Thursday, April 14, 2011
Car-Free Life a 10-Year Walk in the Park
By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer
On April 7, 2001, Don Schrader was doing one of the things Don Schrader does best. He was attending a human rights protest.
The event was about conditions in Colombia, but that is not the salient point that caused April 7, 2001, to find its way into Schrader's handwritten and minutely complete record of his life.
It was what happened after the meeting broke up that makes the date one of many anniversaries that Schrader marks. Schrader took a friend up on an offer of a ride home that evening. And that was the last time he rode in a car.
To mark the 10th anniversary of an auto-free life, I took a walk with Schrader around his South Broadway neighborhood.
It was a cool, bright morning, and Schrader, who counts himself as New Mexico's most famous nudist, raw foodist, anti-war activist, gay man, war tax protester and urine drinker, is also a good walker. He was wearing short denim shorts, a plaid shirt and a hat the colors of the rainbow. Neighbors said hi, we cut down alleys and across a grassy park, and Schrader, who lived last year on $4,126, found a dime.
As we walked, we talked about the reasons Schrader feels so good about eschewing cars and riding a bus only once a month to the Vitamin Cottage store in the Heights to buy a 25-pound bag of flaxseed and 50 pounds of organic wheat kernels.
"First," Schrader says, "war is for oil. That's No. 1."
He also cites air pollution and climate change — "Cars vomit a whole long list of poisons into the air." And he mentions all the fertile land that has been covered by highways, garages and parking lots.
And then there are the physical and emotional side effects of spending a lot of time sitting inside a motorized steel cage. "Fat, lazy, sick bodies," Schrader says. And road rage. "It's an opportunity to show who's boss and let the veneer of so-called civilization fade away."
The day warmed up, and Schrader peeled off his shirt to reveal the trademark that has caused a million cellphone cameras to be aimed his way — a sinewy dark brown torso that he keeps in shape with 600 crunches, 200 pushups and an hour or so of nude sunbathing each day. His legs are similarly slim and brown with calves like hard little apples. He's 5-foot-6 and weighs 126 pounds.
Schrader likes to go to the university neighborhood where he used to live and to the flea market at the state fairgrounds. It's 8 to 10 miles round trip, all undertaken by putting one tanned foot in front of the other.
He credits his diet and walking for his good health.
"Our legs," he tells me, "are good doctors. Walking is marvelous for preventing diabetes, for helping the heart, the bones."
He wants to make the point that his car-free decade has freed him, not inconvenienced him. The only place he misses going is to the hot springs in the Jemez Mountains.
"I enjoy what I'm doing. It's not like this is a burden or a cross or I'm persecuted," Schrader said. "I wouldn't trade places with any millionaire or billionaire. I'd be ashamed, terribly ashamed, to live like that."
Schrader is extremely attuned to dates. Other Schrader anniversaries include Dec. 12, 1998, the day he stopped eating cooked food, and Nov. 10, 1999, the day he began drinking his own urine. His daily diet includes lots of fruit (he downed six mangoes and five oranges on Sunday) and several smoothies made of flaxseed, wheat kernels, ground goathead vine and water poured over fresh collard greens or lambs quarters or alfalfa. He also drinks two to four cups of fresh urine. He bathes in, brushes his teeth with and washes his clothes in aged urine.
He lives in a sunny, 114-square-foot room decorated with the memorabilia of a 65-year-old former Mennonite preacher from the Midwest who happens now to be a gay, anti-war environmentalist. There are photos of the family farm in Illinois, pictures of naked men, homemade posters with mantras such as "Cooked food is a slow poison" and his late mother's baby bowl.
Schrader knows there are a lot of people who don't like his lifestyle or his incessant letter writing to local publications to advocate for the benefits of the way he lives. Despite his letter-to-the-editor polemics, Schrader in person is humble and engaging.
He simply thinks the world would be a better place if others didn't eat meat or wage war or drive cars, and he feels duty-bound to say it.
I confess to Schrader that I drove to see him in my gas-guzzling Jeep and that I feel bad about it. He's heard it before: I support what you're doing, Don, but I could never do that.
"It's far easier to express admiration for someone than it is to follow someone's example," Schrader says gently.
These days, there is ever more incentive to try to follow Schrader's example. Gasoline prices are sky-high — $3.56 a gallon at the place I filled up after I left Schrader. Gas stations are reporting a drop-off in sales, meaning people are driving less.
If wanting to be more like Don Schrader won't persuade us to leave the car at home and walk more, maybe $100 fill-ups will.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie at 823-3914 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.