Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Gas Leak

There's a musty-smelling room in the basement of my apartment building where we go to do our laundry, push rent through a slot in the wall, and haphazardly store our bikes. Like everything in the building it's imperfect, but functional laundry machines and relatively secure bicycle storage is all I can ask for, really.

Last week I woke up early Sunday morning, intending to go to church. But when I opened the metal door leading to the basement the smell that greeted me was not must, it was gas. Very strong gas. I held my breath while extricating my bike and pulling it up the stairs. Noticed briefly that the dryers appeared to be pulled away from the wall. Gasped the fresh air once back outside!

Once in an over-occupied student house in Ann Arbor I thought we had a gas leak, woke up all my housemates, and called the fire department as we sat on the porch eating cereal. Their truck blocked the traffic on our one-lane street while they informed us that actually, our refrigerator had suffered a mini explosion. This crossed my mind as my fiance and I called the fire department and DTE. I'd feel pretty stupid if that happened again.

We first guessed that someone had walked into the room before me, smelled the gas leak, and then decided too unplug the dryers and call it good. Maddeningly irresponsible but not sinister. But the firefighters noticed something I had not - the glass punched in on the inner door to the room, just big enough to slip in a hand and turn the lock. Their first guess, which seriously freaked me out, was that somebody with a grudge had cut the line on purpose - perhaps intending to blow us up. I knew if that were the case we would move. Immediately. Pay two rents, live at my parents' - anything to get out of a targeted building.

But then they noticed that the coin boxes had been torn out, all the quarters gone. I don't think they're really ever emptied, so with $3 per resident per week that could have been a lot of cash. The new narrative that emerged was of serial thieves who target laundry rooms in beat-up looking apartments everywhere, who took the coins and then were in the process of stealing the appliances when something scared them off - maybe even the gas leak itself.

It still doesn't make me feel super comfortable, but at least it wasn't purely malicious and at least no one entered our personal apartment space. On the up side, the landlord  has been shocked into doing some landscaping to make this place look occupied. On the down side, who knows when we'll have laundry again? I don't know whether we'll keep living here after our lease is up. I'm mostly just happy they didn't take our bikes.

Has anybody else had this particular experience? Or gone through other property crimes that didn't directly affect your safety but made you feel squirmy nonetheless?

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Pious Prius Effect

Every day that I ride my bike I get rudely tailed/cut off/nearly run over by at least one car. It's something a cyclist expects and artfully maneuvers around. It occurred to me one day, though, that a number of those incidents have involved the drivers of Priuses, which is funny since ownership of such a vehicle is supposed to indicate moral superiority and a respect for the creatures of the earth. Granted, my sample is not random, since I've spend much time in Ann Arbor, the Prius capitol of the Midwest. But it got me thinking, why does that happen?

Maybe that sense of self-righteousness that comes from sinking into the energy-efficient seats makes drivers think they've somehow magicked away all the negative consequences of driving. And while they may have decreased some of those, they're still driving a vehicle that can kill, operating within and contributing to a system that allows some people freedom of movement and denies it to others.

I actually did drive a Prius once, when I had to grab a last-minute Zipcar.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The best laid master plans

We have some really amazing municipal plans in this region. So why do we have such crappy municipal planning?

As part of my job I've been reading the master plans for several of the region's townships and cities (I have the coolest job), and I had to do some double takes when I first ran into talk of sustainability and New Urbanism and multimodal transportation. Was this the same metro Detroit that I live in, where I take my life into my hands every time I ride a bike and have to drive forty minutes to and from work every day? Exurb after exurb after exurb, master plans expressed desires to preserve open space and protect natural features, to work collaboratively with regional governments, and to invest in nonmotorized transportation infrastructure - even occasionally in public transit. A couple weeks of this led me to the original question: if the plans are cool, why does reality still stink?

I'm open to answers. Here's what I've thought of so far: