Some of my moments of greatest elation have taken place while driving. A few moments especially stand out in my mind. Driving alone up over the beautiful Rocky Mountains while fleeing a stressful visit from my mother-in-law. Driving south on Macleod Trail in Calgary on my way to visit a friend after doing some shopping in quiet, pleasant stores, aware of the freedom I had to go anywhere I wanted. Driving west down Anarchist Mountain in southern BC, good tunes on the stereo, awed by the stunning view before me. In those moments, my heart welled up with bliss and joy.
Unfortunately, some of my moments of greatest stress have also taken place while driving. Driving in heavy traffic, on icy roads, or in dense fog. Or even just with a loud, chatty person in the passenger seat while trying to concentrate on the task at hand. There is one person in particular who has often been a passenger of mine who is constantly making noise, if not engaged in gossipy chatter, then reading every sign we pass, humming, or even just constantly clearing her throat and fidgeting around in her seat. She has admitted to being uncomfortable with silence, which explains a lot.
When I turned 16, while my peers couldn’t wait to get their driver’s license, I was reluctant. I kept thinking about what a huge responsibility driving was, how big and dangerous a car could be, and how one moment of poor judgment could possibly result in someone’s death. I knew very well how rattled and overwhelmed I get when there’s a lot going on around me; if that happened while I was behind the wheel, the consequences could be horrific.
Still, other people pushed me. Mostly aunts and uncles who didn’t understand how I get. My first experience driving was in my aunt’s car with her in the passenger seat. She was determined to teach me. But her car was a standard and that was way too complicated for my first time. She quickly realized the whole thing was a bad idea and we switched seats.
When I was 18 and intending to move out on my own, my mom finally insisted that I learn to drive and she uncharacteristically offered to pay for me to take a defensive driving course. I am grateful for that, as the instructor was competent and patient, and I did succeed in learning to drive, and drive well. When it came time to take my test, however, which happened to be the day before I moved out on my own, I was nervous and shaking really badly and I made many, many mistakes. Things I could normally do, like parallel park, I was suddenly completely unable to execute while being examined. I did pass, but only barely. In fact, I got the impression the examiner had mercy on me and passed me only because he liked me in an inappropriate way. Ick.
So, now I could drive, but all the training and instruction in the world can’t eliminate those moments of overstimulation when I can’t think and when everything becomes a blur, and I was still afraid of that. Still, somehow I managed to cope. I put a tremendous amount of effort into training my attention and I managed to always stay alert and to drive very sensibly. It was tiring having to do that, but I did it.
My first car was a total lemon. It wouldn’t start when it rained (and where I lived, it rained a lot), so I took it to a garage, but it started fine for them and they couldn’t find anything wrong, so it seemed like it was all in my head. Nonetheless, the car was so unreliable for me that I moved to a more convenient location where I wouldn’t need it. I kept it parked and walked and used public transportation. I sold it a couple years later.
I only drove sporadically throughout my twenties, spending many years without a car at all. But then I started driving on a daily basis when I got married in 2004 at the age of 31. My husband didn’t have a driver’s license at all. He had grown up in a large city in England where there was excellent public transportation and it wasn’t as common for people to drive. His mom and most of his extended family members didn’t drive either. It was a normal thing for them not to drive.
So once we got married, I drove him to work and back every day. We were living in a city with long, harsh winters, and for 5 to 6 months of the year I felt like I was on edge all the time, stressed from the winter driving. I hated it. I was an extremely cautious driver and I had good winter tires, but there was still a moment when I lost control on the ice and skidded across the oncoming lane and ended up in the ditch on the wrong side of the road. Fortunately, there was no traffic at the time, but it was still a terrifying moment I will never forget. I didn’t want to drive after that but I felt like I had no choice. My husband wouldn’t take public transportation because he’d had a bad experience on it once, where the bus didn’t stop where he thought it was supposed to and he ended up lost in the city at night (this was before we had cell phones). He thought Canadian public transportation was terrible compared to British public transportation and I’m sure that’s true.
To be fair, it’s not like he was refusing to use public transportation knowing how all the driving was affecting me. I grumbled from time to time, but I didn’t express the scope of how I was feeling, because I wanted to be able to just suck it up and handle it. I wanted to be the kind of person who could do that. And I was very aware that he was working, and I wasn’t. The very least I could do was give him a ride.
But other people thought our arrangement was very weird. One man at church actually chastised my husband, telling him that men are supposed to drive their wives around, wives aren’t supposed to drive their husbands around. So then we felt judged.
Even though I hated the daily commute, I loved the leisurely weekend drives we took in the summer and fall. When we got married, moving in with my husband meant joining him in a new province where he’d landed a postdoctoral fellowship, and I loved getting to know my new surroundings. Some of my happiest moments in the early years of our marriage were during those drives.
My husband intended to learn to drive but his work took up so much of his time that he didn’t get around to it for years (funnily enough, his boss at the time had never gotten his driver’s license for the same reason and was also driven everywhere by his wife). Finally my husband got his license in 2011. That was a huge relief for me. He was unemployed at the time (which is why he finally had the time to do it), but then later when we were both employed, I, to my disappointment, ended up being the driver again, because neither one of us was earning much and his workplace had really expensive and inadequate pay parking while mine had ample, free parking, so for budgetary reasons I would drop him off before heading to work. We were again living in a place with long, harsh winters, so I was on edge and stressed once again.
Then in January 2014, our car broke down on one of the coldest nights of the year. We had it towed to a garage, and were informed the next day that it would cost $3500, minimum, to fix. We did not have that money. So we sold it for scrap and have been using public transportation ever since. My husband has had no choice but to get used to it. Of course, having cell phones helps now too, as we can keep track of bus schedules on our phones, find our location on Google Maps if we end up lost (well, I never end up lost, because I am unusually good at knowing where I am and finding my way around — it’s practically my savant skill, haha), and worst case scenario, call for a taxi if all else fails.
We are also really blessed to live right across the road from a large mall, with a grocery store, medical clinic, public library, bank, etc. mere steps away. When we chose this apartment, we didn’t know we would end up without a car, but we couldn’t have picked a better location if we had known.
I have mixed feelings about not having a car. On the one hand, I kind of love it, because it eliminates so much stress from my life! I remember that on-edge feeling I used to have all the time, especially in the winter, and between not driving and not currently working I almost never feel that way anymore. It is a blessed relief; words can’t even express. On the other hand, I get tired of the same old scenery all the time and yearn to go for drives like we used to. I grew up in a family that went for drives for no reason, and I loved it. I did not have a happy childhood, but I was usually happy in the car, looking at the scenery, seeing new places. I miss that so very much. Now I often watch driving videos on YouTube (edit: here is a better example; I prefer the real-time videos to the fast time-lapse ones), or navigate around places using Google Street View, trying recapture that feeling.
Best case scenario, my husband lands a reliable job that pays enough so we can get a car again and can afford all the costs that go with it, including parking, and he is the one who drives it most of the time. He’s a good driver and enjoys driving (unlike me, he is very calm and never gets rattled, even in heavy traffic), so that’s not out of the question.
That guy at church who chastised my husband for letting me be the driver may have been a dick, but I have to admit I would prefer for my husband to drive me around. Not because I’m a woman, but because I’m me.