I don’t drive, I’ve never had a driver’s licence, I’ve never owned a car, this has developed a certain drive in me that would’ve been otherwise neglected or unnoticed had I gone the way of the masses and joined that class of mobility.
I believe it takes a certain drive to exist in a world dominated by cars and industry. In the U.S. industry used to center around transportation of goods and people via trains and cars and the steel mills and automobile factories that used to employ so many people. The design of cities and their outlying suburbs created a need for this industry to thrive…it fed itself. In order to get to and from work, you had to either drive yourself or carpool, or rely on public transportation which rarely accommodated the outlying suburbs efficiently…you had to work in order to afford the house in the suburbs and the status associated with that. You had to have a car to get to and from the city and the ‘burbs, the ‘right’ car. You needed to work to pay for the ‘right’ car to get you to and from the city and the ‘burbs…all by design.
As a child there was also always an immense pressure with things like model car kits and Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars we grew up with as toys but these toys also conditioned us to believe how cool we would be when we’re old enough to own and drive the real thing. Most kids couldn’t wait to turn 16 in order to get their first car. Who at 16 needs a car? What career or job or task requires a 16 year old to have wheels? I never got that. Status…image, those are the driving psychological forces at hand. I never bought into it.
My grandfather worked for The Ford plant near Buffalo NY where I grew up. This was a part of the Rust Belt as it’s known these days. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo etc. were all central to the steel and automobile industry. My grandfather was an alcoholic for years and must have suffered depression as the 70’s and 80’s were a pretty dire time economically and working in that environment must have been soul sucking for sure. He had a small car accident (a drunk driving incident in which he only emerged with a broken leg but it scared him enough into sobriety. Not more than a few years later he died of a heart attack at the Ford plant. We all thought he’d quit smoking too, but they found 3 packs of smokes on him! I must’ve been 14-15 at the time.
This must have informed my early opinions about cars and their inherent destructive properties. I never consciously decided that I was never gonna drive, I just chose to attempt not to engage in society in that way. I was also raised by a single mother who worked which made me a ‘latchkey Kid’. I started to ride the bus on my own by 3rd-4th grade, so my perspective of convenience in travel was already being informed.
By 7th-8th grade we had moved a bit closer to my grade school and subsequently my High School would also be just a 20 min. busride away, though I often chose to ride my skateboard or even walk! Walking took about an hour but I really grew to enjoy my explorations before and after school. I realized that I got to see the city and experience it much more intimately on foot. Even when I rode the bus it got to where I would squint my eyes and imagine what Elmwood Ave looked like before it was developed into a strip of boutiques and businesses, this street was once residential and if you looked beyond the store fronts you could still make out the lovely architecture of the old houses behind the facades, I time travelled this way.
By high school I was a full on ‘Skate Rat’ and my crew and I used to ride everywhere, exploring the city’s skateable architecture or simply ‘bombing hills’ all day everyday. We explored every neighborhood we could from The Lower West Side near what is now The Buffalo Waterfront district down near Lake Erie to the top of Elmwood where Albright Knox Art Gallery sits, near Buff St. to North Buffalo and sometimes even as far as where Main St, meets Transit in Williamsville…sometimes in one day!
Somewhere around the age of 19-20 I suffered a pretty severe ankle injury skating the banks outside of Trackmaster studios which is now GCR studios owned by Goo Goo Dolls bassist Robbie (Goo) Takac. This injury essentially ended my ability to even just ride a skateboard and prompted me to focus on playing an instrument which was a blessing, since I was really depressed I would probably never ‘bomb hills’ again.
I took the bus to NOLA and spent some time down there exploring, NOLA is a great walking city. Shortly after I returned to Buffalo to recalibrate and I worked at a record store for a bit. Apollo Records on Elmwood (the proprietor Gary Sperrazza has actually just recently passed away)
for a couple years, I spent 6 days a week at the record store and the rest of the time playing music and developing a couple of musical projects. I lived 2 doors away from the shop so my commute was a dream…
IT TAKES DRIVE TO LIVE IN LA WITHOUT A CAR
In 1996 I moved to LA (I took the bus from Buffalo) and against most peoples advice, really tested the carless existence! Everyone swears adamantly that you cannot survive without a car in LA. I did for close to 10 years! I worked at a couple of different record stores from Melrose to The Sunset Strip, within a few months I was playing with a seminal LA punk band and gigging regularly. I can’t say it was easy but it did take drive. for awhile I even worked in Van Nuys while living in Silverlake!
Now I reside in SF which is a much easier city to traverse using public transportation, yet we are clogged to the gills with cars! People want to claim the SF zip code though they work in the burbs! Things have completely reversed!
I’m 42 now and still haven’t entertained the thought of driving. I see more details in my surroundings, I don’t rush and allow myself time to move and explore as I head toward my destination…cars promote a stressful relationship with other drivers and you have to be at attention at all times. My mind likes to wander and I utilise the time on busses and subways to read and write and to work on music…I engage with people face to face and I don’t exist in a closed box on wheels. I don’t have envy of the world of tickets, accidents (often deadly), insurance payments and repairs etc. Where people think that driving saves time, I feel that not driving gives me time while at the same time increases my motivation, mental and physical health and above all…drive.
This in response to The Daily Prompt “Drive”
Featured Image by Jeff K. 2016