Tuesday, 18 March 2008

When Did Driving Become a Contact Sport?

It is not a secret that I do not enjoy driving. I am not fearful. I am quite careful, rarely speed, never tailgate and am quite adept at parallel parking, although I rarely attempt it and would rather walk a mile than struggle with the spot. I have never had a moving violation (although that admission will probably upset the ticket gods and I will most certainly be punished with the speed trap that resides at Clark and Charles!!) and the only accident that I have been a part of while I was at the wheel occurred almost 28 years ago and I was the third car in a 3 car mess. In other words--NOT MY FAULT! (that's my story and I am sticking to it!) Given my end of December birthday, I was trained early on in the lessons of Canadian winter driving. While my complete and utter disdain for the months between November and March is well-documented, I actually do know how to navigate through the slush and snow. I recognize the necessities of the skill, especially residing in the northern bosom of suburbia, and given the complete chaos that is our public transit, I am certainly not in any position to give up my car. (while I may loathe driving, I actually love my car! It is a lovely vehicle with a hue of ice blue that I bathe and vacuum regularly. If I could come up with a suitable name for her without feeling absolutely ridiculous-I would!) I simply do not enjoy the act of driving. There is history to this discomfort.

I learned to drive on an early 1970s model of the Ford LTD station wagon. It came complete with paneled siding and a large bench front seat, which meant that my dad had his knees in his throat every time he let me drive in order to accommodate my leprechaun legs. I had to sit on at least two pillows so that I could see over the steering wheel. One early morning, while driving some friends home after sleeping out, I was stopped by the police who could not see anyone in the driver's seat! Uncomfortable? I should say so! This lack of comfort has followed me throughout adult driving. While pregnant with older son, I drove a Hyundai Pony. (remember those?) It had no air conditioner (he was born Labour Day-really-no joke-Labour Day) during one of the Big Smoke's hotter summers and a seat that only adjusted forward and back. When you are my size, there is only so much space for baby to grow, and he did-right into the steering wheel. I could barely reach the pedals. The husband taught me how to drive a standard shift, but I couldn't reach the clutch without literally standing on top of it. On a trip to Florida early in our marriage, it was necessary for me to rent the car, as the husband was not yet the required legal age in the state. (yes, I married a barely younger man!) Never having driven in Miami, I was not yet that familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the South Florida roads and it's drivers. OK, fine! I got stuck on the Hollywood Circle for over 35 minutes! Nobody would let me in, the husband was yelling and cursing me, I was crying hopelessly and I haven't driven much down there ever since. No, driving has never been easy for me.

When it came time to teach the next generation, I came up with what I thought was a fair deal. Since I had tutored both progeny in the skills required for their B'nai Mitzvah, I felt VERY strongly that it should fall on the husband to teach his sons the manly ritual of driving. He came home on one such white knuckle-inducing occasion and promptly declared that teaching your children to drive was the only exercise parents were forced to endure where they could certainly die in the process. I think that the husband would much rather have taught the trope! The Ontario government in it's infinite wisdom has given us this wonderful system of graduated licensing, but even after going through regulation driving classes, an enormous teaching burden still falls on the parents. Scared parents. Unqualified parents. Worse yet, it continues for up to 5 years. Frightening stuff! But I think that my frustration with driving has hit a peak over the past couple of years. I used to think that Floridians were the worst drivers I had ever seen. That is saying a lot considering I have visited NYC, London, Rome (oy!), Boston, LA, Tel Aviv and Paris. I realize now that it is not the cities, it is the drivers and the culture we live in. People have no patience for any delays. They weave in and out of traffic, cut into lanes in order to move forward a single car length, drive on sidewalks and pedestrian areas, run yellows and reds with regularity, speed through construction sites, and zip past school zones and school buses without thought. Drivers spend more time in traffic, so they spend more time while in the car on the phone, texting, shaving, putting on make-up, doing crossword puzzles (yup-saw it!), reading the paper and following up on files. Transit hasn't kept up with population growth, so there are more cars on the roads with more impatient drivers. Road rage has become part of our modern language. A simple trip to the grocery store that used to take 10 minutes of driving time, now takes 20. Rush hour lasts all day as there is no avoiding traffic congestion at any time of the day or night. Construction literally shuts down whole sections of the city as drivers search for alternate routes. People jostle and fight for parking spots as they might for a sale item. I actually witnessed one poor woman standing in a spot fending off all comers while her husband circled back to park! Whenever one of the sons leaves the house, car keys in hand, I always caution them to drive safely. They always roll their eyes with that "Aw Mom" look and ask don't I trust them. They are both very good drivers and I do trust them. It is everybody else out there on the roads of hell that I do not trust. I have often thought if I could have one domestic helper, which would I choose. Would it be the cook, so that I could be free of the kitchen, the maid so that I wouldn't have to scrub the toilets or the chauffeur so that I would never again have to brave the constant battle between me and the roads of North America? My choice is clear. Who wants the job?

No comments:

Post a Comment