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Houston Attorney Thrives on Doing The Impossible – Daily ⋆ Epeak . Independent news and blogs

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In this extremely wealthy country of ours, the chief barrier to wealth is often the information, or misinformation that gets stuck inside our own heads.

People with the right knowledge can develop the right habits, and these habits lead them to accumulate wealth very quickly. Meanwhile, the majority of people pick up incorrect financial ideas and bad habits, leading to permanent debt. But they mingle mostly with their own type, so the failure habits keep spreading.

Sometimes, to break out of the Herd Mediocrity Mindset, you just need to see an example to learn what is possible.

So with that in mind, let’s review an example of yet another allegedly completely impossible thing, that an MMM reader is doing every day.

Jeremy Stone, aka The Rock, engages in a rare – and yet incredibly profitable – activity, in a city that is legendary (in the public mind, anyway) for making this activity completely impossible.

The following tale is drawn from our past year of occasional email conversations.

The Lawyer Who Actually Bikes to Work.
Year-Round. In Houston.

Dear Mr. Money Mustache,

“I’m a lawyer and commute to downtown Houston every day regardless of weather (unless I need to drive somewhere for work), without a handy shower or any special amenities, so it can definitely be done.

I was skeptical too, but my wife pushed me to do it after we got into your blog about 4 years ago, and it’s been one of the best decisions we’ve made.  If anyone complains that they can’t do it because of heat, humidity, needing to dress in a suit, etc, I’m proof that you can do it.”

The Challenge:

Throughout the history of this blog, Houston has become the poster child of Bike Excusitis Disease – the place most often cited as “The Reason I Can’t Bike to Work”.

Houston commuting, as perceived by car drivers (image credit: Politico)

Raised on the slippery black teat of the Almighty Oil Well, Houston was developed for motor vehicles and the metro area now sprawls across ten thousand square miles (6.4 million acres), which means Houston alone is one fifth the size of the country of England. Ironically, the more you optimize a city for cars, the bigger your traffic jams, so Houston has the worst traffic in the US.

And it’s a subtropical steam bath: daily highs exceed 80F / 27C for a full nine months of the year with high humidity year-round.

On top of that, Mr. Stone is a high-ranking official in a law firm, the profession most often cited as one where you can’t bike to work. Lawyers need to wear suits at work, see clients, impress judges, and this calls for the utmost in personal hygeine – scrubbed skin, shaved beards, polished shoes and manicured nails, premium brands and styled haircuts. It’s a hassle, but it is a necessary selling of the soul, in exchange for a six or seven figure income. Right?

With those painful complaints out of the way, we might as well move on to actually solving our problem.

“At first, I thought it was a crazy idea. It wasn’t, and I loved it.

I started commuting on an old but good Trek mountain bike (got stolen), then to a $50 hybrid that was a piece of crap, then upgraded to a fancy Surly Disc Trucker.

Most of this route is nice and easy, because it is mostly on a hike/bike trail. Over the last few years, Houston has been changing old railroad lines into these trails.”

The Route: 

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Sunrise in Downtown Houston, as seen from the bike route.

Bike commuting can be superior to driving in every city, but only when you design a route that works for riding your bike. When you drive a car, you will usually end up on the fastest, widest, (and most dangerous) roads, never even realizing that there were parallel bike-friendly options nearby.

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“My route takes me through a neighborhood called River Oaks, where the very richest Houstonians have lived for decades.”

Early in our conversation, Mr. Stone shared a map of his bike route with me, and I compared it to Google’s suggested route for driving a car downtown. The distance is about the same, but in a car you end up on the interstate highway, which makes the commute seem completely un-bikeable.

Fig.1: Google Maps view of car vs. bike routes to work. Bikes are surprisingly fast, plus immune to traffic jams and you get free parking.

Key Strategy Note: this ride was made much easier by the fact that Stone lives within 4 miles of work. This didn’t happen by accident: he chose his home and his work strategically to avoid a car clown commute.

Yet interestingly enough, houses in his neighborhood are still only in the $300,000s. If homes so close in are so affordable, why is anyone commuting into downtown Houston in a car?

There is no answer aside from sheer foolishness – those highways will soon be empty after this article gets out.

“My route takes me along the trail along Silver St. in an old Warehouse district, now an artsy district. Then along White Oak Bayou (Houston is built on bayous, not rivers!) as you near downtown, and under an old 150 year old bridge that has been built over. 

Some of these bridges serve as homes for the thousands and thousands of bats here. You can’t see them, but I took this picture at about 6 or 630 am, and there were bats flying all around. The bridge is so low you get to ride right through them!

Biking beats driving – exercise, fun, no traffic, bats, tombs, turtles, snakes, herons!”

The Speed: 

The deceptive thing about bikes is that within a city, your average speed ends up equal to, or even faster than, a car. In big cities, cars average only about 27 MPH even without traffic, and rush hour can cut this speed in half again. Meanwhile, a slow beach cruiser coasts at about 12MPH (the speed Google uses for biking estimates), a fit cyclist rolls at 20, and an electric bike can easily sustain 28 MPH with almost no effort from your legs at all.

So when I’m in a rush to get somewhere in town, I never reach for the car keys – there’s no time to waste puttering around in a gas-powered wheelchair.

The Cars (and other Financial Effects):

Most people in Mr. Stone’s position have huge houses in the wealthy enclaves of Houston, and drive very high-end cars to work. If there is a spouse and family in the picture, they have multiple cars. And yet somehow, the Stone family survives with just one 2006 Honda CRV (market value about $6000), which remains in great condition because it leads such an easy life.

Driven lightly, the total cost of ownership of a car like this is about $2000 per year. Meanwhile, the typical attorney power couple might keep an up-to-date Mercedes SUV and a BMW 5-series. Driven at the US average level of 13,000 miles per year, this fleet would vaporize about $24,000 per year of personal wealth.

Wow, we need to put that shit into a box so more people will see it:

Average family driving
with two typical lawyer-level cars
destroys about $250,000 of your wealth
every single decade.

Still think biking to work is only for poor people? Do you consider an 11-year-old vehicle beneath your standards?

When you are not dependent on cars, you no longer derive your identity from them, which means you can start thinking about them like the appliances they really are. This makes your car costs drop drastically.

But What if I Move Jobs?

Coincidentally, halfway through our conversation, Stone ended up switching employers and acquiring an even better position.

I imagine that the same sharp mind and optimistic can-do attitude that encouraged him to bike to work, were the things that helped him earn this upgrade. But the new office was in a different part of town, further from home.

Did The Rock head straight to the car dealership to purchase a new Chevrolet Suburban like everyone else in Houston? No, of course, he just busted out the map and the brainpower again.

But What About the Heat?

“Until the new job, my office did not have any shower facilities. But I found it was not really a problem: I just keep my clean dress clothes at work, and change out of my cycling clothes once I get to the office. 

Also, making the trip before sunrise (especially in the summer) gives me much cooler temperatures. The ride home can be hot and sunny, but there is always a cool shower and air conditioning waiting for me when I arrive.”

Rock is right. I too biked to school and work throughout my career, in temperatures ranging from 0F to 105F. Long-time readers already know that bike transportation is probably the biggest factor that accelerated, and continues to fuel, my own family’s early retirement.

Some of my workplaces had showers, and others didn’t – but I never even felt the need to use them. In extreme heat I’d just just put on a clean, dry shirt and maybe a fresh layer of speed stick, and settle in to my office to enjoy the air conditioning. Any trace of perspiration or heat was gone within about five minutes.

This is because physical activity, including riding your bike, is normal, not the exception. It’s not a medical procedure or a competition or something you do in an indoor “spinning” class. It’s not an emergency condition which causes your body to shoot feces from every pore, destroying any nearby pieces of clothing and requiring a long, hot shower every time you move so much as a fingertip.

It’s just what happens every day.  So The Rock and I will see you on the streets tomorrow morning – it’s always Bike to Work Day.

Related Reading on the magic of a Cooperative Spouse: 
Is Mr. Money Mustache Ruining Your Marriage – Part 2
Is Mr. Money Mustache Ruining Your Marriage? – Part 1



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