I was a New York City boy. I was born and bred to ride subways, trains, buses or the Staten Island Ferry any place in the five boroughs that I needed to go. This freedom of public transportation distracted early on from learning to drive. It wasn’t until the mid-seventies when my first wife, Georgia, put her foot on my accelerator and insisted that I drive. She was correctly annoyed that I refused to learn and depended on her to transport us everywhere. So I reluctantly gave up zipping around on my ten-speed bike and got a learner’s permit.
My father-in-law, the Cap’n, outright refused to teach me. He stated plainly that his hands were already full, teaching me to hand, reef, and steer on board his 34-foot ketch. In addition, he had successfully taught me to head up, bear off, foot, feather, and jibe. He wanted nothing to do with translating these terms from the mechanics of sailing to those of driving. His wife Cora was out as an instructor; she was as clueless around a car as I was.
So Georgia had to take on the duties of teaching me. There was only one trouble. Georgia was a very nervous driver. She verged on panic attacks crossing bridges, hated interstate highways, and was even worried driving on local roads. Taking all this into consideration, I now know how brave she was to attempt this.
We had precisely three lessons:
- I tended to oversteer, and like many new drivers, had a hard time knowing exactly where the car was on the road.
- Georgia was actively having a panic attack before we got into the car each lesson.
- Our marriage was heading for the rocks for other reasons, and these lessons did not help.
I called it quits after the third lesson, and the arguments that followed added fuel to a process that led to our divorce. Soon after, we separated, and I returned to grad school alone.
Grad school was in Philadelphia, and the Septa public transportation system took me everywhere I needed to go. I went nowhere near a car except as a passenger.
After grad school, I returned to the Boston area and at long last decided to get my license. After the experience in Maine, I decided to attend a driving school. Classes and a driving instructor were the way to go, and I quickly passed the road exam. But being poor, I could not afford a car, so I continued to depend on public transportation.
Around the time I started dating my current wife, my roommates bullied me into purchasing a beat-up old car with the promise that they’d teach me to do repairs. Within weeks we were zipping around Boston’s North Shore and driving whenever I was not fixing this or that on the old hulk – nicknamed the Millenium Wombat.
By the end of the year, I was wondering how I had existed so long without a car, and the following summer, we essayed a trip north to coastal Maine so I could show her around.
Learning to drive turned out to be a significant step in my process of maturation. But I now live in an area where driving is obligatory for getting around and think fondly about comprehensive public transportation systems that make cars optional.