I gave up and traded in my expired learner’s permit for a state ID because I’m almost 25 and I’m pretty sure I’m just never, ever going to drive and I really don’t want to go back every two years to retake the written test. But like, I know how to drive? I learned when I was eight because my dad is crazy but I’m also kind of scared of driving and car accidents and shit. Mostly I’ve been refusing to get my license because I can’t swim and I’m terrified that one day I’ll lose control of the car and somehow drive off a cliff into the water and I’ll be able to get myself out of the car because I watch a lot of action movies and Fear Factor but I won’t be able to swim to the surface and I’ll drown which is such a stupid and irrational fear but y’know, whatever. Always the drunkard, never the designated driver!
Then you MUST watch this video of ex-Ethicist Randy Cohen explaining how cars kill in many ways. “If you drive where there are real alternatives [like NYC], you are driving straight to hell.”
Alternatively, here’s Gary Numan singing “Cars.”
Mopeds are pretty cool.
I remember the peals of laughter when I tried to explain to a friend (who is a nice person but a horrible driver) the relief I felt exiting his car—and it wasn’t just because I survived the short, terrifying trip up the 101 from San Francisco to Sausalito, during which he drove so erratically I thought I may survive this but you won’t because I swear I’m going to kill your stupid multitasking ass.
It may have been a combination of the caffeine and adrenaline in my system but I suddenly saw the car as a contract in different ways. It’s a social contract (in the way of ethics that Randy Cohen mentions); but it’s also basically a legal contract you enter in exchange for the luxury. The law sees you differently depending upon where you are in the car (driver vs. passenger), whether the engine is running or not running, and also where you are relative to the car: inside or outside. To say nothing of what insurance sees, from deep inside its own bizarro universe of unnatural rules. And to say even less about the odd yet fundamental relationship between operating a motor vehicle and your identification to the state. Just a lot of magnificent bullshit surrounding this device and our use of it.
I decided then (it was no great epiphany) that I generally prefer to be on the outside of cars—on a bike or on public transportation of any kind whatsoever, be it bus, train, ferry, trolley or tram—rather than in them. The alternative (driving) is a great convenience of conveyance, and one that allows you to cram your face with Cheetos while listening to that new One Direction album while also getting to the offramp and simultaneously texting your bestie. What luxury! But the fact is: piloting this mass of metal at great speed is an enormous responsibility when you consider how quickly and efficiently it can end a life. In fact, if the mass of metal is big enough, you can end a life and not even know it! I’m sorry but that’s just fucking crazy.
And are you really prepared to assume that responsibility every time you get behind the wheel? Because you should be. You actually need to be.
I know there’s a big country out beyond the boro of Brooklyn—one in which it’s still difficult to survive without a car—and I drive there sometimes myself, and it’s awesome and liberating and fun, especially if it’s a stickshift and the weather’s cooperating. But I will admit to genuine relief when the car is parked and shut off, I’m outside of it, and the keys to that car are returned, along with my legal and ethical responsibility over it.