Or, Can You Be a Real Man Without a Car?
To begin – some background.
I’m not from here (Chicago, my home of 20+ years). I grew up in rural, Midwest America where the closest thing to local public transit was when someone gave you a ride. I learned to drive a car at age 13. Don’t worry, no highway/street driving. A friend of the family let me drive their Pontiac sedan in an empty soybean field. For the younger readers, Pontiac was a GM-derivative. I’ve loved driving ever since that day when I pretended the bean field was the Autobahn (at 5-10 miles per hour of course). Before I continue, it’s very important that you understand the following gender-related driving mandate. Although driving was always done by both males and females in my family, one very strict rule was never broken – an adult male cannot be the passenger of an adult female (unless it’s his mom). The only exception I witnessed was when my mother drove my father home after he had been briefly hospitalized (and couldn’t drive). I know this sounds antiquated, but this was rural America in the 1960’s and 1970’s. When a teenage male reaches legal driving age, he HAS to have his own vehicle. If you grew up in a certain SES, a car/pickup truck was given to you. If your family couldn’t afford to buy you a new car, your parents would give you their car and take the opportunity to get themselves a new one. Otherwise, you were expected to buy yourself a used car with income from part-time jobs and/or loans from family members. So as you now know, the culture of my upbringing closely tied a young man’s identity to his vehicle. In other words, first and foremost, you were your ride.
The Option of Public Transit.
I first rode a bus in my mid-20’s. In my 30’s, I first considered the possibility that one could be an independent, self-sufficient adult without owning a car. I know it sounds odd, but, coming from a rural farming community, being a grown man ALWAYS includes car ownership. However, change is one of the few constants in life. I recall my shock when I first heard a male acquaintance, an architect no less, say he had never owned a car. Having gotten my first car at 16, a gift from my parents (used ’73 Ford Capri), I couldn’t conceptualize the reality that a male in this society could survive puberty sans automobile. But, we do live and learn.
The Parking Challenge.
Car possession does have its cons-parking, for example. Parking in the city is always a chore unless you are willing and able to pay for a garage spot. Outdoor reserved parking spots in desirable areas of Chicago can easily sell for five figures (more expensive than some homes in today’s economy). I have always lived in congested areas. I remember several times having double-parked and ran inside my apartment to quickly use the restroom so that I could go back to the car to continue trolling for a relatively legal parking spot. I lived near Wrigley Field at that time. It’s true I could have found a spot more quickly if I had been willing to park further from home. But that would have broken the cardinal rule of parking-never park more than four blocks from home. Don’t ask me who came up with this rule, given it’s a car-related rule, it’s nearly gospel to me. I eventually, and painfully overcame this dictate and went to the other extreme-I would park anywhere, at any distance from home to pursue my new goal of avoiding the parking challenge. As you see, a lot of time and effort have always surrounded the whole ‘car thing’ for me. So, to conclude, for this man, car ownership has always been equated with independence. However, I now must raise the following question, does a truly self-sufficient adult hurry out the door in the morning, on the way to work, only to then stand and wait for the bus/train? Yes, I wholeheartedly submit. Yes. Besides, now we have the capability of using our smart phones to track the location of every form of transit. So, the ‘power’ and control is back in the palm of your hand. Anyway, that’s what I tell myself as I pace back and forth waiting for transit which the “train tracker” assured me would be there 10 MINUTES AGO.
Or, Can You Be a Real Man Without a Car?