I haven’t driven a car since going down to Portland from Seattle in the middle of July. I parked at the Burger Time next to the Convention Center and that was it; from then on it’s been public transportation, cabs, rides from friends, and my own two feet for me. I’ve been driving since I was sixteen and have had my own car for most of the past 15 years; since I moved to Seattle I’d been trying to cut down on my car use, but I still think I used it a lot. I haven’t missed driving for a second since I got here and I have started to forget what it’s like.
Part of that is because I am now very confused about what side of the car the steering wheel goes on, and what side of the road the car goes on. When I first arrived I freaked out the first time I got into the passenger seat of a right-hand drive car; I leaned all the way back in the seat and closed my eyes because I felt so exposed without a steering wheel there, with all the cars coming at me, and I was constantly having to remind myself that we weren’t going to crash when we made a left hand turn into the left lane. I’m now a little more used to that, and used to walking by cars parked on the side of the road facing what still feels like the wrong way. I have almost even quit doing the thing where I walk to the right-hand side of the car, stop short, go “Oh, right. Yeah, you drive,” to the person who is so nice to give me a ride, who almost always goes rolls her and goes “I will, if you’ll just get out of the way, there, Yankee Doodle.” The really weird part? Is that now, when I see an American movie and they’re driving on the right side of the road and the left side of the car, it looks wrong somehow, so I get more confused than ever. I am not good, at the best of times, at telling my right from my left anyway so I am constantly wondering what side, what side? What side does everything go on?
Fortunately I don’t really have to know the answer to that question. All I have to do is make sure I look right-left-right when I cross the street instead of left-right-left, and let me tell you, it has taken fully three months for me to master that little skill, so can you imagine if I had to actually get behind the wheel (ON THE RIGHT) it would not go well. But I don’t care! I don’t drive! It’s so simple!
It’s been pretty easy to get used to, actually, easier than I anticipated, at least. When I first arrived here I lived just a couple of blocks from New World and the two-dollar internet place (which, interestingly, has subsequently become the three-dollar internet place) and the library and work and the Southern Cross and anywhere else I had to go. Now that I live in Berhampore I can still walk to work and to the dairy in case I run out of ginger nuts to dip in my tea. I don’t usually walk all the way to town from home so I’ve become adept at taking the bus…well, at least the route that goes from town to my house…even after dark, which is something I used to be scared to do in Seattle.
I go grocery shopping every couple of days, since I can only buy what I can carry in my backpack and my hot pink Supre bag. I take cabs or ask people for rides a lot, or I have to time my going out in town around the bus schedule. I leave a full half hour to walk to and from work every day, even though it usually only takes 20 minutes, and in the morning I have to remember if I need to pick anything up on the way home so I can bring an extra bag. I wear very comfortable shoes. It’s hard to remember, sometimes, that I used to drive my old Corolla almost every day, almost always by myself. It seems like a lot of trouble now.
Probably I’d feel very different about the whole thing if Wellington were more spread out and it just so happened that I had five weeks of living very close to town so I was able to get to know it pretty well before I moved to my flat; if I’d moved straight to Behampore or Haitaitai or Kilbirnie or something I think it would have been a little harder to figure things out. I do think that I haven’t been as adventurous about exploring new neighborhoods and stuff that’s actually pretty nearby, like the super awesome bird sanctuary, simply because I’m still a little nervous about taking the bus to a place I don’t know. Right now I’m pretty comfortable just walking to from home to work, and from work to town, and around town, and then getting on the bus to come home. I keep thinking I should just take a different route to work or something, or check out in detail the big park I pass every day, but usually I’m in a hurry and want to get where I’m going, just like when I drove.
People often say that having a car gives you a lot of freedom, that you can just pick up and go wherever and whenever you want to. I guess that’s true. A has mentioned that she’d be happy to teach me to drive in her car one of these days, and I guess I’ll take her up on it, but for now I’m just enjoying the freedom from driving, the independence of internal maps that are navigated by myself alone, on (mostly) my own power.