Friday, February 02, 2007

Driving me crazy / Driving? Me? Crazy. / Driving: Me Crazy! (it's all in the punctuation)

I have not driven a car in nearly 5 months.

This hiatus in my vehicular experience was neither planned nor expected. As it happens, we actually selected this area of London specifically because it was not too urban or congested for us to have a car here. A car was one of my requirements when we talked about what we could and could not live without during our time overseas. I have lived without a car before, and I hated the experience. The process of relying on public transportation and a bit of ingenuity to get from Point A to Point B, while a good way to get to know a city initially, is not my cup of tea long term. It is a big fat hassle, especially with young children in tow, and strikes me as entirely impractical and unnecessary at this stage of our lives. I am simply not patient or flexible enough for a car-less existence.

So why then do we not own a car here? Good question. Initially, buying a car was one of the many, many items on our to do list which could feasibly wait for a little while. Acquiring and furnishing a home, establishing the children in schools and locating daily necessities all took precedence over a convenience item like a car. "We'll get to the car as soon as things slow down a bit," we kept saying. I should have known better. When do things ever actually slow down in life? 5 months. No car. And, to use a far too obvious pun here, it's driving me crazy.

In some ways, not having a car has forced us to come up with more innovative solutions to our daily needs. Can't drive to the grocery store? No problem... order all of our food online and have it delivered. Can't drive to that new restaurant we've been wanting to try? Well, if we take a cab, we can even order an extra glass of wine. Can't drive to the airport? In truth, we can get there in half the time using public transportation. Items cost a bit more on the local high street than in discounted stores further away? That's OK, because think what we're saving in gas. I've even easily lost 10 pounds with all of the extra walking I've been doing here, which is something that would never have happened had just hopping into the car to run my errands or visit a friend been a viable option. The more time that has passed, the more convinced Paul has become that a vehicle is just an unnecessary expense and bother here. "Clearly," he keeps saying as the days and weeks pass and we get by without driving anywhere, "we just don't need a car here at all."

Clearly. Except... I want a car. I really need to have a car. I cannot explain it or legitimately justify it. But not having a car makes me feel isolated and trapped here. I am roped in by the boundaries of how far my feet can carry me, a slave to the routes and timetables of buses and trains. Little things like after school playdates and birthday parties become logistical nightmares for me as I try to figure out how to deliver and retrieve my children to and from locations outside of our little world of 20 blocks or so. The mall feels like a mecca just out of reach. If I can't buy things online, I tend more often than not to just do without. The prospect of exploring areas outside of London proper is a downright production. I can survive here without a car, yes. But the more time that passes, the more I become convinced that I will never feel at home here without one.

This week, I finally decided to stop trying to convince Paul of the importance of a set of wheels to my mental and emotional well being and instead took matters into my own hands. I joined a car club which will enable me to pick up a community car a few blocks from our house whenever I wish. I can take it on errands, to pick a child up somewhere, or even to the countryside for the weekend if I wish, all at a moment's notice with minimal hassle. If I don't have anywhere to drive on a given day, or week, or even month, I'll leave it parked in the bay for others to use.

A perfect solution? Not by a long shot. Schlepping and installing car seats every time I want to use the car to transport kids will be a major hassle, and even though the company assures me that a car will always be available when I need one, I have a sneaking suspicion that this is not likely to be the case. But this is a start. If I'm using the car a lot, perhaps we'll finally decide to purchase one here. Perhaps I'll find that just knowing I have the freedom of a car at my disposal will alleviate my desire to actually drive anywhere and I'll decide that a car's not necessary after all. I'm willing to suspend judgment until I've given this solution a whirl.

After 5 months without so much as turning a key in the ignition, I'd be nervous about driving any car anywhere. But the prospect of sliding behind the steering wheel on the right side of the car and motoring off down the left side of the road is downright terrifying. This area is particularly horrific for drivers because many of the roads are a single car's width, yet allow for 2-way traffic. Drivers simply back up or find a place to pull over as needed. People drive fast, people drive aggressively and there are a damn lot of them on the road. And though I know it is culturally insensitive of me to say this, I feel the need to point out that driving on the left side? Well, it just aint right. I am completely intimidated, and I suspect I'll spend a good number of the hours when both kids are in school over the next few weeks trying to learn my way around the road without any precious cargo in the back seat. How do you like that? A short term plan for filling those hours of my day and a gateway to freedom, both real and imagined. Picture me, white knuckled, zooming off down the road. I'm on my way.


Blogger Kristy said...

I know it's driving you crazy to not have a car -- but I actually DO believe it's possible that the car club might be the best possible solution. Give it a whirl (as you're obviously doing) and see how it goes.

As far as driving on the left? Hey, it's not as bad as it seems, and you can pretend you're in St. John, where they drive likewise...see! sounds better already!

2:51 PM  
Anonymous Steve said...

I look forward to the inevitable, "But I don't walk anymore...and its driving me crazy." conversations we'll be having in 18 months or so.

5:13 PM  
Blogger Rosemary said...

I found the hardest thing about driving on the left was out in the country when I had no visual reminders. Turned around one time, having missed my road, and completely lost track of the "proper" side of the road. Another car came at me around a hill. He hugged the hill and I hugged the hill and.. wham! I could feel the curse of "Stupid American", even if he was too polite to actually articulate it.

Anyway, sorry for the scarey stories. Have fun with your new wheels!!!

8:16 PM  
Anonymous Margie said...

Watch it making right turns. After passing through the intersection, it's easy to make for the right (i.e. wrong) side of the road!

9:11 PM  
Blogger denzylle said...

Well, I think I'm the only person in London who doesn't drive (ie. can't drive)!

Here in London, I have no desire to drive. I hate the traffic, and there's parking (or difficulty and expense thereof) and crazy traffic systems and roadworks, and there's the congestion charge.

My first choice is walking, and my second is the bus (altho' that's lost its magic since the Routemasters were killed off). I hate the tube and only use that and the trains when I have to.

But I don't have to transport children to their social gatherings or shop for a family and, probably, if I did, I'd see it differently. I know that, when I did have such responsibilities, I wanted to drive (not living in London) and, when I move out of London, I'll probably wish again that I could drive.

I *do* think the car club is a great idea. I'd never heard of it until about three weeks ago when I got a flyer thru' my door. Good luck! (But I don't envy you. I think I'm with Paul on this one).

10:51 PM  
Anonymous Margie said...

Oh yes, and don't forget about the zebras. Any pedestrian that steps in a zebra has the right-of-way. Or at least that's the way it was many moons ago, when I was in London.

11:45 PM  
Blogger gcrumpac said...

You're braver than I am. The prospect of trying to drive to the left would terrify me -- I absolutely know I'd be screwing up left and right (pun intended). That's great about the car club though -- do be sure to post about your driving adventures!

3:38 AM  
Blogger Awesome Mom said...

You are braver than me. Driving in any big city would give me an ulcer but also having to adjust to a different style of driving would scare the heck out of me. Good luck!

3:57 AM  
Blogger Lindyloo said...

I almost killed myself leaving a gas station. I was looking for oncoming traffic coming from the WRONG direction. Just remember you (as the driver) should always be closest to the middle of the road. If you're happily driving down the road and you're closest to the sidewalk YOU'RE ON THE WRONG SIDE!!! It's happened to me loads of times! Like Rosemary said when there aren't any visual reminders also catches me out! The only problem there is that it's now happening in the US as well. Was home for Thanksgiving and caught myself after turning onto a road with no other cars to be seen driving on the wrong side of the road!

11:45 AM  
Blogger Dana said...

The car club sounds like a good (interim/permanent - only time will tell) plan. You go girl. And yeah, you are very very brave . . . .

2:07 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Hi there ... I've been reading Chichimama's blog for several months now, and while she's mentioned you, I never bothered to visit your blog before. I'm glad I did!

My husband and I are contemplating moving to Australia. We haven't decided yet, but it's agonizing to say the least. Now that I'm going through that, I find that it's nice to come across other expatriates!

8:17 PM  
Anonymous TwoCrabs said...

I'm an American living in London and I don't miss driving at ALL. I've been here 18 months and I can count on one hand the number of times I've been in a car in Europe. I take the Tube, train, buses or WALK everywhere. I don't even ride taxis! I hope you reconsider "needing" a car. In America we drive because we HAVE to; the public transportation system just isn't very good outside of New York or Washington. But here, it's a nice luxury we should all take advantage of while we're here. Plus it's friendlier on the environment! That's my soapbox moment for the day.

2:48 PM  

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