The enormous red minivans (adorably emblazoned on the side with painted hearts) are cheaper than cabs, always on schedule, and predictably yet soothingly offer the same experience for every ride, every passenger, every time.
When one books a ride with CareTenders, they immediately know that they will be picked up by a man named Larry, Barry or Todd, receive an earful of youthful reminiscing throughout the 45-minute drive and will eventually leave the van feeling as though they have just drunk a warm cup of cocoa with their grandfather.
So just imagine my surprise when two weeks ago, a sedan reading "EcoTrans" on its side guzzled up to the Minneapolis airport's pick-up curb and Todd swung open its sliding door, inviting me to climb in its spacious backseat.
"We recently got a new owner," Todd explained to me while cramming my suitcase into the car's back trunk. "She wanted to switch our name to EcoTrans and buy a couple of Priuses. Right now we've only got one, but we're eventually getting rid of the mini-vans and buying more hybrids. Our new name ought to bring in more business, what with the whole green movement and all." I had previously heard about purses stating "I'm not a plastic bag" fetching up to $1,000 on eBay, and organic cotton 600 thread-count sheets being snapped up by wealthy environmentalists. T-shirts stating "My white tee is green" are for sale at decidedly non-green super-store emporiums such as Target.
Yes, I knew of the public's current predilection for buying everything from free-range organic poultry in Costco's frozen-food section to hemp-oil lotions at Sephora (sold, of course, in 30 percent recycled plastic bottles). I had not, however, expected my beloved CareTenders to succumb to the hype.
Now, I drink tap water from Nalgenes, turn off the lights whenever I leave the room and prefer to walk or use public transportation instead of driving a car. But is it just me, or is scrapping 20 perfectly good vehicles in favor of buying a couple of Priuses less green than continuing to drive old, gas-gulping mini-vans? Is the public's demand for green transit services, foods and brand names encouraging mass consumerism instead of sustainable livelihoods?
Of course, one does have to occasionally buy items from time to time. And that's okay. Whether one is out of shampoo or can no longer fit into their favorite pair of jeans, it's important that they are able to purchase environmentally-sound alternatives. However, today's consumer-driven society doesn't want to patch holey sweaters or drive worn-down vehicles. They want to buy. They also want to feel good about what they buy. So if the overpriced hand cream at the beauty store is fortified with pesticide-free emollients and comes in an attractive re-usable container, why not whip out the American Express? After all, that big bottle of Lubriderm was going to run out in a few weeks anyway.
It's encouraging that Americans are becoming aware of the role their purchases play in preserving the planet's future. But they need to realize that the phrase "green consumerism" is, to an extent, a paradoxical phrase. Supporting sustainable business practices is important, but so is preserving what one already has.
So re-use old, non-green yet perfectly serviceable school binders. Drive old Honda Civics into the ground instead of replacing them with a sleek, trendy Hybrid. Cover old stained couches with slip cushions instead of purchasing love seats fashioned from the trees of non-endangered forests. Be green by not buying green. Also, ride EcoTrans -- but not because of the name change. Become an EcoTrans customer because the company's rides are easy to schedule, the service is smooth and the old drivers never fail to bring a smile to my face -- qualities that in my opinion, are just as important as being "green."