Tuesday, June 26, 2012

On Not Driving

I have a confession to make. I am a freak, a deviant. I defer utterly from the norm in a specific area that virtually all people in America take for granted.

I don't drive.

I don't mean that I don't drive because my license has been suspended, or because I lack a drivable car, or because I have health problems that prevent me from driving. I mean I never bothered to seriously learn, and now have become so used to my status as a non driver that its unlikely I shall ever take it up.

It wasn't intentional, at least not at first. I simply never had the time in high school to learn.  When I got to college I lacked both time and money. There never seemed to be any reason to learn to drive when there was no available funds to have a vehicle anyway. Moreover I was living in a major city with excellent public transit. Shortly after college I did try once to learn. I got my temps and a friend took me out to practice. But I was hugely uncomfortable with the entire business. I simply didn't trust myself to be in control of this big metal monster.

Since I have married we have maintained one car, for my husbands use. The cost of maintaining 2 would be too much, even if I chose to drive. Moreover I work in a business district with paid parking all that is available making public transit the more affordable option anyway.  I find I actually like public transit. I like being able to read, or listen to music, or chat with a friend who happens to be on the same bus. I find I am a nicer person when I get home, because I have had some down time after work, instead of a fight with traffic. I enjoy traveling by Greyhound and Amtrak also. (never really cared for flying, don't think its worth the effort or expense unless one needs to cross an ocean or reach some other inaccessible place) It does however mean adhering to a schedule. One cant just pick up and go, one has to plan.There are times, its true when public transit isn't available. It does mean my husband has to do out of the city picking up at times. It also means helping to kick in with someone gas occasionally to get somewhere. But I accept the inconveniences imposed on me as the price for not doing something I just don't wish to do.

In a lot of countries this behavior would not be considered unusual. Of course most countries have far better urban transits systems than most American cities have, let alone intercity transportation. In much of America you are thought of as some kind of freak if you don't drive. Its one of our rights as Americans, you know, to get behind the wheel of a car regardless of how far we are going and regardless of our skill level as drivers.

My children have had mixed feelings about their mothers failure to get behind the wheel. It never seemed to bother my son much, he has always enjoyed, like me, the challenge of co-ordinating schedules and maps to get to a destination. It used to bother the heck out of my daughter though. She used to embarrass me at school events and the like by going up to friends and trying to cadge rides for us. (My rule is has always been to ask for rides only when its too far to walk or bus service is unavailable. If you offer a ride, I'm happy to accept though)  She has gotten better about it though, if only because she really doesn't have much choice.

Here is the thing, I dont believe our car culture is sustainable. We have already learned that oversize SUVs are impractical for more ordinary activities. The cost of gas is just too great. We will always need to get around longer distances, and in rural areas. But it is absurd to see people getting in their cars to go to stores 10 minutes walking distance from their homes, to pick up milk and eggs. Its a waste of gas and its bad for the enviorment. I also think the drive everywhere culture is as responsible as anything else for the obesity epidemic.  And although I will encourage the kids to learn to drive when they can, I also am happy they know how to read a train timetable. I hope they will do their driving thoughtfully, and use alternative methods when they can.

And here is one more thought. I am always hearing people complain about the other drivers out there on the road who have no business driving. So give me and my fellow non drivers  credit, we are  not contributing to your traffic headaches.

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