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Life in the Slow Lane

By Larry Gross · June 15th, 2011 · Living Out Loud
If you were to ask me when I was 16 years old if I would never again want an automobile, I would have told you that you were crazy. Every teenage boy wants his own set of wheels. I was no exception.

My first automobile was a 1959 Chevy Biscayne. It’s a bit faded now, but that’s me in the photo with my car. It was taken by my mother in 1969. I wish that picture showed the backend of that car. Above the long taillights was what I can only describe as batwings. It was like that car was going to take off like a bird or a plane.

It was my grandfather’s car. After he died, my grandmother held on to it for a while, then decided to sell it. An auto dealer would only give her $100. I had $100, so I bought it.

It was a two-door, gray in color and most of the floor in front was rusted out. The manual shift was right there on the column — to the right of the steering wheel. There were some small cracks in the windshield but I didn’t care. It was mine.

I don’t remember much of anything ever going wrong with it, never needed much repair. Cars were made simpler back then. If something mechanical did go wrong, my father and I could usually figure it out and fix it.

I loved that automobile. I drove my buddies around just for the sake of driving it. I even had my first date in that car at the Vevay Drive-in in Vevay, Ind. Hoping to make it to the backseat with Ellie, we stayed in the front seat. In other words, it wasn’t a very good date.

Of course, it’s been a long time since I’ve been 16 and I’ve had several cars since the Biscayne.

But it’s life in the slow lane for me now. That means not owning a car. I haven’t had one for the past three or four years.

There are a few reasons for this change, the main one being I have neuropathy, or nerve damage, in my feet and legs. I’ve written about this here before, so let’s not dwell on it, but with that nerve damage I simply no longer trust my reflexes. I don’t want to hurt myself or anyone else while driving.

There are other reasons, too. I got tired of the upkeep and maintenance. I didn’t like paying for car insurance and got fed up with having to pay high gas prices. And I’m an urban kind of guy. I believe in public transportation.

Not driving for the past few years has led to changes in my demeanor. Not being behind the wheel of an automobile has made me calmer.

I’m not sure if I was ever the kind of person who experienced road rage, but sometimes I would get very angry at drivers who would cut me off, drove too slowly or who were just plain stupid. Yelling at them inside my car or flipping them off was pretty common. Sometimes when arriving home after a drive, I would end up feeling tense and out of sorts. Driving put me in a bad mood.

That feeling has left my life. I never have to worry about bad drivers or keeping my temper while out on the road. I’ll let the bus driver or the cab driver get their blood pressure up. I now stay cool.

Another plus to not having a car is if you’re a bit antisocial, and that’s me more and more, it’s a great way to get out of parties I don’t want to attend or meetings that would bore me to tears. I simply say it’s too inconvenient to get there because I don’t own a car. If someone has the nerve to offer me a ride to and from, I’m a considerate type of person even when I’m not. I’ll pretend I don’t want to put anybody out.

There’s a downside to not owing a car, such as I can’t just pick up and go somewhere. I can’t run to the grocery or can’t go to a movie on impulse. Everything has to be planned — but keep in mind I’m the kind of person who knows what he’s going to be wearing on Friday even when it’s Monday. I know what I’m going to be eating for dinner days ahead. In other words, I’m a bit of a planner, so life in the slow lane, for the most part, works out for me.

My driving is now history, and I seldom ever think of the cars I’ve owned in the past with the exception of that 1959 Chevy Biscayne. I still have a lot of affection for it.

I kept it all through high school. When I started college in the fall of 1972, I sold it because I needed a better car to commute to Cincinnati. I sold it for $150, $50 more than what I paid for it.

Sometimes at night, I still have dreams about that car, like it’s in my driveway. That 1959 gray car with the batwings over the back taillights is still mine. Even though I wouldn’t be able to drive it, I wouldn’t mind a bit if that dream could somehow come true.

CONTACT LARRY GROSS: lgross@citybeat.com



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