The reasons I don’t drive

I can burn out a clutch in a minute

I don't driveIn response to this post about being reluctant to ask for help, Lisa asked, “Have you ever written a post about the reasons you don’t drive?”

The reasons I don’t drive are… I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever fully addressed this topic. The answer is that while I have undoubtedly touched on it, I don’t know that I have come up with a definitive analysis. Or that there is one.

Growing up, my parents both drove. My grandfather Mac surely did and loved it; he was a real car guy. Both of my sisters drive.

But I never had any particular desire to learn when I was growing up. In Binghamton, I walked a lot; I used to traverse 2.4 miles to a church each week, coincidentally very near where my parents would eventually move to in Johnson City. Usually, I would walk back, though I occasionally got a ride.


In college, my girlfriend, the Okie, had a car, a blue Saab station wagon with standard transmission. She briefly tried to teach me how to drive it but almost immediately started screaming, “You’re burning out my clutch!” That was the only time I tried that.

I had, as I’ve noted, seven different driver’s permits over a nearly 20-year period, six in New York and one in North Carolina. Not incidentally, I know the rules of the road better than most drivers. People threatened to teach me but only took me out on the road once or not at all.

Once, I took the Okie’s next car, a red thing with a push-button transmission. I was trying to go forward but went in reverse instead and hit a full-size Dumpster, knocking it over but doing no apparent damage to the vehicle.

I did drive once from Schenectady to Albany at 3 a.m. because the driver was too drunk. Going straight was fine, but my right turn was… a little wide.

The lesson

In 1987, a friend of mine told me about a job in the music business they thought I would be well suited for. But it involved having a license and a car. So I decided to go to a driving school.

As I noted here, “As directed, I was driving south on Watervliet Avenue… He told me to turn left. So I turned onto Livingston Avenue…, but he wanted me to have taken 3rd Street. Inexplicably, he started screaming at me. Livingston was a 90 left turn, while 3rd street was more like 120 degrees.

It’s one thing for your friends and family to decide they don’t want to teach you or don’t have the time. It’s quite another for a paid stranger to decide you’re doing it all wrong ten minutes into the lesson.

The mind

But this doesn’t really answer WHY I never felt particularly compelled to learn, except for that one time. I really don’t know. When I was a kid, I had a recurring dream about being in the back seat of a car that crashed through the Court Street bridge in Binghamton and began sinking into the Chenango River. Now that I think of it, I don’t think there was any driver.

A friend of mine wondered if I feared Driving While Black. Not consciously, but as I learned about more incidents, including at least one in Albany, it did make me more comfortable being the passenger.

Maybe it’s because I never thought I would ever pass the driver’s test. It’s that I was convinced I could never learn to parallel park since turning the steering wheel while going backward in the car totally bollocks my brain. I also have terrible spatial recognition in reverse, even with the mirrors.

In any case, if I DID have a license, I wouldn’t drive after dark because my night vision is increasingly deficient.

On the other hand

The positive of not driving is that I am very good at negotiating most transit systems. I tend to judge cities by how good or awful I can get around without a car.

When my daughter and I visited two colleges on Long Island and in New York City in the summer of 2021, we took Amtrak to Penn Station, then the LIRR; later, back on the LIRR to NYC. The next day, we took the subway, and when one line was going to be delayed, we hopped on another train. We could have taken the CDTA to the local train station if we had needed to.

One of the things my daughter has realized is that when you leave your house in your car five minutes late, you usually get to your destination five minutes late. But if you leave to catch a bus five minutes late, this could make you 15, 30, or 60 minutes late, or totally stuck, depending on the schedule.

Something I’ve used at least thrice this year is Uber. On my daughter’s prom night this spring, with her mother asleep at 3 a.m., I retrieved my kid via two Uber rides.

When you don’t drive, you figure stuff out.

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