Writer’s Workshop: Riding vs. Driving

A CTA #38 bus

I’ve spent most of my life as a rider. Riding the trains and buses in Chicago, begging a ride when I didn’t have a driver’s license, flying (a form of riding) to different cities both in the United States, Canada, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia (almost always for work), shuttles to and from hotels, airports, car rental lots, and parking lots, taxis where I didn’t want to deal with the driving conditions (e.g. in England, where I wasn’t prepared to drive a car with a manual transmission or on the opposite side of the road), and depending on how you look at it, elevators. I didn’t get my license until I was 28, and had to stop after I had my stroke. Well, maybe not “had to”: I was evaluated for my ability to drive about a year after, and while I did all right, I didn’t feel safe, so that ended my driving career.

The nice thing about driving is that you can pretty much set your own hours: you decide when you leave. I spent three weeks working in Knoxville, Tennessee in 2003. I had to be there Monday morning, so I’d leave Sunday afternoon, take my time driving there, stop for dinner along the way, get there in the early evening. On Friday, when I was done with the client, I’d get in the car and drive home. There, I was usually stuck in some rush hour traffic, but I’d generally be home by 8 Friday night. I wasn’t tied to a schedule.

Riding has its disadvantages, mainly that you have to adhere to their schedule, or you could get marooned somewhere. My girlfriend and I went out one Saturday night, and my folks told me they wouldn’t be able to give me a ride, so make sure I got to the train station before the taxis closed up shop for the night at 1 AM. I left my girlfiend’s house in what should have been enough time to get to the end of the line in time to catch a taxi. That was the night the CTA decided to do maintenance on the track and I didn’t make it there until 1:15. I was surprised to run into a friend of mine who was riding in the second car, and asked him how he was getting home. He said he was walking… I had no other choice than to walk with him. It was roughly ten miles from the train station to home, and it took me a couple of hours to get home, but I had company, a full pack of cigarettes, and two young knees that could make the trip. I got home at 3:30 AM and had to be up by 10:30 to get to work, and of course I got the third degree from my mother. When I told her why I was out until 3:30, her tune changed…

28 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: Riding vs. Driving

  1. What I focused on here was the long walk, with a friend.

    Like most of us, I couldn’t wait to get my driver’s license, way back then. The one big issue, not owning a car, not having even a snowball’s chance in Hell of being given one. No chance of even driving one belonging to either of my parental units either. But…walking? No problem. I walked a little over 2 miles to, and from, high school just about every day, with a few friends. Long walks, longer discussions, mixed with a few debates now and then. Walking got us just about everywhere and without water bottles, overpriced sneakers, or Fitbits, only an armload of textbooks that we shifted from right to left as we walked.

    Thanks for making me think of some pleasant memories, John.

    Stay safe!


  2. Interesting perspetive! I COULD NOT WAIT to get a license so I wouldn’t be dependent on anyone giving me a ride anywhere, and I got mine at 15. True, I was only allowed to go to school and back, and sometimes other places in my small hometown (where there was no public transportation other than school buses), but I was born to drive. And have done most of the driving everywhere I’ve ever been. I’m a terrible passenger, even though I’ve learned to keep my mouth mostly shut!



  3. I don’t like being somewhere I don’t have a car to leave in. It’s a dumb thing probably but where I live and grew up…it’s rural. You have to drive to get anywhere. Our town doesn’t have a taxi…now in Nashville it’s a different story. Id I was living in a big city I wouldn’t be as wary.


      1. Yes that is what I thought. You can survive there without a car. When I was there in the late nineties I was downtown and walked everywhere I needed to go because everything was so close.


  4. This is such an interesting perspective on both driving and riding. I’ve never been able to drive and will never be, as I’m blind. Driving does afford some freedom, I guess. I was used to public transportation though until I moved in with my husband in 2017 in a village 6km from the nearest bus stop. Now my current town doesn’t have good public transportation either, so I always have to take ParaTransit to go to a city 22km away that has good train connections. Still, I’m glad I have never ha d to even consider taking driving lessons, as my autism would make it very hard too and that is less of an excuse than blindness.


    1. Driving is pretty much necessary if you live in an area with little or no public transit, and often (at least in this country) the areas with good transit are not desirable places to live.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, a license at 28! That is a LOT of riding. I think more transportation options like Uber have made it even easier to opt to ride on your own timeline, but of course it’s probably more costly.


    1. Uber would have been nice 45 years ago, as would the technology that makes it possible. If laptops or desktops had been around just to type my papers, it wouldn’t have been an ordeal of typewriters, erasers and Liquid Paper…


  6. The part of your story that caught my eye were the words “two young knees.” I remember (barely) when it seemed like I could walk forever on “two young knees.”


  7. I love driving and can do it for long periods of time with no problem. I do also like flying and we’d like to take a train trip up and down the coast or cross country. Too bad they didn’t have Uber or Lyft back then!


    1. Trains were still a big thing in Chicago when I was younger. I used to hear ads all the time for the Super Chief, and always thought that would be a ride I’d like to take. Amtrak still runs a similar line, but I’m sure it’s not the same….

      Liked by 1 person

  8. As long as I am not a detriment to others on the road, I will keep driving. I started driving when I was in high school. With that said, these days my hubby does most of the driving, which hasn’t been much since COVID-19.


    1. Mary usually fills the tank when it gets to 1/2 full, and yesterday she told me she had filled it for the first time in a couple of months. Really, we haven’t gone anywhere, except for a couple of doctor’s and dentist’s appointments.

      I remember when Mary’s father gave her his car, because he finally realized that he was a threat behind the wheel (he had a worsening macular degeneration, and my mother-in-law was navigating him). The guy was crying when he handed her the keys. I understood how he felt when I tried to drive the van around the neighborhood and was too tense about it. If there had been a way to resume driving, I would have…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I grew up in the country and my mom had to force me to drive because I was fearful. My brother couldn’t wait! I am so thankful that she pushed me because I would have been reliant on. Other people. It does provide more freedom and you can go when you want. It is costly, ok the gas could be the same as presto cards or some other payment for travel but you don’t have to worry about breaking down or car insurance. I can’t think how many times I was stuck on the side of the road and had to go to a nearby home to call..before cell phones. I’m glad your mom changed her tune because you went through an ordeal. If I was living in a huge city like Toronto, I would not have a car


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