End of the Road

My boyfriend took me grocery shopping. I bought much more than usual for the week, thinking that since we had the car, I’d pick up some heavier items that I don’t need now but won’t want to carry home on the bus when I do. Dropping me off at my house, it was the first time in a few weeks since my car has been to my place.

Inside the car were things I’d just never gotten around to taking into my apartment – a pair of rain boots, a flowerpot to carry items I didn’t want to tip or roll. In the trunk was a blanket, bags of potting soil from last fall, and some loose ends which just needed going through. I took my groceries and these things inside. When I came out, my boyfriend was still tidying: a center console with storage space, CD storage in front of the gear shift, and the glove box. He pulled papers out of the console. He’s already deposited papers there and wanted me to go through mine. His CDs were stacked above mine. Our paperwork mixed in the glove box.

What was once my place to get away, literally by driving, and figuratively by listening to old CDs or the radio, is gone. He doesn’t listen to my CDs. When we’re driving together, I can’t even listen to the radio.

He handed me papers. “Put them in there,” he said, pointing to the center console – where I didn’t keep papers. But now he does. My registration papers were tossed into a plastic bag along with handwritten notes, directions to a hiking trail. These are things I might have needed or wanted, but now are mostly trash. My boyfriend will look up directions or plug them into his GPS should I ever ask to go there again. All of my things are useless, unnecessary, unwanted.

My throat tightened. I’ve lost time I could spend alone, to listen to the radio shows that once filled my weekend commutes, to be with my thoughts, to do my own thing. I’m giving up my time to do things I would like to do the way I want to do them – now someone else will drive the way they want, how they want. I won’t be able to control how fast to drive down a mountain road, how slow to go at night when there are deer about, how to merge without anxiety, how to remember directions without having to rely on the GPS Every Single Time. These are things that annoy me already, but I have to give in, give up, and give over.

When I began crying, my boyfriend didn’t understand. He didn’t get a license at sixteen in a rural culture that denies too much to go without one, wasn’t already steeped in car culture at a young age. I admitted to him that I realized it was silly to cry over a hunk of emotionless metal and poisonous chemicals. I imagine it was probably how people used to cry over the death of a horse, a living creature that provided friendship and mobility.

My world of transit is down to the confines of my boyfriend’s schedule or how far something is from a public transportation line. A few people have offered to drive if I need it. But I’m used to people being kind and saying things they don’t really mean, so I’m hesitant to ask unless it’s an emergency. Maybe soon I’ll be able to consider taxis as part of my world, but right now, they still seem too expensive to consider, even for short jaunts.

I’m lucky to be in a walkable city with public transportation options. I’m thankful that there are many people around me who also don’t have cars and live well mostly without them, but for me this will still take getting used to.

Cheating with public transportation

Stock Transportation school bus

Stock Transportation school bus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The school busmy earliest experiences with public transportation and often the only one in many New Hampshire towns, like many towns around the country. The big yellow birds swooped in early mornings in all weather, plucked me up, and dropped me off at school. In the afternoon, all the other buses and cool older kids with cars were already gone when my bus showed up. It took more than thirty minutes to get the two miles from school to home because of the bus route’s loops.

As soon as kids in town were old enough to get cars and get off of the yellow buses with their noisy elementary school kids, their cold green seats, and their long rides, most kids did. Cars were what adults have. Buses were for kids.

Amtrak – My senior year of school was the first time I saw trains as transportation and not just tourist rail like the Cog Railway.

Three of my friends and I planned a trip to Washington, DC to look at colleges. We would stay with Erich’s older sister, and we got out of classes for a few days. Our parents, who didn’t want to drive us to Logan Airport in Boston, suggested Amtrak.

In the 80s, each time we went to town, my family bumped over a train track that was old and lacking signage. Most lines were torn up and crossings were paved over. Visiting family in Vermont, we crossed other old train lines. I never saw a train. I figured they were all old relics. I wasn’t aware that trains still ran in the 1990s.

One early, early morning the four of us with our bags were dropped off next to the train tracks near the NH/VT border. There was no station; it was a flag stop and we were the only four people waiting there in the early morning dark with our tickets. When the train came into view, it slowed down, and a conductor waved us aboard for the 8-hour ride to DC. We slept or did homework most of the way. It was surprisingly simple.

JR East Tokyo Map

JR East Tokyo Map (Photo credit: Dushan and Miae)

Japan Railway – My love affair with train travel blossomed when I spent a year in Japan teaching English. It was mind-boggling how many trains there were just for the city. You could set your watch by them: if they were late, you picked up a pass on exiting to hand in to your boss. Otherwise – no excuses.

They weren’t always cheap, but they spiderwebbed the country making everything accessible. I think I visited every stop on the Yamanote subway line that encircled the city like a hug.

I could visit my friend Ayako by train. We went to Kyoto for a weekend by shinkansen or bullet train. I could meet all my friends by train. When I went to work, I had a choice of train or subway line. It was astounding.

Unfaithful – My year of train travel gave me time to question cars. There were plenty of them around Tokyo, but none of the foreigners like me had one, and it was okay. Taxes, parking, gas all cost more than we could imagine. And why bother? Trains meant time to socialize, read, or people watch. And above-ground trains gave time to watch the landscape. Why didn’t the US have trains like this? Where could you even find subways and trains? Fellow English teachers from the UK talked about trains being normal for them, though everyone agreed that Japan was the most amazing. But what about the US? What happened?

I still missed my car. I missed driving. I just didn’t miss it all as much as I thought I would.

Returning to the States, I still dreamed of trains. I wondered what it would be like to walk a short distance from my home to jump on a train. I learned about the Rails to Trails movement and all the old abandon lines that crossed NH. So many just left to nature. What happened to the trains that used to use them?

Driving around again, I realized I’d been unfaithful to my car. The damage was done, and we would never be able to return to where we’d once been.