Thursday, October 24, 2013

Driving, Identity, and Resistance

If you learn to drive as an adult, a lot of things go differently. For instance, you don't need to be so worried about what to do in a car full of other teenagers. Nor are you exploring your alcohol limits and learning right on red at the same time. (I was at a cocktail party at six this evening, not to drive until eleven, and went with only seltzer, because I'm that well-acquainted with my tolerance, from those years before so much as being a passenger in a car was much of an issue.) But the main difference is, you have to contend with having the identity of a non-driver.

Think of it like this: If you graduate from college somewhere in the 21-23 range, it's likely not going to be a big deal for you to think of yourself as a college graduate. Similarly, if you learn to drive at the traditional age (which is what in this country, 12?), there was certainly a time when you couldn't drive, and you may well remember your lessons, your mother or father screaming at you from the passenger seat, but you won't identify as someone who doesn't drive. The entire thing won't seem like something other people do, but not you.

This evening, I got back to town, following an interesting experiment in Penn Station-avoidance, involving the PATH train from Newark to the World Trade Center. I was, in other words, tired. But then there I was, and I saw this impeccably parked vehicle, and there, in my hand, was a key that opened it. How about that! So I got in and drove home, like it was the most natural thing in the world. Unfazed by a traffic diversion I'd never approached from quite that angle, nor by the cone that had tipped over slightly into the road.

While that level of comfort driving in town isn't new for me, what was different was, I'd been at an event with friends I made shortly before learning to drive, held in the neighborhood where I went to high school, at an organization I worked at one summer during college. I was in Non-Driver Phoebe mode, and then lo and behold, this car. While driving just now, I was having these odd moments of, is this really me, doing this? But fear not, fellow New Jersey drivers. It's reached the point where not knowing how to drive would be impossible. I'm going along and knowing intellectually that this process would have not long ago struck me as magic, akin to being an Olympic gymnast as far as I was concerned. I know I could go back to WWPD posts and try to return to that mindset. But it's become impossible to really remember what that felt like.

4 comments:

Petey said...

"I'm going along and knowing intellectually that this process would have not long ago struck me as magic, akin to being an Olympic gymnast as far as I was concerned."

Of course, the trick here is that you don't have to be an Olympic-competitive driver. You just need to be a competent driver. And that indeed does get accomplished remarkably quickly.

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The next step is moving from competent driver to excellent driver. In my case, it took about 18 months of constant driving before I felt confident to start driving what is officially considered as 'reckless' while still being safe. (Perhaps it's something like the 10,000 hour 'rule'.)

After 18 months, I could comfortably drive while buzzed on alcohol, with my headlights off on rural roads at night, at triple digits speeds on highways, treating red lights like stop signs, and (my personal favorite), reading the newspaper on my morning commute while steering with my knees.

The one traffic regulation I've always respected, however, is the one you reference in your Einstein house post. When the speed limit drops as you enter a populated area, I always drop my speed. Not only is that because it's a popular (and good policy) place for speed traps, but also because if you ignore it, you're bound to run over a bunch of happy Roma and Irish children playing tee ball in the street. And if you do that, the paperwork you need to fill out is onerous.

caryatis said...

As a non-driver, I tend to notice the hassles of driving much more than drivers. Driving around 5 minutes to look for a parking space is intolerable, but spending 25 minutes walking to the metro is fine. And the very idea of paying for a car and then having to continue paying for insurance, parking, parking tickets, and gas FOREVER seems terrible.

Phoebe said...

Caryatis,

It just depends where you live. Many places, you need a car, as in there isn't a bus or subway (or sidewalks!), and things are too far/roads too busy for biking to be a sufficient alternative. The annoyances of driving don't disappear, but it's that much more of a problem not to be able to go anywhere.

As for "FOREVER," yes, this is a thing worth considering if you're settling somewhere permanently, but it's possible to lease/sell a car. Given how much many people move these days, sometimes maybe you'll need one, other times you won't.

On a personal note, while I remain on team prefer not to drive, I'm glad to have been compelled to learn how. And I doubt if that would have happened without my living somewhere like this. If there were a bus or subway option, believe me, I'd have taken it.

Petey said...

"Many places, you need a car, as in there isn't a bus or subway (or sidewalks!), and things are too far/roads too busy for biking to be a sufficient alternative."

This is completely untrue. As you can see from this map, in most places in the world, you certainly do not need a car.

"On a personal note, while I remain on team prefer not to drive, I'm glad to have been compelled to learn how."

Agreed on both points. Learning to drive, and then driving, is glorious. And living within human civilization, where you absolutely don't to own a car, is also glorious.