I gave up driving 21 days ago, and I haven't driven since.
I drove for 71 years, started at age 20, and it was hard to learn how to do it. Keeping the steering wheel straight, quelling the deep fear of going over the speed limit, took all the courage I had to offer. Like I had to do at age 13 to get over the tear-producing racking cough when I had my first cigarette. It took a lot of practice to get over that. I smoked Camels, Belairs, Pall Malls, and Marlboros for 30 years and quit because I was a backpacker, and a carton of Marlboros took up space that I wanted for food.
I drove a Dodge, Plymouth, Studebaker, a Buick Estate Wagon with white fake-leather seats, then three versions of BMW (2002, Bavaria, and 633 CS), then a Honda Fit and, finally, the Mazda CX-3. I wrecked the last two, which is why I no longer drive.
The comparison to giving up cigarettes is intentional. It's very much like that. You think, "I could never do that." And then, one day, you do it.
When I tell folks I no longer drive, I get a sympathetic good-for-you look. It's as if I'm somehow diminished and brave at the same time. Or they tell me their great-aunt is driving and she's 93, just got her license renewed, "and she's a terrible driver," that I'm right to stop.
The sympathetic look is saying, "Gee, it must be tough for you. How do you get around? Poor guy."
Nobody said that when I quit smoking. There were no sympathetic good-for-you looks, it was simply my decision, accepted as such. It wasn't as if I was giving up part of my life, which is what it was, because smoking, like driving, was the center of every day, work or play. Leaving the house, I patted my pockets to be sure I had a pack and a lighter. I made sure I had a carton ready; 21 days ago, it was my car key.
We know now how tobacco companies helped us get to be addicts. Through a cloud of smoke, Bogie looked tough yet desirable. Bette Davis had a trick, drew a puff then released it and inhaled it through her nostrils. The about-to-be-shot-at-sunrise hero got his last cigarette before they put on the blindfold.
Media were their silent partner. Back then, magazine ads showing people in white coats telling us the filter stops the bad stuff. Ads showed sophisticated women with thin cigarettes, the Marlboro Man. The message we wanted to get was given to us: Do this, it's safe, it'll make you look like this.
It's not difficult to see how auto companies helped us get to be motorists. Cars saturated movies: Smooth guy drives a convertible, top down. Rich banker has a chauffeur and long limousine; I want to be him. The car chases with automobile acrobatics that are really computer-generated graphics but look real, I want to try that.
And now every automotive twitch is big news, columns of space report sales figures, analyze features of cars, dwell on fuel economy, seconds-to-65 mph, the rounded torso of style, the manliness of the pickup truck, and brands are social indicators. Did you notice the three BMWs I dropped in up there?
My last auto was a Mazda CX-3. A week after I leased it, I became part of a family, newly adopted even though my last name was still Sosna, I was in "the Mazda family" that assumed I wanted to be a Mazda, get to know my Mazda siblings, the bulkier CX-5, the zippy Miata. As any family member wants the group to do well, I wanted Mazda to be great, and they sent me messages of success. How Mazda had developed a new fuel system, how Mazda sales were doing, the 2019 Mazda was going to be a new benchmark. I got advance peeks at it, then the unveiling—literally, removing a drape—of the 2019 Mazda. Wow. It looked pretty much like mine, gorgeous.
Sure, I was seduced into it all, especially into getting the car in the first place. I was a prime john for it, telling myself that I live on a hill in Morro Bay, a small town with limited public transit. I have things I do in San Luis Obispo. I've had a car ever since I've lived here and used it almost every day, so I must really need it.
And I'm 91 years old. Yes, I can walk but not as far or as easily as when I was 85. How would I ever get around without my car?
I've found out how I get around. And how you can, too.
I get around without paying $620 a year for gas or $60 for a membership to Costco for the "cheap" gas. And without paying $320 to the DMV for the car license, without paying $20 plus a tip for a car wash every other week, plus $45 every three months to keep the paint shiny. There's also the $2,400 a year for the lease and $920 a year for car insurance.
I get around without trying to squeeze my car into the inadequate parking spaces at Smart & Final in San Luis Obispo, without trying to get the parking space closest to the entrance at Kennedy Club Fitness, without being upset at the boost in street parking fees in SLO.
I get around without having to watch the car in front of my car and the car in back of my car and without worrying that if I pass the car on my right and get in front of it, the driver will think I've emasculated him and get into a game of Car War.
I get around without worrying about the double-yellow line, the rumble strips on the freeway that make me feel like I've violated parole, the 25 mph speed limit in town and whether the cops really mean it—yes, they do.
It takes a six-block walk and two buses to get from my house to San Luis Obispo. From there I can literally get to anywhere in the world: Buses go to Amtrak and the SLO County Regional Airport. My neighbor, Lucien, gives me a ride when he's going where I want go, and I have friends who pick me up to get to Congregation Beth David, other friends who pick me up for an afternoon of food shopping. In a pinch, I use Lyft (it's safe, I'm male) to get to SLO, at $35 each way it's an ouch-pinch, so it has to be worth it.
There are too many get-a-ride help services to list. Google Transit will show them to you, map out your routes, and offer you choices.
It's been 21 days without driving. I feel like some recovering alcoholics I hear tell about their journey: "It's been such-and-such days that I've been sober." Ex-smokers are prone to say, "Shoulda done it years ago."
Car drivers, not so much. They (the recent me) just keep on doing it, don't think there's another way to be, fill up the tank, rotate the tires, and drive on.
There's life after driving. It's not heaven, not even the hereafter, but it's there.
(Full disclosure: In the two weeks since this was written, I've missed the last Morro Bay bus, had to walk 1.75 miles to get home, had been stood up twice by SeniorGo!, had spent six hours to get to and from the gym, with only one hour there. I hired an on-call car-and-driver.) Δ
Marvin Sosna is no longer a driver who lives in Morro Bay. Send comments through the editor at [email protected].