Article in local newspaper



In the wake of the March 24 Exxon Valdez oil spill, some people boycotted the oil corporation. Others wrote frustrated letters to political leaders. Still others contributed financially to the clean up effort. But one Bellingham woman took it personally. She philosophized that as long as she drove, she was contributing to the problem. By selling her car, she could contribute to the solution.

Bridget James, 34, a secretary in the Western Washington University music department, didn"t wave any flags over her moral decision. She mentioned the possibility to a friend or two, and word leaked out. Actually, it is James" quiet nature that led to her insight. "I was painfully shy growing up," James said. "I tend to watch. I"m observant. And I"m sensitive. I"m affected by things. This probably sounds weird, but you know, when I see a worm start to trek across a sidewakk, I"ll think, "You"re going to get squashed," and I"ll pick it up and find a shady spot for it. "We"re all connected-or should be. But man tends to dissociate himself and place himself on a plateau. Our society tells us we have to be somebody, dress a certain way, drive a certain car. But I realized that if I can just give somebody my time, then all the other things don"t matter . . . It"s the ripppleeffect, like if you smile at somebody, that smile gets passed on and on."

James had thought fleetingly of giving up her car before the spill. When she and her husband, Steve, divorced, she moved into Bellingham from the Lynden area and last November got herself a small trailer. The trailer sits in a court that is the final destination for two city bus lines. She had been trying to simplify her life since she was profoundly moved two years ago by a slim volume of philosophy called" Steps Toward Inner Peace" written by a woman known as the Peace Pilgrim." I remember opening it up and going"wow." It worked for me. All this woman did was-walk. She was extremely spiritual. Simplicity was a way of life. She walked, helped people, and talked. She asked for nothing but gave much. 

"Striving for more simplicity in her life,Bridget thought of eliminating her automobile. "I thought about it in January, but I didn"t want to do anything rash. The thought went away. But it came back with the oil spill. First it came back as what can one person do? And I thought, Don"t buy Exxon. But what difference would that make? I credit my final decision to sell the car to a letter in the "Fishwrapper," a free local paper. The letter, written by Robert Ashworth, said in part,"I am one of a growing number of folks I know who don"t drive. I get around on foot, bicycle or public transit. If people think this kind of lifestyle is a big sacrifice, I just tell them about my bicycle trip to Southern California. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

"Too many people, he wrote, "just want to sit back and expect the corporations to do all the changing for us." An advantage of his new way of life is never having to worry about his weight, he said. Until she read that letter, James wavered."If you mentioned it to friends, they"d roll their eyes. I was still not 100 percent sure. But when I read that letter, I thought, "That"s it." I realize, though, that I"m fortunate. I"m a single person. It"s easy for me to do it. 

"The irony is that James loves to drive. In fact, she spent four years as a Metro bus driver in Seattle until the fear and abuse by passengers finally forced her to quit. "At, Metro, women drove the same routes as men, so you might drive Rainier Valley at 2 a.m. There were instances when I was so frightened, my leg would start to shake, and I couldn"t push down the accelerator. I"d have to take deep breaths. "And you"d get so used to seeing the most bizarre stuff that nothing would bother you. Like one time I saw a chick standing on the street pointing a gun at me as I came over the rise of a hill. It"s like a snapshot in my head. And you"d think, "Isn"t that interesting?" Then you"d realize, "Wait a minute-that"s not normal. "Plus the abuse was incredible ... you just took so much, and it"s human nature to want some kind of revenge. But of course you can"t. I turned into a very ugly, angry person. It"s a feeling of having a chip on your shoulder. 

"Despite the good pay and benefits, James quit, and about that time, she and her husband moved to Whatcom County, where she got yet another driving job-this one hauling corn from Quincy across Snoqualmie Pass to a frozen food plant. That was seasonal work, and when it ended, she went back to office work. James owned a motorcycle in addition to the beloved 1973 Volkswagen bug, recently sacrificed to principles. She would have learned how to drive a tractor, too, had she found anyone to teach her. Her VW still sits near her trailer, but the keys were mailed last week in a fare well ritual to the 16 year-old son of some Snohomish friends, who plans to buy the car. 

James may be virtuous, but she knew she was not beyond temptation. "There will be times when I"m stuck," she said. "It will be raining and cold, but that"s just the way it is. "But then there are benefits to extra walking, as James well knows, having lost some 40 pounds in the two years since she discovered race walking. If she loses 40 more, she won"t need any kind of transportation, she can just float where she needs to go.

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