by foot: on not driving

Due to some really shitty town management two of the three public pools in our town – the affordable option for the middle class residents who still exist in this increasingly affluent community where I live – are closed for the entire summer, leaving one pool at the exact opposite end of town from my neighborhood. (The pool where I’ve been swimming laps for 15 years is right up the street.) That means taking the train a few stops uptown is the only option given that I can’t bike up the steep incline to the upper end of town. Why not just take the 20 minute drive up there? If I was driving yes that would make the most sense. But I’m not.

There, I said it. I’ve stopped driving. Please don’t judge, it was a long road to get here, filled with aggressive careless drivers who populate this state more than anyplace I’ve been, and I’ve been to Rome and Rio, I know from crazy driving. I never particularly liked driving, and in the stage of my life where I had young children in the car whose safety was my sole responsibility, all the less so. And driving a severely autistic kid who would occasionally have meltdowns en route could make a routine trip feel unbearable.

When we first moved here after twenty years of carless city living – I drove in upstate NY where I shared a country house for five years, but that was easy – I had great trepidations. I took a few lessons just to refresh myself. You drive fine, the instructor said dismissively after the first lesson, you just need confidence. He was right. I knew that I drove fine: I was careful and attentive and always safe, it was the other drivers who made me nervous. I was always worried about the other guy, who saw turn signals as optional and stop signs as a mere suggestion.

Early on I described our neighborhood as Brooklyn without the subway. But I didn’t realize what a major loss that would be. The subway, at any hour, in any neighborhood, there I felt at ease. Someone else was driving and all I had to do was know where i was going and how to interact with other people,  I’d rather be traveling from Harlem to Brooklyn at two am on New Year’s Eve than try to get out of the CVS parking lot on a weekday afternoon. I’ve witnessed three crashes in that single little lot! 

A few years into my driving life, after leaving the pediatrician I had someone tear through a red light and total our car, No one was hurt thankfully but it was still a terrifying experience. Still I drove because I had to, from school, to day camps, to the store, taking B to baseball practices and games and to friend’s houses. I was a seemingly typical suburban mom but with a high state of anxiety as soon as I hit the road. I was spared any further run-ins for some time, although I continued to witness crashes, including a few right outside our window, as cars sped through a stop sign in our residential neighborhood.

The last straw was two years ago when I was stuck in an intersection with three other cars all waiting for someone to make a left turn when a car smashed into me. When the police came the other woman actually said that I was speeding past her when I wasn’t even moving. He listened to both of us and then issued each of us reckless driving tickets! After more than a dozen years of suffering the most reckless drivers on earth I get issued that ticket? I challenged it and had to go into municipal court where I was told the citation would be expunged from my record if I’d just pay a $300 fee. The court was filled with residents in similar circumstances. I left that courthouse fed up.

Enough, I’m not driving anymore. I have a bike. I have feet. T actually likes driving and does all the family outings anyway. He takes me somewhere if needed or I use Uber occasionally but I try to walk as much as I can and once I fix my flat tire and get my bike tuned up I’ll have that option. And I like walking, which is good because for all its assets my neighborhood has low walkability, meaning nothing is a short walk away. So going to a store or the bank or the library or the train into the city each takes about a half hour each way, which means I’m in good shape.  And I’m way less stressed not being behind a steering wheel. 

I wish I liked driving, it’s so American to be out on the open road. I’m in awe of people who find it a pleasure rather than a terrible burden to have to be in the driver’s seat. I suppose they’re a majority.And there are all these cool cars now. My dream vehicle is an electric Volvo…as long as someone else is driving.

If there were an emergency and I had to drive I could. I know how, like riding a bike you don’t forget. I’ve been researching places to move where you can easily get by without a car. They do exist and I think I’d be better suited in a small city than a big town. For now I’m walking as much as I can, and taking the train to the pool. 

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