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.

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Love, jealousy, and first signs

After buying my first car, the first time I was without was college. Freshmen weren’t allowed to have cars on campus, which meant I left mine in NH. Luckily my campus had a lot of fellow New Englanders and rides were easy to get each break.

parking lot

parking lot (Photo credit: concrete_jungler101)

During the semesters I stayed holed up on campus with studies. The city didn’t have much to offer apart from a few nearby bars. I missed my car.

Looking back, there probably was more to see, but I had somehow been convinced that there wasn’t anything worth visiting, even on my few forays outside. One semester, Karen, a fellow freshman, and I volunteered downtown at the art museum, helping with organizing and paperwork, and packing up visiting exhibitions. We didn’t stop anywhere on the mile-long walk.

We walked past parking lots, a grocery store, a drugstore or two, maybe a few other small chain stores. I avoided looking at the cars we passed. I remember cold and grey and concrete under foot. I just remember feeling exposed without my car.

Campus was less than a mile wide, long, or diagonally. I walked everywhere in all weather, but I walked. It was the first time ever.

The rest of my three years, I took my car with me to college, but only kept it in NY for four months of the school year. It was a better idea to leave it in NH during the winter. We missed each other. But when we were together, I gave rides to freshmen and others during breaks. I discovered shopping and hiking areas a few miles away. And I felt like my world had reopened. I never walked off campus again.

When I moved to Montana for AmeriCorps at 23, it was the first time I consciously decided not to drive everywhere. Maintaining my car was expensive; I was afraid of accidents, and I had to budget. I took an apartment in the downtown area of Livingston across from the library, my bank, and the post office. A few blocks away were the cinema and the coffee shop where my book club met monthly. I walked to work, a bit over a half-mile away. Luckily I could park on the side of the building, so I didn’t pass my car on my way to work. I was afraid of its being jealous, perhaps not working the next time I needed it. But we had plenty of other time together. I had to drive to buy clothes or groceries. I could walk to the doctor’s office, but I had to drive to the hospital. The only way to get to hiking trails or Yellowstone Park, or to my friends’ places a few towns away was to drive. I was so happy.

Early in the relationship

When I and my friends turned 16 in rural New Hampshire, we couldn’t wait to get our own cars. I purchased a used Ford after a summer of working to earn $1500 to pay for it. It was six months after my birthday. Most of my friends purchased their own cars in roughly the same time frame. Our cars were symbolic of who we were, from the music on the radio or the tapes we played, to the objects hanging from our rearview mirrors. We stopped taking the school buses or relying on our parents to drive us around. We had freedom.

Literary Digest interview with Henry Ford

Literary Digest interview with Henry Ford (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Babysitting jobs got easier since I could get there myself. If I felt like driving out to the store or the library or meet someone at the café the next town over, I suddenly could. It was a movement into adulthood, complete with gas purchases, oil changes, worries about weather and digging out from snow.

This is the world I grew up in. The car was the only way to get around. I lived two miles from my school with some major hills between. There was no other way to get downtown, where we had a single blinking light, library, pizza shop, and a few banks. The lake was further. And any fresh food or clothes shopping was impossible without a car unless you planned for a daylong walk, which would have been a ridiculous idea. Most of the way lacked any sidewalks and meant walking along some roads with posted speed limits of 55mph and up.

I never questioned any of this. I loved it.