08 January 2007

Why I don't drive

I don't drive. That's not to say I can't, because I suppose I could if I really had to, but I never have to, so I prefer not to. I think most people assume that since I'm such a gung-ho bike person I must really hate cars and driving, but that's not true. In a rather pretentious and abstract way I hate society for being such that cars and driving are necessary in most cases, but it's not the idea of driving a car in itself that really grates on me. No, I just don't do it. I've been feeling lately that I probably ought to explain why.

Like for so many other things, I blame IMSA. Well, maybe that's a little harsh. "The Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (R) is an internationally-recognized pioneering educational institution created by the state of Illinois to develop talent and leadership in mathematics, science and technology." It's also a rather sheltered residential high school environment where I spent three of my most formative teenage years not driving. Cars weren't allowed on campus, except as a senior privilege, and even then I remember that most parents didn't allow it, or most seniors just didn't bother, or something. Technically we didn't need to drive anywhere. We all lived in dormatories not 100 yards from the academic building, we weren't allowed to have jobs during the school year, and there were vans that shuttled us everywhere we needed to go: basketball games at other schools, movie runs at the cineplex up the road, internships at institutions in Chicago, dorm field trips to Starved Rock State Park, etc. If that wasn't enough, then at least public transit wasn't nonexistent: there was a Pace stop right in front of campus for a route that went to Aurora Transportation Center; from there you could go anywhere, if you were patient.

Not that I didn't ever want to drive anywhere. There were many times when I would have given anything to just get into a car and drive away, go somewhere else for a while, on my own, without cramming into a van with a dozen other people or standing around waiting for a bus. But I couldn't, so I didn't. And thus I spent that time in my life not driving anywhere, the time in most other people's lives when they get into the habit of driving everywhere. I got used to it by default. After I did get my liscence, well into my junior year, driving became a thing I did on breaks to visit my far-flung friends, or occasionally I was expected to drive myself to the dentist or pick up my younger brother somewhere.

In college my parents picked me up and drove me home and back again, which must have been an enormous pain in the ass for them having already done that while I was in high school, but buying a car of my own and driving my damn self everywhere just never occurred to me. Where in the world, on the south side of Chicago, would I park it? Not to mention I couldn't afford one, and nobody was going to buy one for me. And I didn't really need one, living in the city. It's an attitude I carried over after graduation. And as my parents worked what seemed to be increasingly erratic hours, if I ever did want to borrow the car for the weekend and drive somewhere, I'd also have to carpool them around to and from work. Which was a huge pain in the ass, as I finally came to understand. I started dating someone who had a car and many of the same far-flung friends from high school, so that issue stopped being a factor. I became an expert in taking Metra everywhere and Amtrak everywhere else, and begging people on my knees for rides when neither of those was an option.

I turned 25 in November. "It must feel good," everyone said, "knowing that you're able to rent a car now." I thought, why would I do that? I don't drive. I use my driver's liscence to buy beer and write checks because people with state IDs are nuts, or so I've heard. Everyone knows I don't drive. I can't remember the last time I did drive anywhere. I can't remember when "I don't drive" became my standard excuse for not being able to go somewhere.

I don't drive. I don't have to, living here, which I must admit is a really big reason why I do live here. I bike because walking is slow and taking the bus gets expensive, and a bike is something that I've always already had anyway, except that one fall-winter years ago between moving into my current apartment and buying my current bike. I dislike cars because society sucks and every once in a while they almost kill me, which I'm sure would make anyone dislike anything. Occasionally my parents drive me around between here and there and sometimes somehwere else, which is a gigantic pain in the ass, but I know they'd rather see me than not, and I appreciate it because I'd rather see them than not, too.

I don't drive. I bike. The two have very little to do with each other, and both are simply the consequences of the life I've lived. It was only recently in my life that those two things developed a cause-effect relationship that I'm conscious of.


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