Thursday, March 20, 2008

I Don't Drive, I'm Driven

[This post was created for the 45th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy]

Well folks, this may very well be the shortest and oddest entry in this edition of the COG since I don't drive. That's correct. In this country obssessed with cars, there is at least one 45 year old man who doesn't drive, and not due to some court order or parole violation. I just never got into cars and never really saw the need for one.

I left home at a fairly early age, having just turned 17, and then for the next 28 years lived in large cities including Washington, DC, San Francisco and Chicago. I was so wrapped up in going to college and then securing employment, combined with living in areas with great transportation systems that a car was basically unnecessary.

In Washington I had the Metro system map and its blue, red, green, yellow and orange lines memorized so that I could easily tell tourists how to get from the Smithsonian to the White House. In San Francisco, I knew all the bus lines including names and numbers, their routes and how often they ran. In Chicago, since I work at home my knowledge is less encompassing but I do know the basic bus routes in my neighborhood and where the Red Line stops are close to my home.

Many of my friends and acquaintances find this lack of a car to be a novel concept. They wonder if I am doing this as a "green" thing. I never saw it as that but I guess the answer would be a qualified yes. I know that I have saved a ton of money which was not spent on car payments, repairs, fuel and insurance. And I have not used up precious resources such as oil, plastic, metal, etc.

Others ask why I just don't have a license so I can rent a car when I want to. Then the other confession comes out: I don't know how to drive and I really don't want to. It isn't a phobia - I just never "got it." Meaning, I took the driving test three times (and failed) and after that I figured, why bother? And how can I miss something that I've never done?

I do remember our first car and we were a bit of an odd family in the early 1960s: our first car was a SAAB. Foreign cars, unless they were those bulky Citroens or snappy Carmen Ghia's, were unheard of where I grew up. And good luck getting them serviced or repaired.

After my parents divorced, my mother kept with the foreign car concept and purchased a used small blue Datsun (what Nissan was called before it was Nissan). I think she paid about $50 for it in 1970 and it was truly a "beater" car - basically one that was on death's doorstep but could limp by for another year as long as a St. Christopher statue and prayers were involved. The bottom had rusted out so much that you didn't dare place your feet too firmly on the floor for fear of looking like Fred Flintstone.

The next car was another used Datsun, yellow in color, but a much better one. Then Mom started buying Ford cars (Ford stands for "Found On Road, Dead") such as a Pinto (yes, with the exploding rear gas tank - we called it the "Chariot of Fire") and the first Escort model.

As Mom got older and my brother and I left the house, Mom found that the slightly larger Buicks such as the Regal were more to her liking. She was traveling 40 miles each way to work until she retired from the phone company to work for a local police department. Comfort was a big consideration for her when buying a car.

Being a very independent woman, one of the most difficult steps of dealing with my mother's Alzheimer's diagnosis was taking away her car - basically her lifeline to the world as she saw it. After too many unexplained dents and dings, and sitting in the passenger seat as she suddenly decided to make a U-turn on a major eight lane highway (while I grabbed the "Hail Mary bar" up to the right of my head), I not only had to think of Mom's safety but of the safety of others as well. I secured a letter from her gerontologist to give to the DMV, had her license revoked and sold the car to one of her brothers. Of course, every time she asked how her car was, I would have to make up some story.

Finally, my partner and I do own a car but I don't drive, I am driven. Personally, I find our owning a car a bit silly since in the past four years we've put only 23,000 miles on our Honda Civic. We use it for trips to Costco, the grocery store, haircuts and general errand running. But we really bought it in case there was an emergency involving our respective families who live either in the suburbs or a few hundred miles away. Having a car allows us to take care of emergencies as well as errands for them as they get older.


Lidian said...

Well, you have got company up here in Canada - I am 45 and don't drive either. I don't realy like cars that much. I love pubic transport and do some of my best thinking on trains (or walking).
I did have a license for awhile but you have to take a second, highway test in Ontario to keep it. Not my thing at all!

When I was growing up in NYC I had a lot of company though - lots of New Yorkers don't drive.

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

My only trip on a subway was absolutely terrifying! Of course I find everything about big cities terrifying. We took the bus when we were kids and Mom started taking the bus back and forth to work again after we made her give up driving. She was only in her 50's.

If you ever change your mind about learning to drive let me know. Nobody I've taught has failed yet ;-)

Elizabeth O'Neal said...

You're too funny, Thomas. I can't imagine life without my car (read: minivan). In California (the southern part, at least), we think it's our God-given right to drive whenever and wherever we want, and there'd better not be any toll roads!

Good of you to be so "green" though, and I don't just mean for St. Patrick's Day.

Terry Thornton said...

Thomas, I enjoyed your COG article so much --- even if you are a non-driver!

Professor Dru said...

Thomas, I love the title of this piece. It definitely caught my attention and I wanted to know your reasons for not driving. I also love the description of the used small blue Datsun that was on death's doorstep. The comparison of the car’s floor to the Fred Flintstone car was hilarious.

Colleen said...

I'm on the other end of the spectrum, Thomas. I can't imagine life without a car. Living in Tucson is part of it; we don't have good public transportation, and where I live is not on the bus line. The other part of it is that I'm a little bit claustrophobic. I take the least congested routes, am hooked on the rush hour traffic reports, and will go five miles out of my way if it means avoiding a jam. I hate being a passenger, as I lose the control to bail out of a traffic jam.

Kathryn Doyle said...

So many are having to deal with the issue of elderly parents' abilities behind the wheel. Thank you for sharing your experience.