A Road Worth Taking
I’ll always remember my mother’s reaction when I ran out to the car after taking my driving test. “I passed mom,” I said. “You’re, kidding,” she said. “Right?”
I was not in fact kidding. And after slowing down at every uncontrolled intersection and school zone and somehow miraculously managing to parallel park for the first (and only) time, I was granted my driver’s license at age 16. Later that day, my mom told me that since I now had my license, I could take my little sister to baseball practice. I thought at that moment, (for the first time of many) that maybe getting my license wasn’t so great after all, and when I turned right out of the baseball diamond into the far double lane of oncoming traffic and was forced to drive over the median to safety, that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this whole driving thing.
For a few teenage years, when really a car was just a mobile teen hangout, I persevered. In the quiet Calgary suburbs, I was a master at spotting those playground zones and I could drive 30 km an hour like nobody’s business. But when I moved to downtown Vancouver after university in Montreal (and really who drives in downtown Montreal), I became once again a ‘driver’. Now, living downtown and going to school (more of that) I didn’t need to drive very often, but every once in awhile, a friend who lived in the boonies (or more than 5 kilometers away and across the bridge) would invite me over, and I would get in the car and make my way.
First, my palms would start to sweat. Then I would be convinced that something was wrong with the car. Is the parking brake on again? No, not that…Later, I would be paranoid about my speed. Is that a cop car? It’s white. How fast was I going? And then, there would be the bozo who would honk at me because I came to a complete stop at a stop sign, or the in-a-rush-guy who would honk at me because I wasn’t already rolling when the light turned green. Every time I got into the car, I felt so stressed, like I was going to flip the car and burst into flames or piss someone off and get honked at or receive the international symbol of ‘you suck’ sent my way through the window.
I had methods to deal with my fears, the most effective involved always playing the Beach Boys while driving. It’s very hard to be worked up or angry when listening to those up-beat harmonious California tunes. But then one day, it hit me, ‘I’m an adult. I can make my own choices and if I don’t want to drive, then so be it, who says I have to.’ And it was then that I stopped.
Now I still have my license. Somehow they just keep giving it to me and the ID comes in handy at the bar or the airport. But I make my way around downtown Toronto (I like to move a lot) on my vintage three-speed Raleigh and I love it. I’ve realized getting myself around the city on my own steam has really contributed to my quality of life. People are so attached to their cars and to driving and our North American society has really come to revolve around cars. Trust me, I’m from Calgary. Whenever I tell someone that I don’t drive they react with shock, dismay, and even pity. Don’t you get cold? Do you have to change at work everyday? But someone might steal your bike? And on and on.
But no. I live downtown. I ride to work. I coast really. I’m in no rush. I don’t get sweaty – I’m not Lance. My bike cost $35 dollars. I found it at a garage sale, after a great deal of hunting. (The guy had no idea he could have sold the trendy bike for a few hundred to a bike store.) My lock cost twice as much but no one is going to use a blowtorch to cut the graphite to score my ride.
In Fall, I watch the leaves change. In fact, they fall on me as I ride. They smell delicious. I add mittens and a scarf when it’s chilly to my bike dress code. I see the houses that decorate for Halloween and admire them as I pass. No honking when I slow down to get a better look. In winter, I enjoy the Christmas lights and peak into the houses as the glow from inside makes it easy to see the family around the dinner table. When it’s hot and steamy in summer, I don’t lock myself in an air-conditioned icebox, I sweat. It reminds me that it’s summer. I can feel it. I can hear the birds chirping, see the smiling faces on the patios, hear a joke as I pass by, laugh with the revelers.
My bike is equipped with a basket for my purse on the front. Four bags of groceries can balance delicately from my handlebars. My butcher is a block away, the baker two. The movie rental place is just down the street and I can attach a movie to the back of my bike on the rear rack. (A six-pack also fits quite nicely.) I know who has the most beautiful garden in my neighbourhood and I know what it smells like. I have been down every alley and know every short cut around. I know the regulars at the dog park. I know what houses are for sale and how long it took for them to sell. I’ve ridden in on a few teenagers making out behind their house and I know who has the best backyard parties in the Westend.
No matter where I’m going, I take a different route. Discovering all the dead ends and hidden corners of downtown. I could take you to the crazy house with all the hanging dolls in the garden and point out the lady who makes the most amazing smelling pies and the kids who build the best snowman around. And when I get home, I’m all smiles. No one honked at me today. There will be no parking tickets for me. And I must say, no one has given me the finger in forever.
So don’t feel sorry for me because I don’t drive because instead of always just trying to get somewhere I enjoy the journey and the amount of living I do on the way there.
The Author lives in Beaconsfield Village, Toronto.