Monday, September 24, 2007

Seriously Nau?

I consider myself an opportunistic environmentalist; I take public transit when it's reasonably pleasant and convenient. Before I moved to Beacon Hill -- when I lived in the U-District/Eastlake/Capitol Hill -- I took Metro all the time. And when I lived in Europe, I rode the subway/train/tram or hitchhiked all the time.

Even though I have a free bus pass and there's a bus stop just a few blocks from my house, I can't bring myself to deal with the 36 every day. Instead, I waste money, gas, and carbon emissions by driving north every day and paying for parking outside downtown.

The city doesn't seem to care whether I take the bus or not; they don't provide any express buses from Mid Beacon Hill. If you want to catch the bus to or from downtown, you are going to have to stop on every block in Little Saigon, which takes for-freaking-ever. In unsurprising contrast, most other neighborhoods seem well-served by express transit.

But it's not just the slowness that bothers me. The 36 just sucks. Even though I rarely take it on weekdays, when I do take it, there's usually some shit going on.

Last time I took the 36, I had to wait and wait, because the buses were so overcrowded they stopped picking up passengers. Nice.

Last winter when I took the bus home from work, some asshole harassed me. We were standing up front because, as usual, there were no seats to be had. He started talking to me, and I said some noncommital "hi" back so he wouldn't get mad. Anyway, he just kept on making rude remarks to me, and I couldn't move away (we were all jammed in the aisle). Right before he got off the bus, he put his arm around me. Eww.

And the other night I was talking to a friend of mine who has to ride the 36. She said she had been riding the bus home from work at 5:30 p.m. recently, and she managed to find a seat in the back. She said some people around her were passing around a pipe and smoking crack. They kept saying loudly, "I hope no one knows what we're doing." She said she felt really awkward and had to try to not look around. She just sat there trying not to draw any attention to herself, pretending that her iPod was on.

Hey, Metro folks -- Have you ever thought that running such clogged routes encourages people to break your "Viaje Bien" rules? (I can't think of what they're called in English because I always read the Spanish version for fun.) If the service on the 36 were a little snappier, maybe people could wait until they got home to start smoking crack!

Anyway, I know it's lame that I'm contributing to global warming by driving my car every day, but I just don't want to deal with 45-minute commutes each way (longer if the bus passes you by, of course), having strangers put their arms around me, pretending I don't notice people smoking crack, etc. It's not that I'm afraid to take the 36 every day; I just don't want to.

However, I do take the 36 on weekends. Then it's not so crowded that you have to be crushed next to perverts, and you can get downtown fairly quickly. It's too expensive to park downtown on weekends; it's just easier to take the bus (even if you have to take the 36). Plus, I get to feel like I'm doing the right thing, enivornmentally speaking.

Anyway, lately I've been noticing ads for this new clothing store called Nau, "an outdoor clothing company dedicated to challenging traditional business paradigms and creating positive change." They make a big fuss about how hard they're working to save the environment. In fact, they don't even want to sell you clothes in their store. They provide a 10% discount if you're willing to have your clothes shipped to your home because it's more ecologically efficient for them to keep their inventories in warehouses rather than shipped out to individual store locations.

Their stuff looked cool, and I wanted to check them out. But then I realized that their only store in the area is in a mall on the Eastside. (Oh, excuse me, Nau doesn't call them stores; they're "web fronts.")

If they're so gung-ho about limiting carbon emissions, why would they set up shop in a mall that encourages people to drive by providing stories and stories of free parking? Why not open a store in the public-transportation hub of the region: downtown Seattle?

Sometimes I wonder if these sorts of companies, which claim to be founded on environmental principles, end up doing as much harm as good in the end. I mean, yeah, I'm sure their packaging is totally politically correct and everything, but should people really be feeling good about themselves for driving their SUV to the mall to try on clothes at the Nau web front? They shouldn't necessarily feel bad about doing so, but I hope people don't think they're helping to save the planet by shopping at Nau, or buying carbon impact credits or whatever. (Everyone should feel guilty about their choices, like I do!)

If you're interested in lefty marketing, this is a surprisingly telling little interview with a VP at Nau, published in DowntownBellevue.Net (a "Downtown Bellevue News Blog [with] all the latest news on local construction, condos, shopping, entertainment, living and more"):

db: What type of people buy nau clothing?

JZ: Our target customers are artists, activists, and athletes. Most companies might look for accomplished athlete in each of those areas. Our heroes are those looking to be active in social and environmental change.

They want the brand to be associated with artists/activists/athletes, so people who buy Nau clothing can feel good about themselves. OK, makes sense.

And here's a question whose response seems a little more frank than VP probably intended it to be.

db: Why not put your product in a national chain?

JZ: Well, we'd lose control over our message. We like the control we have over the design and delivery over the clothing. This allows us to meet a good price point and still hit our margin.

So it's not about the philosophy of sustainability, it's really about the perception of it. Which I want to believe is a good start -- because it seems like corporate environmentalism, with stores like Wal-Mart switching to CFCs, can only be a good thing -- but I also hope no one's kidding themselves that they're saving the world by driving to an Eastside mall to shop for overpriced active-modern clothes. Because we can't save the world until we can shop for overpriced active-modern clothes right here in Seattle, damn it!


chuck b. said...

Hipsters--sigh. As a consumer, I think you just have to say "whatever". Everything everywhere is all hype. Me, I think it's funny/sad.

"Local construction, condos, shopping, entertainment, living and more" ha! (as an aside, when did living become a commodity?)

But what I really want to say is, smoking crack on the bus! Amazing. I don't think I've seen that in San Francisco. I used to be a proud public transportation user, but once I got a car (that is, once Guy gave me his old car), I can no longer be bothered. People are just so rude all the time. It's the people that I don't like on public transportation. I don't mind that the bus takes longer, or sometimes just doesn't even come at all. It's the people. I've lost all tolerance for the human element. Not all tolerance for all human elements, just my tolerance for a certain human element--the kind that needs an audience to witness its rudeness. Where do people get that from? My mother would have spanked me. Bring back spanking, that's what I say.

A few buses pass through my 'hood, including San Francisco's most notoriously unreliable line, the 24 (or at least it was when I was a bus rider). I used to ride it a lot several years ago, but I've only used it twice since I moved into this neighborhood.

The 22 is the best and worst. The best because it offers riders the chance of an astonishing geographic and socioeconomic odyssey. Wending its way from the barren hinterlands at the edge of nowhere, into the grimy melting pot of the Mission District, skirting the gay Castro, and piercing the lower Haight where it begins the long, arduous climb up Filmore Street passing through the dejected, ghettoized Western Addition, skirting Japantown, and floating effortlessly into the untouchable wealth of Pacific Heights, and a steep drop down to the Marina with the cool ocean breezes and sunny skies. All for like a buck twenty five or something.

JvA said...

The shitty thing is, drivers are rude too. My neighbors keep losing their cats because drivers tear through our streets, as if they didn't notice that they're completely residential. At this week's block watch, I learned that in one section of my neighborhood, people have taken to parking their cars in their yards because they keep getting smashed up by drivers going way too fast. (We've all become notorious complaint filers on stuff like this.)

Bring back spanking, indeed.