I’m not driving for a year. It’s not by choice and I’m not entirely sad about it.
I have a love hate relationship with my car and driving. I love the act of driving, the freedom of the open road, the speed, watching the scenery wiz by, the feeling of independence it gives me. All that. But I HATE pumping gas, taking the car for oil changes, changing tires, dealing with mechanics, dealing with car sales people, I abhor and detest dealing with the DMV, I hate the cold sweat that breaks out on my forehead when a cop drives by or I park in Los Angeles and am only 80% sure it’s ok to park there. I hate a lot of things about driving and having a car. In spite of that I have been a car owner and driver for 23 years so I’ve been at this whole driving and car ownership thing for a while now.
In all of that time I’ve had my fair share of mishaps, accidents and violations. But about a year and a half ago I really raised the bar on my long list of legendary vehicle mishaps when I fell asleep in traffic on the US 101. In the third lane. On a five lane highway. My little freeway nap lasted about 45 minutes and in that time the accident that they had closed down the freeway for was cleared and all the cars around me had moved on to their respective destinations. So it was really very easy for the California Highway Patrol to find me, the freeway Sleeping Beauty. They woke me up by opening up the car and pulling me out. One officer stuffed me in his cruiser and the other one got in the driver’s seat of my car and both vehicles drove off the freeway, took the next exit and parked at the nearest gas station parking lot. The cops did the usual thing they do, searched my car, went through my purse, told me I didn’t need and couldn’t have a lawyer, etc. It was extremely nerve wracking. I knew I was in the wrong but I wasn’t sure how bad this was going to be. The cops asked me to answer a bunch of questions and to submit to various tests which I refused. I figured pleading the 5th was my right and certainly it couldn’t be any worse if I just said no to everything. Right?
I refused to do any of the tests so they arrested me and told me I’d lose my license for a year. I wasn’t sure what the alternative was and it didn’t seem like anything was going to get me out of being arrested. Being arrested wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be. I shared a decent sized cell with 3 other women and we chatted and got to know each other for the 12 hours we were together. It was kind of like a weird slumber party. The worst part was the fact that at 6am (I was booked at around midnight) they turned on a TV that blared Maurey Povich, Montell Williams, Jerry Springer and Steve Wilkos into our holding cell for hours. In a way me and my cell mates found it comforting because as we watched the guests beat the crap out of each other and reveal horrible secrets of betrayal we thought… hell… it could always be worse.
I hired a lawyer and it took the CA DMV a whole year and a half to hear my case (not surprising at all is it?) and in the end they found me guilty of refusing to do what the cops said. Yup, pretty much. Punishable by a 1 year, no exceptions, suspension of my driving privilege.
I knew this was probably going to happen so I had been mentally and physically preparing for the past year and a half. I got a compactable bike, I started getting more familiar with Uber and Lyft and I slowly stopped beating myself up for falling asleep in my car because if I lost my license there would be a whole other round of stuff to freak out about so I needed to make space in my head.
The final judgement and news of my suspension came in the form of an email from my lawyer as I was boarding the plane for Iceland. Even though I had known this was a real possibility I was overcome with a tidal wave of fear and shame. “I’m such an idiot”, “How could I do this?”, “Why am I always getting myself into these fucked up situations?”, “What the hell is wrong with me?”, combined with “How the hell am I going to live my life?!”, “Am I going to lose my jobs?”, “Maybe I should move to New York or San Francisco where I don’t need a car”. Mini meltdown for sure. I took some deep breaths, wrote all my thoughts and feelings down and then sketched out a plan for my life in LA with no car. I’d sell my car and take pubic transport, Uber, Lyft and ride my bike. I crunched the numbers and realized I’d save thousands, that’s right THOUSANDS, of dollars not driving. It occurred to me that this could actually be a windfall!! I started to feel a lot better, saving money has that effect on me. As I boarded the plane it also occurred to me that I would not have to deal with fucking CA DMV for an entire blessed year. I would not get any parking tickets, I would not have to pump any gas unless I went out of my way to do so for shits and giggles, and I would not have to negotiate with any mechanics. My spirits lifted even further.
So my rational self was feeling a lot better but my emotional self still felt like a hot mess. That shame was still clinging on for dear life. What were people going to think? Will people look at me or treat me differently? I carefully mulled each of those thoughts over and realized that the answers were as follows; people will think and do whatever they want and the people that matter will love me anyway. I’ve fucked up more spectacularly than this and by the grace of god people still love me. Another deep breath and I put that shit on the back burner until I got back to LA.
My first week back in LA with no license was a full one. I hadn’t really been planning on losing my license that exact week so I had lots of things planned that would normally require me to drive all over LA. This prompted a little fear to bubble up… “Would I have to change my whole life?! Is this going to limit my ability to achieve my goals?!” This week would be a trial run of putting those thoughts to the test.
I spent the week navigating the Metro system in LA and supplementing that with Uber and Lyft. I was able to do everything I had planned on doing without incident. I attended a birthday party on the other side of town, I met a colleague for lunch a few miles away from my work and I tagged along with my housemate on a couple of errand runs. It was actually magnificent. I realized that there are tons of bus lines that go just about everywhere! This city is crawling with buses!! I can walk out of my door, go a few hundred feet and just hop on a bus and hop off at my destination. No parking, no dealing with traffic, leave that to the driver. It almost feels luxurious. Well, as long as the bus is on time.
My wrist wasn’t fully healed and I wasn’t ready to test bike riding so I took the bus exclusively for about two weeks. After two weeks I was less enamored with the whole thing. It takes FOREVER. And I found myself spending a good chunk of my days riding around on the metro system or waiting at bus stops for late buses. I mapped out a few bike routes and cycling was going to be way quicker and more efficient and if I got tired or needed to go somewhere far, I could always take the bus part of the way there since they all have bike racks on them. I decided to hop on my bike for a test drive to see how my wrist felt. It didn’t feel too bad so I decided to commute on my bike and see how it went. I made it all the way to work and back on the bike (30 miles total) without incident and in half the time it would have taken me on the bus. My wrist was sore and tender but I iced it down which helped a lot and having more time to myself was worth it.
It’s been a month of not having a driver’s license in LA and two weeks of riding my bike. I’ve gotten much better about learning the bus system, using it when my bike isn’t the best option or combining the two and using Uber and Lyft when I don’t want to spend hours getting somewhere or when I don’t want to show up sweaty. It has been a challenging transition to say the least. Hence fewer blog posts and recipes. But I can say it is definitely getting smoother and I still don’t miss having to deal with my car. I still love not having to worry about parking, mechanics, pumping gas and the DMV. Who knows, maybe I’ll never drive again!