Ayikho ilayisense lokushayela

going to a professional

no drivers licenseHere’s the final installment about having no driver’s license. According to the translator, Ayikho ilayisense lokushayela means no driver’s license in Zulu.

In 1987, I did decide to seriously try to get my license. A friend of mine told me of a job in the music industry, one for which I was definitely qualified. But I needed a car, which meant I needed a license.

Forget getting friends and family to teach me! I’m going to one of those certified driving instructors. We were out and I thought it was going OK. We were on Watervliet Avenue in Albany and he told me to make a left turn. At this intersection, there were two possibilities; the one at 9 o’clock was Livingston and the one at 10 o’clock was 3rd Street.

I turned onto Livingston and he starts SCREAMING at me! “I said LEFT!” “I TURNED left!” I don’t remember much more than that. We returned to the original site. And that was the last time I’ve been behind the wheel. Too much negative reinforcement.


In the early 1990s, Z, who didn’t drive, and I, moved from an apartment off Lark Street, with decent access to the bus routes, to an apartment complex on Hackett Blvd. This became problematic because the Sunday service on CDTA made it difficult to get to church. I got a ride from a couple in the choir. But she, who went to a different church, didn’t have that support system.

In hindsight, I could have suggested that the couple pick up both of us and take us to my church. Then she could have walked to her church, which wasn’t that far away. It was one source of stress between us.

My bride has a car. This has meant I can get to remote or distant places when necessary. Still, I’ve always gone to work by bus or bike.

When we first had a child, I thought again about getting a license. But I just knew by then I was too old for this dog to learn that new trick. Having no license did force me to get our doula to take us to the ob/gyn’s office, which turned out to be fortuitous since it was the day our daughter was born.

When she was going to daycare, I took the girl there on the bus. I used to take her to the doctor’s before his offices moved to a place with infrequent bus runs. Her elementary school was right across the street.

My daughter HATED taking the designated bus to middle school because the kids were too rowdy. I escorted her a few days to the two buses she could take in the alternative before she rode them on her own. Her mother could not take her by car because she had to be at work too early and in the opposite direction.


Because I’ve read the manual so often to pass seven driver’s permit tests, I know a lot about driving. My wife often says that I’m really good at anticipating what other drivers will do – turning without signaling. That may be a function of being a damn good pedestrian and following the rules for bicycling.

Not incidentally, more than once, I’ve gotten into arguments with both bicyclists and auto drivers about the correct behavior of bike riders. The drivers SHOULD know better, at least in New York, because the rules are in the manual.

“Bicyclists and in-line skaters have the right to share the road and travel in the same direction as motor vehicles.” Yet, people have insisted I should be riding against traffic.

Here’s a bit of dialogue I was dragged into. A guy insists I should ride my bike on the sidewalk, though the driver’s manual says otherwise.

One last thing: an old friend asked if the risk of Driving While Black played into my non-driving. Not consciously, but I do recognize that not driving has made me less of a target.

So this is a very long answer about why I don’t drive. It’s occasionally inconvenient, but it has honed my great skills about bus routes, made me more patient, and allowed me time to read and think.

Brak prawa jazdy

slow route home

More about never having a driver’s license. Brak prawa jazdy means no driver’s license in Polish, according to the translator. There are a lot of Slavic folks where I grew up.

In 1975/76, I was in the car of my friend LaMBS. We were going straight. The car was stopped at the top of the hill facing us. Suddenly, he makes a left turn in front of us. I was unharmed, other than some aches and pains. LaMBS, though, was in a neck brace for six weeks. The other driver said he didn’t see us, but he was stopped for over five seconds before he turned. Oh, and his insurance had lapsed; it was a legal pain for a time.

In early 1977, I ended up living at my parents’ house in Charlotte, NC for about four months. I hated being in Charlotte for a lot of reasons, such as being afraid to use three-syllable words, lest I appear snooty. (And I certainly wouldn’t use words such as “lest.”)

But it was also the case that, at the time, their mass transit service was Terrible. Almost all of the buses ran through the main intersection of Trade and Tryon. It’d be like going from Paris to Rome via London. (It’s much better now.)

My father intimated that he’d teach me to drive, so I got a driver’s permit. If we went out at all, it was just once. So I felt really trapped and actually hitchhiked from Charlotte to Binghamton just to get out of there.


My next living situation was at my sister’s apartment in Jamaica, Queens, NYC. It was a block from the #7 line. Very quickly, I became quite adept at navigating the subway. I’d even ride to the end of various lines just to see different parts of the city.

After a few months back in New Paltz, I crashed with Uthaclena and his then-spouse. Sometimes, I’d take the bus to Albany and buy comic books at FantaCo. Usually, I actually liked the bus, though people were often “losing” the zone pass, which cost more. Route 155 was the dividing line. Thank goodness they’ve long abandoned that system.

My girlfriend Shazrak had a car, so if I needed to go somewhere off the bus lines, she’d usually take me. But I was resistant to being dependent on a car.

I remember that we were housesitting on this little farmhouse in Quaker Street. Irrationally, I really hated it, because I didn’t feel in control of getting back to a place I knew.

Route 5

The farthest I ever drove was from Schenectady to Albany c 1981. I was with a friend who had taken us to her friends’ house. At the end of the night, she handed me the keys, as she knew she was too drunk to drive.

Since I didn’t drive often, I ran through the checklist that experienced motorists probably don’t think about. Things like remembering which pedal is the brake and which is the accelerator.

I took State Street in Schenectady, which turns into Central Avenue when it hits the Albany County line. It’s the slow route home because I didn’t want to go through the Thruway toll booth. Or maybe accidentally HIT the toll booth to the Interstate. Did I have an active driver’s permit at that moment? I’m not sure, but I think not.

Since it was well after midnight, there wasn’t much traffic, thank Allah. I think I did OK except taking a right turn from Central Avenue onto Lark Street very widely.

My girlfriend in the mid-1980s did not drive, but this just wasn’t particularly problematic. We lived on the bus lines, so we were fine in that regard. If we needed a ride, we asked friends, but we weren’t dependent on them.

More in a week or so.

Non est scriptor coegi licentia

no car memory

no drivers licenseWhen I posted on Facebook a link to this post about trying to get from Binghamton to Albany, it generated a fair amount of conversation.

One buddy of mine asked: “Not that it’s any of my business, but curiosity is killing me: Why not drive?” I replied, “Because I have no license.” Or according to a translator: “Non est scriptor coegi licentia.”

This is true, as far as it goes. But more accurate, I suppose, is that I’ve NEVER had a driver’s license. Not ever. And while it’s just the way I am, it’d be disingenuous to think it wasn’t peculiar to most Americans. So I suppose it’s time to take a deep dive into that fact.

So I started free-associating and came up with over 1800 words. This means I’ll have to break this up into three chunks.

I don’t “get” cars

My parents both drove. My sisters both drive. It was never that important to me, except for a couple of brief times, which I’ll share with you eventually.

I have no car memory. That is, I didn’t care about cars growing up. I don’t know what model of cars my parents owned except one, I think, was a “woody,” with a faux wood exterior.

And I didn’t keep track of what kind of models each car maker made. I mean Chevrolet had the Chevette and some other “ch” lines. Ford had the Fairlane and the Mustang. But that’s about it. To this day, when I see a car model category on JEOPARDY, I respond exceedingly poorly.

Moreover, I never daydreamed about driving a car. I got around pretty well on foot, going to school and church, even walking three miles each way on Sunday afternoons to go to a second church. I had my bicycle, and occasionally, rode the bus.

In fact, my recurring nightmare was being in the back seat of a car, and the vehicle crashes through the side of the bridge, sinking rapidly into the river. (It was probably the Court Street Bridge into the Chenango River in Binghamton.)

The ex-husband of a friend of mine would ask me, “How do you not drive?” And since I never did, I had no good answer.

Ridin’ thumb

Even before I went to college, I started hitchhiking, from Binghamton to New Paltz, where my girlfriend at the time was attending. I took that stretch of road several times.

Speaking of which, the most serious car accident I was ever in happened when I was getting out of a car after a ride. A woman who had some physical limitation was unable to apply the brakes and plowed into that car while I was halfway out. I swore I’d never be like the driver in a situation like that.

I spent two days in the hospital, a week resting at home, then, when my right shoulder gave out, four weeks of physical therapy.

At some point, I got what was the first of seven driver’s permits, the document one needs to try to learn to drive. I think my first lesson was in the Okie’s Volvo? Saab? In any case, it had a manual transmission, and she screamed at me because I was going to burn out her clutch. And that was the end of that.

Later, she had a red car with push-button automatic transmission. Once I tried to drive it around the parking lot of the Colonial Arms apartments in New Paltz. It was uneventful until I accidentally went in reverse, knocking over a Dumpster! Surprisingly, the car appeared OK.

During this period, my good friend Uthaclena once tried to teach me to drive. I must have been quite terrible since he STILL shudders when he talks about it. I thought I was doing fine.

More soonish.


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