The Mighty Gall Of Being Shamed For Not Driving
From LA to MD, it won’t stop
I didn’t get my driver’s license until I turned thirty and the motivation was due to my impeding move to Los Angeles. After spending almost a decade in New York City — I was completely reliant on the subway and never contemplated the option of purchasing a vehicle.
After the move to L.A. — I dodged the advice to lease a car and instead bought a cobalt blue 1985 ford mustang from a young Argentinean who had to head back home to care for his ailing mother. There was something cool about owning a car with history without the pressure of competition.
Living in a city that abides by the car culture like nowhere else can be intimidating — particularly when you’ve hadn’t had the pleasure of racking up enough driving hours to qualify.
Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria — a sprawling metropolis that is consistently jam-packed with every design of moving shells that one can imagine — I was always on the inside looking out at the rows of immobilized Lagosians — honking with frustration at the hours spent with futile results.
Nobody in my family taught me how to drive and in fact it wasn’t ever presented as an option. I spent my childhood and teenage years being chauffeured by my parents or the drivers that were assigned to them by employers. And when I hung out with friends — their parents drivers took us wherever we wanted to go.
Unlike my younger brothers — who actively demonstrated their need to learn how to manipulate the steering wheel — I wasn’t in the slightest bit interested in cars. Looking back — it’s interesting that my parents didn’t make the effort to at least coach me on the basics — particularly since they were sending me off to another country. You would think they would feel the need to make sure I was fully prepared to be on my own — considering that I would be thousands of miles away.
Nevertheless — I ended up going to driving school at an age when most Americans are veteran drivers. At the time I was learning — Jersey City was my dwelling place and my instructor was a Danish guy with a hearty mean-streak that was meant to whip me into shape whenever the changing lanes challenged me. After failing the first two tests — he suggested we head out to Rahway, NJ — where I would hopefully benefit from the more lenient itinerary.
His suggestion paid off — and I was able to parallel park with ease and efficiency. Or maybe it was the tester’s refreshingly merciful decorum that did the trick — either way it felt good to earn something that had evaded me for way too long.
Needless to say — my driving history is notably sparse — and I’m aware that this distinction is shared with most New Yorkers who spend their lives unburdened by car payments and the inflating insurance. But, when you immerse yourself in cities that can’t provide the level of convenience that comes with a sophisticated transportation system —you have no choice but to figure out a mandated game plan.
I survived L.A. without a car for approximately three months to the utter horror of those around me — who couldn’t fathom the prospect of parading around the city without the solitude and dignity of a vehicle. In their defense — riding the bus in Los Angeles is akin to a moving prison — depending on which route you’re stuck with and for how long. There’s also the complications of navigating a vast landscape that forces you to board multiple buses in a quest to accommodate the requirements of your destination.
Once my used mustang passed the smog test — I was free to join the millions of drivers clogging the highways and terrorizing pedestrians from the right of way. But, I couldn’t help but mull over how terrified people were each time I confessed my temporary situation. I had to make the adjustment by recognizing how my love for walking numerous blocks at a time — couldn’t translate to places that weren’t built for such activities.
The eighties hit single Walking in L.A. is a roaring classic — and it also perfectly sums up the disposition of natives who absolutely rebuke the notion that they can easily walk down the street to the neighborhood gym or post office without adding to the suffocating pollution of their surroundings.
I eventually moved back to New York hoping to make this reunion sweeter and long-lasting, which was the case — but after being backed into a familiar corner — I decided to head back West. This time — I was in no position to buy a car since most of the jobs I secured were short-term and I was bunking it with friends.
So, I relied heavily on rides from those who offered and the often times chaotic bus system. I suffered the same level of shaming as before — as I was reminded countless times by those of good-will that I would be better off driving as opposed to succumbing to the pathetic nature of commuters.
While I agreed that having a car would be a drastic improvement — I also couldn’t deny that it wasn’t all that bad taking the bus and train — especially since as a New Yorker — I had mastered the art of plotting my journey with the aid of intricately produced timetables.
The worst part of taking the bus in L.A. wasn’t so much the noise — which I could easily block out with Drake’s mind-altering catalog — it was standing out in the open and waiting — while cars whizzed by with the throttle of vengeance. And there was also the moments at the traffic lights — and the stares of occupants silently judging your decision to basically walk around naked.
I recently left L.A. (again) and it had nothing to do with the car issue and more to do with family and the need to be more accessible in these uncertain days of unrest and indisputable violence. I never imagined that my zip code would match up with Maryland — but life has a funny way of disorganizing expectations.
As I settle in and make my rounds during this holiday season — I’m again facing the scrutiny from those who care enough to warn me of all the reasons why not having a vehicle in an area that is notorious for discouraging such a thing — could be utter misery.
I have been polite and consistent with my response — as I declare my right to focus on the steady income that I hope to maintain long enough to consider whether I want a Rav4 or Lexus RX, which will be right after I move into a place of my own.
The gall of being shamed for not driving has stricken me most of my adult life and to be honest — I’m not that great of a driver in the first place. This is mostly due to fear and inexperience because I’m pretty sure that if I had grown up behind the wheel — I would’ve been able to devour the roads with proficiency and grace.
I am envious of those of you that can enter a car and drive off like it’s the most natural thing in the world — and sometimes I catch myself watching the person in the driver’s seat as I note the expert moves that weave us away from a potential disaster.
But, I’d like to think that despite my sparse driving record — I have still managed to keep my end of the bargain when it comes to honoring my personal and professional schedule. I’d also like to think that my astute athleticism stems from the years I’ve spent making great use of my lower limb.
The status assigned to drivers based on the privilege of being able to drive vehicles most can barely afford even when it’s not necessary (unless of course you have a family, which I don’t) has never been a mindset I could adapt to — because of my staunch practicality.
I was lucky enough to spend most of my years in a city that was designed for the comfort of pedestrians and I was able to adapt to the imposing culture of L.A. with and without a car. Now, that I’m in Maryland — I will follow the same method of survival with practiced determination and analytical fare.
But, for future queries from inquiring minds — no, I don’t have a car — thanks for asking.