I never took to driving. I learned to drive when I was thirty. I just started earning my living teaching, and it was a little too far to walk to work.
I took a driving lesson, passed the test (though not with flying colors), and bought a lovely bright red VW which looked to me like an oversized ladybug. One day at an intersection the car behind honked at me to hurry on the moment the lights changed to green. With no time to fidget, I turned the corner too fast and bashed the brand new car right into the stone wall of a medical office on the left side of the street. That was my first accident, and I had barely 80 miles on it. Fortunately, there was no car coming on the other side. I was not hurt; and the car, after a few days in a body shop, came back repaired passably. In time I became a good driver -- too fast, some say, but alert and safe. I have had a few accidents over the years, one very serious one when I slept on the wheel. I hit a tree and totaled the Datsun I was driving. The steering wheel broke and the impact of the shaft ruptured the duodenum. I spent ten days in the intensive care unit. After that I decided on getting a Volvo for safety.
Over the years I learned to enjoy driving. But on reflection it is never so much the motion of cruising than the skill I acquired in maneuvering in heavy traffic that I can say that I truly enjoy. I never felt special pleasure, however, driving on highways, even though I didn't mind driving fast. My driving is predominantly local; it has always been. Going to Washington, DC, from Philadelphia is for me a major drive; Massachusetts was the farthest drive I've done in one single stretch. I bought my current Volvo in January 1998, and in two years it has acquired only 7000 miles; and this is typical. My work is a two-mile walk; I sometimes drive but often walk, or used to until recently.
I christened my current Volvo Ingrid. Her predecessor was Gertrud. To that extent I develop affection for my car, rather like a pet. But I don't fancy cars the way those who are auto fanatics do. I never learned to recognize different models of cars. Automechanics befuddles me. Ever since I was little, I was mechanically adept. I claim that if I can take anything apart, I can put it back. I boast I can fix almost anything. But I don't understand car engines; I never learned to understand them. I often wished I did; I often wished I had time to take workshop courses and learned how everything worked. I understand the principles of the automotive engine perhaps more than many but not enough to feel comfortable tampering with it. In 1974 I read the book entitled, What Every Woman (and Lots of Men) Should Know about her Car, and admired and envied the author, Dorothy Jackson, a professional automechanic in Westchester, PA, not far from where I live. Operating a machine without knowing how it works gives me a certain discomfort, perhaps anxiety; and it certainly dampens the joy of driving that I might feel more fully otherwise.
Then, more recently I have become dubious about the efficiency of riding around alone in a four-passenger car. Since last year I started to take the train more often than drive the car going into Philadelphia even though it's a ten-minute walk from home to the local station. I feel more and more that the car is an encumbrance, and I would gladly rid of mine if I could live in a place where no car is needed, a place with a good working public transport system -- as in Manhattan.
T. Kaori Kitao, 03.03.00
Living in Manhattan