Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Why I don't drive

This seems like a good time to explain what some of you may be wondering about - why I don't drive a car. It will require a little history.

I grew up in suburban Massachusetts, where everyone drove. All of us kids couldn't wait to be 16.

When I got to that age, I found that I had no desire to actually drive a car. It felt scary, in fact. And from a philosophical standpoint, I was opposed to America's driving culture - the environmental pollution, the physical-fitness implications, the country's priority for road-building instead of public-transit building. But as much as anyone else, I wanted freedom, control, and escape, and a driver's license seemed the only route to that. So I got my license and briefly enjoyed some liberation.

A few months after I got my license, I made a stupid driving mistake (I was in an emotional, stressed-out state of mind and I made an illegal turn on a highway), another car crashed into me and I totaled my parents' minivan. I'll never forget the quaking fear when the police arrived and I realized I had left my license at home. When I called my parents in tears, they brought it to me at the accident site, and the police quietly overlooked this mistake. I was lucky to be unhurt, and not to have hurt anyone else. And I became much more reluctant to drive.

Nevertheless, immediate convenience often trumped my anxiety, and I drove now and then throughout highschool. I fortunately moved to Washington DC for college, and didn't need a car for a number of years, through college, circus school and my first year living in Center City Philadelphia. In DC I got a job at a bike shop, and opened my eyes to this wonderful way of commuting, exercising and having fun. I got myself a good bike and a messenger bag and I was perfectly happy.

When I moved to Germantown in the year 2000, it felt very far outside the city to me, and I thought I needed a car. Though there were bus and train routes, they didn't go everywhere I wanted to go. And once I started having kids, it seemed my fate was sealed - playgroups, preschools, grocery stores, doctor's visits - I began to rely on the car completely.

So for 10 years, I drove, all the time. Greg and I managed with just one car between us, but we squabbled over it frequently, despite the fact that most of our work and school obligations were within a couple of miles of the house. And throughout all this time, I remained an anxious, unhappy driver. What's more, I was a bad driver. I was the multitasker, talking on the cell phone, eating meals, changing CDs for the kids. On long drives, I'd find myself fighting not to fall asleep, even if I was well-rested beforehand.

The 2009-2010 school year was a rough one for me. Greg was away almost the entire year. I was on my own, trying to run my business, hire a new Director, and manage the household and 3 kids. I was, in short, an exhausted lunatic. It all came to a head in the spring. See the earlier blog posts (March & April 2010) if you'd like the details of my two big car accidents!

After the second one, I said, enough. I am not meant to drive. I've always hated driving, I've always been a poor driver, and now I have three little lives in my hands, who are at risk with me behind the wheel. For everyone's safety and sanity, I'm turning in my car keys for good.

It's been 10 months since this decision, and in that time I've become even more certain. The kids and I have learned to rely on buses, and bikes, and our feet to get us where we need to go. It's forced me to slow down the pace of my life - the extra 5 minutes I'd gain by rushing somewhere in a car is no longer worth it. We enjoy our travels on planes and trains and subways. I feel like I'm doing right by the environment, by my kids, and by my own conscience.

And now, here we are. Stuck in the first place, so far, where simple day-to-day errands without a car are impossible. And Greg has purchased a new minivan so that he can drive us around the country on tour. At this point, I can't just pick up the keys - my license is expired, and I am not insured on the car. But I feel trapped. And I feel guilty, asking Greg to drive me around. There is not much to do but wait it out. I have no intention of driving again, even if everyone else thinks I'm crazy.


  1. I am not the only one who is wondering how you can perform and do aerial arts...two things that terrify most people... and be afraid of driving? It's very brave of you to act on your very proper analysis of your abilities..you're a good and trustworthy analyst...so you get my vote on your decision. I just don't understand why one terrifies you and the others don't!

  2. Wow - this sounds like my worst nightmare - trapped with the kids and no way out!!! How can there be NO buses? How about a taxi???? What about things like grocery shopping - is Greg driving you to the store? HUGS and hang in there....

  3. Hey, if you can find a way to the train station in Charlotte with your bikes, the train to Durham takes about 3 hours to get here and they can carry bikes. Info here: http://www.bytrain.org/passenger/

    The only bad thing is that it looks like it leaves fairly early (like 7:10am, but there are later options available on the weekends), but then there is a return trip at 5:30pm, so it would be easy to do a day trip if you wanted (or, as we said on Wednesday, we've got more than enough space to host you all if you want to spend the night sometime).

  4. I think you need to get over your fear. Maybe take a drivers ed class or commit to being more responsible behind the wheel. I don't think you need to drive, but with having 3 kids I think you should be able to. What if something happened and you needed to drive because Greg couldn't? What if there was an emergency? I definitely think you don't need to change how you get around, but conquering any fear is important, and being able to be there to take some burden off Greg would be nice.

  5. OK people worried about my fears, I must respond... I'm not terrified of driving, and maybe my post made it sound that way. I've driven a car for years and I don't have panic attacks or anything about it. I just hate driving. But in an emergency I'd have no trouble getting behind the wheel.
    I'm not in the least bit concerned about conquering a fear here. I'm actually feeling very proud of myself for making what I think is the most responsible decision - though it isn't always the easiest path to take.
    I love my driving-free life, the same as I've always loved my TV-free life and my illicit-drug-free life. Pride and determination, not fear, are my ruling factors here.