I don't drive a car. For several reasons.
For one, I'm not a very good driver. I got my license back when I was sixteen, like all my classmates, and terrorized the roads until I finally cracked up the family car. I let the license expire and never got another one. I realized that I didn't have the kind of focus that makes hurtling a 2,000 lb piece of steel at 60 mph down a highway a safe activity.
Another reason I don't drive is that cars don't make sense to me. Wherever I've lived, I have been able to walk to everything I needed and/or there has always been public transportation of some sort, which - with a little foresight and planning - has suited my needs admirably. This has often disconcerted my fellow Americans, America being a country where driving a car is considered one of the qualifications for adulthood, and my lifestyle has caused a good many people to question my sanity. But with the advent of Green Culture and events like "A Day Without a Car", I am now considered to be ahead of my time, and not just plain weird.
Also, not driving a car is much cheaper than driving a car. Much cheaper. Much, MUCH cheaper. Most of the people I know who complain about not having any money have a car. Usually a BIG car, and sometimes more than one. No sympathy here.
I don't drive a car, I live in the suburbs, and I work in the city. I used to live in the city, where owning a car is completely unnecessary and all of this is a moot point, but we moved out to the suburbs in order to send our kids to good public (read: free) schools, and my husband wants to stay here because he likes the lack of violent crime. I find it tolerable, as long as I spend most of my waking hours in the city, but it does involve a rather long commute by train. Which I gladly do (I once tried working near my home out here, but it felt like being on a planet of hostile aliens), and - in fact - I cherish it.
I cherish my commute because it is genuine "me" time. In the mornings, I have a cup of coffee and read a book during the 50-minute trip. In the evenings, I look forward to a nightly cocktail. One of the true hallmarks of an advanced civilization is a bar in the train station that will make make you a "roadie" to enjoy on the ride home. I am happy to say that this is the case in Chicago on their suburban rail lines, and I bless them nightly for their kindness and enlightened thinking. I only regret that I missed the era of "bar cars", where - according to the stories I heard from my aunts - there was a party at the end of every work day. The aunts said that ladies chose to ride in these cars, even if they didn't drink, because it was a great place to meet men. (The Metra is always looking for ways to increase their ridership, and I highly recommend a revival of this practice.)
True, there are occasions when the commute can be less than idyllic. These occasions can be tragic, like when a train has hit a pedestrian or car and the whole line shuts down for several hours while the emergency crews take care of the situation. Or they can be frightening, like when the weather - usually a snowstorm or tornado - stall the train indefinitely. Or they can be merely annoying, like the time when the nutbar climbed on to the side of the train and rode it on the outside for five miles until he was discovered and we had to wait until the police and the FBI came to collect him. It doesn't happen very often, but I have learned to tote along a variety of activities - books, crossword puzzles, music, knitting - to keep me calm and entertained throughout these calamities. It's one of the reasons I carry a big backpack.
Usually, though, what keeps a commute from being a less-than-pleasant experience is certain behaviors on the part of the passengers. Yes, I admit that one of the downsides of public transportation is that it is public, and you don't get to choose your seatmates. Most of the time, this is just fine. However there are exceptions:
- Loud People. Yes, I am loud and I have been known to talk on cell phones on the train. But there are limits, and I don't want to listen to you yell at someone about "that fucking dress" she wore, or the gory details of your latest operation;
- Suburban Teenagers. You are not only loud, but - since you are out of reach of Mommy and Daddy for a few precious moments - you go out of your way to be obnoxious. Especially if you are a mixed group of boys and girls, where being obnoxious is considered attractive for some reason. It should be explained to you that city teenagers do not act like this on public transportation. For the most part;
- Suburban Moms. Traveling in groups of two or more, usually blonde, always with a disturbingly large number of small children, also blonde. You talk about remodeling the master bath and the children are completely ignored, left to fend for themselves, in exquisitely annoying ways;
- Guys. Deceptively well-dressed in suits and ties, you travel in flocks like pigeons and discuss your workplace, loudly and obscenely, with plenty of ethnic slurs thrown in. A note to one of you: I am Sicilian and, no, I do not consider "The Sopranos" to be an accurate portrayal of my family;
- Barbarians. You are the ones who take off their shoes, put your nasty feet up on the seats, slump down and dig your knees into my back, make out with your boyfriends;
- Pack Mules. You somehow have the idea that your bag is entitled to its own seat. Only if you bought it a ticket;
- Sporting Event Commuters. You never take the train, unless you are going to "the game", and have no idea how to behave on one. You are easily identified because you are wearing sports jerseys, and periodically shout, "Woo!". You are drunk. And fat;
- Jersey Boys Commuters. The show has been running long enough in Chicago to make this a unique category. You're on your Big Night Out in The City to see Jersey Boys. You travel in a pack of 20, for safety's sake. You are confused about everything: tickets, departure times, seats, etc. You are nervous, cranky, and/or sing Four Seasons songs all the way home. Flash: most normal people hated Frankie Valle and the Four Seasons.
- Scam Artists. You walk through the trains, telling people that you lost your wallet and need money to get home. Some idiots actually give it to you, which is why you do it;
- Visiting Royalty. You flip back the seats (after an announcement on the overhead tells you not to) so that you and your Neiman Marcus bags can be suitably comfortable. You pay no attention to the other announcement telling you that you have to pay a surcharge for buying your tickets on the train and then argue with the conductor about it. You inquire - with painful diligence - about discounts for your fares, even though you are wearing a Burberry coat and a three-carat diamond ring. You tell me where to put my ticket and ask me to turn my music down (which is never very loud - so you can hear yourselves cackle?). You are to be avoided. And disdained.
But overall, I love my time on the train. One of the wonderful things about it is that, if faced with one of the situations above, I can simply move to another car. Which is sealed off, with two steel sliding doors, from what I'm trying to escape.
If only more of life were like that!