One of the defining things about my life, up until now, is that I didn’t drive. Saying you “don’t drive” is a mysterious way of putting it. It sounds like you’re taking a stand against something, like saying “I don’t eat meat” or “I don’t vote.” I didn’t drive because legally, I couldn’t. I never got my driver’s license. As a stubborn, shy, scared teenager with the self-confidence of a blind, one-legged kitten, I failed my driver’s test twice, and then gave up.
The last thing I remember about driving as a teen was driving back to my house after my second failed driver’s test, and listening to my driving instructor chatter away about her boyfriend, and how the the only way she could tell if he’d had an orgasm during sex was that sweat would break out on his nose. I was 16 and sexually extremely un-precocious. At first I didn’t know what she meant when she used the word “come” in that context.
So, twenty years later, last January, and thanks to my best friend, without whom I never could have done it, I finally got my driver’s license.
Not getting my license at the same time as other kids has been one of the biggest regrets and roadblocks (!) in my life. But it’s also led me to think about this driving thing in a different way. For one thing: driving is stupid. I mean, you have these very fallible, very fragile, very flawed beings piloting gigantic, heavy, highly flammable boxes of steel and fiberglass around at high speeds, often maneuvering within inches of each other and of soft, squishy, easily damaged pedestrians. Great idea.
For another thing, cars are toxic to the environment and hugely wasteful of resources. Just one word can sum it all up: “Iraq.” I firmly believe that cars have has been the most destructive human invention of all time, even more so than gunpowder and the atom bomb.
For a long time, I was using those facts as an excuse to not get my license, even though those were just smokescreens. Really, I was just scared. Petrified would be more like it. For years, every time I seriously started to think about getting my license, I would start to hyperventilate. While I was re-learning to drive this winter (I’d had several people through the years try to teach me, and have had five or six learner’s permits), every time I would approach the driver’s side door, I’d have to surf through the panic and anxiety, reminding myself that if all of these other people could do it, so could I.
Driving has brought up a lot of issues for me. When my dad lent me his Prius for a week, I watched the thoughts go skittering across my consciousness every time I drove: Everybody around me is laughing at how bad a driver I am. Did I park OK? Are people in the houses around me laughing at my bad parking job? Am I going too slowly even though I’m driving the speed limit? Oh god, I don’t know where I’m going, can other people tell? But then I would notice other people not driving perfectly: going too fast or too slowly, turning clumsily, barely missing a red light, not seeing a pedestrian right away. It made me realize the scary yet strangely comforting fact that nobody else on the road is perfect, either.
I’m still not going to own a car, both for financial and philosophical reasons. I’m planning on joining City Car Share. I’ll still take the bus and BART nearly every day, the same as I’ve been doing since I was 14. But now, I have more options, and, more importantly, I have the satisfaction of conquering one of my most stubborn and inveterate demons, even if the demons were partially based in good sense. I mean driving really is stupid, if you think about it.