, when it is so big a part of our way of life here). One of the big reasons I am on this trip is to STEP OUT of this part of American culture and live in a different one. And I’m happy to say that for now at least, we have. We have discovered an absolutely delightful culture of boaters who manage to live extremely well without cars. The norm in this culture is to talk to each other, help each other out, and to assume that a stranger is a friend. Having the comparison yesterday of what it feels like to be in Car Land, I am even more happy today to be waking up on a boat.
(And today was a particularly sweet morning as we woke up to find at least a dozen dolphins playing right next to our boats, and one of our sailing companions Sam brought us delicious hot oatmeal for breakfast!!)