I rarely cover similar subjects in back to back posts, yet I read this piece from a Tumblr blog (I must be honest, not sure I quite get the Tumblr thing) and it really resonated with me. In fact I am extremely happy that the author tackles just how deeply the class we were raised in impacts us even when we are no longer a member of that class. It always amazes me in America how we say folks can move up the class ladder and how so many people refer to themselves as being middle class. Yet in a nation where the gap between the haves and the have-nots is almost an ocean these days, I think most of us are living in a class cloud where fear of being at the bottom keeps us hanging on to the middle when the fact is we are much closer to the bottom than we would like to admit. However that is another discussion for another day.
No, it was reading this piece that hit home to me something I have really struggled with and the fact that while I have blamed the situation on other issues the roots of my dilemma are very much based in money and in class.
I don’t drive. Once again I have said it and it’s embarrassing after all I am an almost 40 year old woman, college educated, fairly professional gig, and all that jazz but driving? Basically it’s gotta be life or death for me to drive. People who know me ask why I don’t drive. Well part of it is driving makes me anxious, no not just a little nervous, a lot of nervous. The type of nervous where mistakes can be made, and frankly I have no wish to kill myself or others due to being nervous.
Often people ask, was I always this way? Well, that’s where my humble roots play a role. In many communities in the US kids start learning to drive at 15 and at 16 get licenses. (Granted with graduated licensing I know that is not exactly how it happens now but that’s what it was like eons ago) At 15 my high school offered the written knowledge of how to drive as part of my physical education classes but the actual behind the wheel piece was not taught at my school and basically parents had to pay for it. My folks didn’t have the few hundreds required for me to take the behind the wheel classes and if memory serves me correctly we had no car at that time so I never learned.
I worked after school but my money was used to pay for my clothing and for my lunch money and bus fare back and forth to school (I went to high school clear on the other side of Chicago, having won admittance in one of the top academic programs in Chicago at that time). So being 16 as you can imagine I wasn’t exactly earning enough to handle my expenses that I was responsible for and saving to take driving lessons. Then there was the realization that since I had no car to drive there was no rush to learn to drive.
Long story short I went from age 16-30 with the idea of driving never crossing my mind in any serious way. I mean yeah there were a few times when a car would have been nice, it was sometimes inconvenient raising a kid in Chicago always taking buses and trains but I most certainly wasn’t alone. A lot of the reasons were rooted in lack of resources, having become a mother at 19; I didn’t exactly have a lot of spare cash lying around to afford the cost of driving lessons. Then there was the issue of actually buying a car and upkeep, it simply was not in my budget. Hell, even taking time to get lessons would have been a resource juggling act since I would have needed someone to watch my son so that I could to take lessons. Even when I started earning decent money, I just chose to live in neighborhoods that were easily accessible to public transit and things I needed and wanted.
Nope, it was the Maine move that brought the matter to the forefront. Granted my plan had been to live in Portland, Maine’s largest city where I figured I would be able to get by until I mastered this driving thing. (Yeah, dumb me didn’t bother to learn before moving 1100 miles away…figured being a 30 yo newbie it would be easier to learn in a small state) As fate would have it I landed a job less than 3 weeks after moving to Maine therefore giving me no time to get a handle on the driving thing. That first year in Maine was a real juggling act as my job required travel at times and the Spousal Unit thank goodness to his flexible schedule was able to assist me but it was hard.
I figured after a year or so I would learn and while I did the truth is learning to drive as an adult is hard and while I can do it, my own anxiety gets in the way now. I often think had I learned as a teenager it would have been better. One of the instructors I worked with explained that in many ways it’s harder for adults to get it because by a certain age you realize that shit…driving is serious business and if you fuck up it can have grave consequences. Whereas teenagers are fearless, this frankly can also be a bad thing.
Anyway in thinking about my driving issues and pondering how lack of resources can get in the way of folks learning how to drive actually made me think of many of my current clients and clients I have had over the years. Most of them don’t drive which for most low income folks especially in a rural state greatly limits ones opportunities. In my area we are fortunate to have public transit but it’s costly. A one way ride to Portland from my area (by car a 20 minute ride tops) is $5 that means a round trip is $10. As a result I have a lot of kids in my after school program who have never been to Portland or who rarely get to the beach despite the fact they live mere miles away from the beach. In Chicago it was poor minorities who rarely traveled around the city because they too had a lack of resources granted public transit back in my hometown is far more affordable.
It means that when lower income folks have cars they are almost always jalopies that are on their last leg, which pretty much describes every car my dad, had when I was growing up. Though in our case having access to good public transit did not limit me but at times it was a minor inconvenience.
Yet like the tumblr poster, even so called rites of passage are not always accessible to those who hail from the working and lower classes. Those of us who are able to emerge from that background and move up due to education are often still struggling with the residual effects of our childhood.
PS: People often ask me how I get around, well I bought a house in a very walk able area and even my office is less than a mile from my house. I utilize public transit and the Spousal Unit due to working from home is often able to help me out when I need to go further. One thing I do not do is ask others for rides since this is my shit with that said with the girl in grammar school now I am realizing I have to work on this issue. I need to get comfortable enough where driving is not this emotional and anxiety roller coaster and I am setting some goals and plans in place to get there.