Saturday, October 20, 2012

Hey, everyone! Ride the bus! Oh ... wait.

I'm about to begin working for one of Iowa's largest employers, and my office is located across the street from the state's busiest mall, as well as a few blocks from two hospitals and all sorts of office parks. The area is home to restaurants and movie theaters and banks and all sorts of other commerce.

And guess what?  I won't be able to get there on the bus.  Not without spending about an hour or more on a 20-minute trip, and transferring at least three times. Or traveling a bunch of miles in the opposite direction before waiting to see if the bus trips link up to take me out west.


First, the backstory of the bus and me: I began riding a couple of years ago after realizing that DART, the company that provides Des Moines' public transportation, does a great job of getting people downtown and back. My employer paid for 100 percent of my transportation costs. I was picked up at my house and dropped up in front of my building, and I was treated to 20 minutes of reading or Words with Friends time at each end of the day.  What was not to like?

Aside from a couple of piddly things, not a whole lot.  I shared my enthusiasm about public transportation with anyone who would listen: I tweeted and Facebooked and blogged. Public transportation needs our help to grow, I wrote. Riding the bus is the right thing to do, I wrote: it decreases our carbon footprint.  It's clean and convenient and easy. 

That's all true -- if you're going downtown.  But I'm not anymore, so DART is shortchanging me and anyone else who wants to head east or west without transferring in the central part of town. I'm ashamed that I basically ignored this epic fail on DART's part until I learned it was going to impact me.

In fairness to DART, the company's "DART Forward 2035" plan seeks to remedy some of this weirdness; its public information officer has told me to hang tight because in a couple of years or so, going from northeast Urbandale, where I live, to the far reaches of West Des Moines will be a piece of cake. And I appreciate that, but that's a long time to wait, especially for folks who don't have other options.

I have no right to act like a princess about this. I have a car and I can afford to drive to work, even though, in my opinion, driving 30 miles round trip per day -- one person, one vehicle -- is wasteful in its expense and its use of resources.

But ... really, DART?  Really?  Here, let me lay out my public-transporation options for you. I'm certain others' are even more challenging -- and again, especially for people who are elderly or can't walk to a bus stop or drive to a Park and Ride, the possibilities are even more daunting.

Option 1:

A. Drive to the Park and Ride at the church a couple of miles from my house. Leave my car; hop on Express Route 93 heading south.
B. Get off the bus at an intersection a few miles south. Wait on the side of the road.
C. Board another bus that will take me approximately six blocks to a shopping mall. Get off the bus; wait in the parking lot.
D. Board another bus that will take me the remaining eight miles or so to my office. (This takes into consideration all these transfers will synch up just right, and I won't miss any buses.)

Option 2:

A. Board a small on-call bus at my house (yay!). That bus will take me to a larger bus a few miles south.
B. Climb on that bus and ride eight miles in the wrong direction.
C. Link up downtown with a bus that will take me out west to my new office. (Again, we're assuming everything will synch.)

Total travel time for each option: Between 60 and 90 minutes. Time spent driving my car to work: 20 minutes.

Again, I don't mean to sound entitled.  I am fortunate to have other options.  But as I noted, what about a person in my general residential area who doesn't have a car or access to another ride?  What about that person, who has no choice but to shell out $50 or $60 a month to ride the bus only to extend her or his travel time by about 200 percent?

If I were planning to travel to a lesser populated part of town, I wouldn't have a leg to stand on, but come on, DART.  Here's an idea: Start a route at Merle Hay Mall.  Express it out west, stopping at Valley West on the way.  Drop commuters at Aviva and Wells Fargo. Drive over to Jordan Creek. Stop at the western hospitals . Let day workers off; pick up the night workers -- custodians, hospital shift employees, restaurant staff -- who need to go home in the mornings. Take them back to Merle Hay -- after, of course, you've succeeded in making Merle Hay a park-and-ride hub, as it should be.

If you do this, I'll not only ride every day, but I'll find riders for you.  I believe in public transportation, and I'm not shy. I can help you.

Not even for me, but for people who don't have other options: Do a better job, DART.  You're serving a whole city of people whose higher expectations for public transportation are justified for a metropolitan area this size.  You have a responsiblity -- and not only to downtown commuters. Listen to your potential ridership, and make things happen. You can do it.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The rudeness is getting worse. Stop it, please.

Two nights ago, I attended an event at which President Bill Clinton appeared. I returned home and posted some pictures of the president on Facebook.  One friend, a Republican, left a post on my wall that read: "So happy for you that you were able to see him. I'm sure you had a great time."

I'm beginning to think that person needs to be elected queen of the world. Because she's one of the few people I've encountered the past several weeks who is able to keep her wits about her when communicating with a friend who has opposing political ideologies.

Yes, I know this is my third blog on this topic. Yes, I know everyone is sick and tired of the campaign. Perhaps Joe Biden -- whom I support; shoot me -- has gotten me all fired up. But I agree that so much of what's being said is a bunch of malarkey, and I'm beyond irritated at all the rudeness.

This is what set me off tonight: A post that involved a photo of a piece of toast and the words "Barack Obama, November 6, 2012" superimposed on top of it.  Now, I like toast.  And I guess you could say the graphic involves a clever turn of phrase.

But it's rude. It would be every bit as rude if it were about Gov. Romney, and there's no way I'd post it. No one knows how the election will turn out; it's a horse race. But elections are hard work. Both men deserve respect. Neither will be "toast," no matter how things turn out.

I'm tired of "clever" graphics. I'm tired of "clever" innuendo and "clever" rhetoric. I'm tired of the apparent license to lose control of one's mental faculties and repost such trash as a photo supposedly taken at a Romney rally of a supporter wearing a t-shirt reading, "Put the 'white' back in the White House."

I'm tired of both sides re-posting dreck from bottom-feeders who say they wish Ryan's kids had been aborted or that one of Romney's sons is gay.  (That one made the rounds today, from a fellow Obama supporter, and I almost went apoplectic -- if the guy is gay, first of all, WHO CARES?  And second, where's your compassion, email forwarder? If anything, I feel for the guy. What a fishbowl he must live in, and one filled with some pretty unfriendly, choppy waters.)

I am tired of being challenged to defend my political views. Guess what, friends: I don't owe you any explanations. It's all pretty easy to figure out: I'm a Democrat because I believe in that party's platform. If you're a Republican, I can safely assume you believe in the tenets of that party. Neither one of us is wrong. Neither one of us is bad.

I'll tell you what else I'm tired of: comments such as, "How can you, as a woman, support Bill Clinton? Don't you remember what he did to Hillary?"  Well, of course I remember.  And I didn't like it.  But, my God, he is  a brilliant, compassionate man who, in my opinion, was a terrific leader. He screwed up once. Twice. Maybe a few times. But how about this, fellow Christians?  In the New International version of the Bible, Jesus defends a "wayward" woman with these words:

"When they kept on questioning Him, he straightened up and said to them, 'Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.'"

I don't know about you, but I won't be throwing rocks at Bill Clinton, or anyone else, anytime soon.

Anyway ... I deeply, profoundly hope that President Obama will be re-elected. But guess what. If he's not, I won't move to Canada. And guess what else I'll do?  Because I was raised to be gracious in defeat, I'll congratulate those of you who worked to elect Gov. Romney. And I'll keep supporting the candidates and policies and platforms I believe in -- without trashing yours in the process.

Another friend posted a quote today that I absolutely love. Perhaps you've seen it:

"Speaking mindfully is as simple as cultivating the habit of first asking, 'Is it true?' 'Is it kind?' and 'Is it necessary?'"

In this election season, how many of you can consistently respond with a trio of yeses?  I've tried to. I'll continue to try to. In the meantime, I am asking some of you, with all due respect, to do this:

Support your candidate. Support him wholly and often.  Support him with well-thought-out words and examples and, if you prefer, graphics. Support him, most importantly, with statements that are true. 

Please don't do this:

Call the other candidate names. Offer the opinion that his wife is ugly and looks like a monkey.  Present the "facts" that he is a socialist and a Muslim and a secret Al Qaeda operative, and that his birth certificate isn't authentic. That he wants to "take this country down."  That he has a gay son and wears magic Mormon undergarments. And on. And on. And on and on and on and on and on.

No matter whom you support; consider this: Please stop behaving badly. It doesn't become your candidate, and it doesn't become you. And on Nov. 7, we won't be moving to Canada or impeaching anyone. We'll still be here, together, dusting off the scrapes and moving on to the next thing.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

I'm not a stupid person, but you'll never believe that after reading this.

I have a friend who is a cancer survivor, and as she prepares every year to visit the hospital for the scan that will determine whether she's cancer-free, she journeys inward to a place she calls "Cancer Head."

"Cancer Head" is not a great place to be -- while she's there, she thinks about little but the "what ifs." What if, 10 years after she was first diagnosed, the cancer is back, and fiercer this time? What if she has to go through more chemo, more radiation, more time in the hospital, more time away from her kids? What if this time, she doesn't win?

I can relate. In fact, it's "Cancer Head" that caused me to delay a test that could very well have made the difference between a good outcome and a not-so-good one. My thought process was a ridiculous one, and I'm sharing the experience so anyone who might come across this won't be inclined to be nearly as stupid.

First, the back story: I had cancer once. But it was hardly cancer: It was in my thyroid, and the type of malignancy was the easiest kind to cure. A surgeon took out one side of my thyroid, and then he took the other side. I swallowed some radiation a few times and have annual follow-up care, but as far as cancer goes, I was a lottery winner.

That said, though, there's been a lot of cancer in my family; it took my mom when I was little, so as long as I can remember, I've been afraid of it. So "Cancer Head" has been a part of my reality, and I've always liked to think that I deal with it by being vigilant with tests and screenings and trying to avoid known carcinogens.

But apparently I wasn't doing a great job around the time I noticed the symptom that could have signaled something really bad. I had seen it before and had it checked out, and it turned out to be nothing serious. But it came back, and it was a whole lot worse, and I ignored it. Why? Because I was scared.

I'll spare you the gross details, but you can guess: The symptom involved something one does in the privacy of the restroom, and it's alarmingly difficult to miss. And it was happening daily. And I proceeded to ignore it until a few weeks ago, when, after my annual physical, my doctor called me. Not her nurse, but the doctor herself. And she said, "I ran a test, and it showed a lot of blood, and why didn't you tell me?"

And I proceeded to lie like a rug. "It must be a new thing. I've never seen it," I said.

Why did I lie to her? Because I was even more scared at that point -- scared my own stupidity, my own delay, had caused some real problems.

So she ordered another test, and it, too, was positive. Strongly positive, she said. So positive that we need to get you in for a colonoscopy right away.

OK, I said. And I made the appointment. And then I canceled it.

I know; this just keeps getting stupider. Because when you think about it, the outcome was going to be the outcome, and I already was absolutely certain I had cancer ... so what was there to lose? And I had had the same test a year before, for a different reason, and it turned out fine.

But this time, "Cancer Head" was prevailing, and I was sure I was dying. And the bottom line, no pun intended: I simply didn't want to know.

Eventually, though, my shred of remaining common sense eventually won out and I rescheduled the appointment, and this time I kept it.

I was terrified -- so terrified that I hyperventilated on the table before the doctor even entered the room. But the test was a piece of cake; I was out cold, and when I came to, he was showing me bright, shiny pictures and saying, "You're clean as a whistle." The cause, it seems, had been rather common and entirely benign.

So what did I learn? "Cancer Head" could have killed me. Colorectal cancer is no joke: It's estimated that in 2010, 1.23 million new cases were diagnosed, and the disease killed 608,000 people.

But this is also true: If you're screened regularly and any potential problem is found early, you likely won't die. Screening for colorectal cancer is so much more effective that screening for many other types, including cancer of the breast; so many other cancers have no available screening processes at all.

I wish I could be like my co-worker Gene, who undergoes a medical test, assumes the best and doesn't think a thing about it until his doctor calls with the result. The reality, though, is that I have "Cancer Head" -- but dealing with it, while no fun, is still so much better than avoiding the procedures that could keep me healthy.

If a symptom is worrying you, statistics are on your side: More people are healthy than ill. But don't take a chance. Put on your big-girl or big-boy panties -- or, in a case like this one, take them off! Ha! -- and simply have the test you need. If you seriously think you're already sick, please don't do what I did: Take initiative and fix it before it can kill you. It's really, truly just that simple.