Cars, Second Class Citizens and Manhattan
The US is a big place. Canada is even bigger. This fact has not be lost upon its inhabitants, who have a penchant for spreading their homes and cities over large areas. The corrollary being that the distance between their workplaces and their homes is often rather long.
Though long commutes are not uncommon in Europe either, there is a marked difference in the availibility of public transportation, and also the people who use it. Even compared to Norway, the buses here are few and far between, they follow the longest and oddest routes, and it is evident that buses are mostly for the lower social classes. (I'm still not over how visibible the difference in social class is, over here.)
If you don't have a car, you're clearly a second class citizen. All directions to places, like parks, museums, companies assume you come by car. Nowhere does it say which bus to take, which stop to get off at, which station is the closest. It's as if public transportation doesn't exist in the world of the better-offs.
I had a similar experience in Canada: In going between Waterloo and Toronto, there were two choices: the dreaded Greyhound bus, which departed every hour, and the train, which left twice a day. The distance was about one and a half hour by bus. About 300K people live in the Waterloo area. 2 million in Toronto. Two trains a day, one bus every hour. Clearly, somebody's using their car.
On the Greyhound, I found three groups of people: drunk, junior business men, students and coloured people with noisy children. I've not yet braved the bus here, but when I do, I'll report back (let me be clear: the bus goers in Canada were very nice people. I have nothing against them).
Back to the topic of cars. If you heard that cars are a way of life over here, you heard right. The car seems to be more of a fixture in people's lives than their home is; an American's car is his castle. When you check into a hotel, they don't ask for your address, they ask for the license plate number of your car. Unless your are downtown in a city, there are never any routes for pedestrians alongside the road. Not that anybody bikes or walks anywhere anyway. There are parking spaces in front of practically every shop, even in the city (except Manhattan). Yesterday, I drove past a restaurant with three parking spaces in front of it. These spaces were manned by two young men who operated a valet parking(!)
People will use their car to move as little as three hundred meters. There are drive-in cinemas, drive-in fastfood shops, drive-in banks, drive-in pharmacy. So far, I've not seen any drive-in clinic, nor any drive-in dental, but I'm sure they exist.
Even Manhattan, which houses more people than my entire home country, is totally accessible by car. It's cleverly divided into a grid, and along each river there's a highway that carries the bulk of incoming and outgoing traffic. As for driving in "the grid", once you realize that nobody reads any of the road signs or respect the colours on the stop signs, you should fit right in. What they do respect, however, are the NYPD officers doing their cheerleading moves at junctions.
Parking in Manhattan is also dead easy, if you're willing to pay for it. For the measly sum of $40, you get your own spot in a fashionable downtown parking house (manned, of course) for up to 12 hours in spitting distance of the Museum of Modern Art, for example. If you can survive parking in the suburbs, you get 24hrs for $4.25.
I suppose it would be a lot healthier to live on Manhattan than upstate in Westchester. Going by foot from A to B (interspersed with short hops on the subway) is extremely convenient, and depending on where you go, it may take a lot less time than going by car. Also, for lack of mountains to climb, it makes me feel a lot better.