He remembers sleeping in his car at the gas station some 30 years ago, waking up at dawn so he could get the cheapest rate.
Today, he wakes up and worries about the survival of civilization. War, peak oil prices and global warming are on his mind.
He wants to get rid of his Ford Focus right now and not replace it.
"I think there's a good chance I will do it," Murtaugh said, pondering if and when he might be ready. "I get more determined. A lot of it is principle."
A few minutes later, glancing at his bicycle outside a downtown Hayward restaurant, he promised to do it this month.
"First, it's the commitment," he said of life without a car. "Then, you find a way."
The problem is, he lives in the suburbs. The good thing is, he just bought a really nice tricycle a luxurious, German-made recumbent tadpole (two wheels in front, one in back) that wins pleasant stares from neighbors and gets honks and smiles from passing motor vehicle drivers.
Because the foreign contraption has three wheels, the
62-year-old Murtaugh can recline as he travels to and from his Oakes Drive home.
He loves navigating out of the garage with the door only halfway up. He sneaks easily beneath barriers meant to block off cars. The vistas are unobstructed.
"Even with a mountain bike, I'd never get such a broad, open view," Murtaugh said.
But the other problem is, Oakes Drive is in the Hayward hills.
"I don't recall seeing anybody in my neighborhood on a bicycle," admits Murtaugh, who has lived there since 1998.
It's easy enough to race down to the nearest coffee shop in downtown Hayward or on Castro Valley Boulevard, but it can be a gruelingly steep, hourlong trip to get back home.
The expansive hills have challenged other environmentally minded residents before him.
Retired schoolteacher Jerry Caveglia, another Hayward hills resident in his 60s, tried riding his bicycle to work sometimes, heading downtown and then taking BART to Fremont. But it was tough. "It's just too easy to get in that car," Caveglia said. "And, of course, we've built our cities around the car."
A few years ago, Caveglia joined a committee that advises the Alameda County Transportation Improvement Authority on how to spend sales tax money allocated to improve pedestrian and bike paths. For the first time, he said, local agencies are paying more attention to pedestrians and cyclists and spending more money on them, and he enjoys working to build projects that encourage more people to get out of cars.
"I don't find a lot of people my age biking," Caveglia said. "They should. It's much easier on your body than running or walking."
Although he has considered moving to the flatlands, Murtaugh said he can handle the challenge of the hills because the three wheels and recumbent positioning allow him to take easy breaks. Plus, the sloped roads and open space make for beautiful rides.
The self-employed cyclist sells computer-aided manufacturing software from his home office. Since purchasing the tricycle in early June, he has made trips to the dentist and to his work mailbox in Castro Valley, speeding down Five Canyons Parkway as quickly as many cars do. Returning, he often pedals up Second Street a long, gradual hill.
He said he is forced to plan his day and tries to avoid unnecessary trips.
"I'd venture to say that most trips in cars are frivolous," Murtaugh said.
Just don't ask him what he will do, in six months, when it starts pouring again every day. He can always rent a car if he needs one later.
Reach Matt O'Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org.