Thursday, December 01, 2016

A car(e)free life

Priorities change. Our fears change. We change.

My greatest stress about moving back to the US involved getting a new driver license. When you have been gone from the country for 2 years, you are out of the system. Everything needs to be done afresh, and involves liberal amounts of paperwork and running around.

Multiple Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices in the area told me that I would have to start afresh- clear the knowledge test as well as the driving test. Although I drove quite a bit for 5 years, more than the average person does, knowledge test involved studying, and often memorizing facts that were not directly relevant (e.g., remembering permissible blood alcohol levels for someone who doesn't drink). I was lazy and did not have the mindset to study.

And then, the actual driving test- a chicken and egg problem. You cannot rent a car without a driver license, and if you don't rent a car, you cannot take the driving test. I do not know anyone outside work here, and when I was invited to attend a Sunday bhajan followed by a vegetarian potluck, I was convinced that I am perhaps better off not knowing anyone outside work. Now how would I get a car?

Burdened by these (first) worldly problems, I decided to at least get a state ID first (needs to be done within the first 30 days). I show up with all my documents. The first person at the counter confirms that this will be a state ID and not a driver license. I need to take the driving test in some other location that needs prior appointment. So I wait patiently until my name is called and I walk up to the counter to get a state ID.

"Your driver license expired in 2014. I see that you did not renew it."

A gut feeling inside told me to keep mum and nod, without explaining that I was gone from the country.

"If you pay a fine of such amount, we can renew your license," I could not believe my ears.

Quickly, I paid the fine, furtively looking around and making sure that no one comes from behind and gets me in trouble. With a racing heart, I quickly took the vision test, pledged to donate my organs when I died, smiled for a horrible ID picture, paid all the dues, gave copious amounts of thank yous and sorrys for not renewing on time, and ran out of the DMV office once they issued me a temporary driver license. I did not even stop to use the restroom, lest they change their mind and take away my new license.

Twenty six months into not driving, I got a driver license. Just like that. Without a knowledge test or driving test. Two weeks later, the actual driving license was in my mailbox.

That was part one of the story. Part two is, around the same time, I had an epiphany (with old age, I have many these days) that I did not want to own a car anymore. Not for the time being at least. Yes, this is coming from a person who drove 8,000 miles solo in one month before leaving the US, and suffered from strong separation anxiety when she had to sell her car. I used to itch to drive other people's cars after that. But as of now, I am done with my love for driving. The only three places I know in town that matter (home, work, and the dentist's office) are all connected by bus. Seattle is only a flight away. For other things, there are cabs. This aligns perfectly with my aim to live like a minimalist. A car means additional costs for gas, parking, insurance, and maintenance. Taking the bus makes me walk more, meet more people (I have already made friends), and plan my days better. Restricted mobility also means not being tempted to do unnecessary things, like driving 2 hours to a neighboring city for good biryani. I used to do that all the time. But now, I am happier getting home and reading a book than driving to someplace with no clear aim. And if I am suddenly dying to drive all the way to Southern California or Florida, I can always rent a car.

It's funny how things changed with time. My car was my life, and I could not imagine life without driving. Then, Germany happened, the much needed reset button in my life. By doing the same set of activities, I was engaging the same neural networks in my brain. Now, I was forced to develop newer networks, new skills- learn to take the train, learn a new language, learn to make conversation with the bus driver, and so on. Eventually, I reorganized my life around different hobbies that did not involve driving. Even with a driver license in my hand, I do not care to drive anymore. It's a truly freeing experience.


1 comment:

Argentyne said...

wah, reset button indeed! Blog more please :)