Years ago, in an area of Toronto called The Beaches, lived an elegant couple in their late eighties. I rented an apartment with a balcony across the street. Friday was date night when husband and wife would emerge from home, beautifully coifed and arms linked. Arriving at curbside, where their Mercedes was parked, HE would open the passenger door and settle HER safely inside. He would then circle around to the driver’s side. Moments later their sedan would glide softly into the night. You could catch this romantic scene if you were lucky to be on the deck.
It made me nostalgic for being driven, for childhood and family road trips, when our dad did all the driving (our mother would get her license after his untimely death, out of necessity). Occasionally Dad would light up his pipe, in retrospect igniting my carsickness. Despite nausea, it was a thrill to gaze at new scenery and be transported both literally and metaphorically.
Today, it’s me behind the wheel in Canada’s most challenging traffic city, sharing the road with thousands of commuters, including skateboarders, couriers, regular cyclists, pedestrians, all-weather construction crews. Crazy things happen. Recently, on a major cross street, a miscalculating man backed his motorized scooter across the road in front of me as a courier whizzed by, nearly wiping us all out. We lived, but driving in Toronto can be a test of nerves.
I like driving. Paradoxically, it’s nice to be driven, especially on highways, where I prefer not to drive. I’m not crazy for speed. I know my limitations and have no problem surrendering the wheel. Sometimes there’s a man involved. Does this make me a crummy feminist? I hope not.
When I think (and I do) how hard-won the license to drive is for some women in our world, our sisters in Saudi Arabia for example (we know how that’s going), I feel a twinge. I AM a feminist and believe in total equality. In Canada, I have choice whether to drive or not.
Here’s the best thing about “Being driven”: it allows one to daydream.
Looking distractedly out the window. In 2019, there’s a ticket for that when you’re the driver. $615 for a first conviction. 3 demerit points.
I’m gender equal when it comes to who’s at the wheel, whether friends or professionals. I’ve hired Driving Miss Daisy from Prince Albert to Saskatoon. I have fond memories of being a passenger abroad: Keith, a Dubliner, driving me in his 2010 Ford Transit Tourneo to visit friends in the Irish countryside, taking back road detours so I could photograph along the way. Mr. Tak, of Jodhpur, touring my niece and me on a week-long tour of Rajasthan in a white Ambassador, the iconic Indian car. In New Zealand, an efficient and pricey chauffeuse drove a friend and me on a day trip to Rotorua. Without Sandra, on a tight schedule, we would not have experienced that surreal geothermic moonscape.
There is freedom in being driven, and it usually comes stress free.
Not so on one daredevil ride in England. The driver was a surgeon, (that’s got to be safe, right?) a friend of a friend, a classic car collector, determined to show off his latest acquisition, a Ferrari, to a visitor. (He owned a Bentley, several Porsches, a Silver Cloud, a runabout Citroen, a mint Deux Chevaux and an Aston Martin, but claimed the Ferrari engine was “one of the most beautiful sights in the world”).
He drove more or less sedately along the dunes of St. Anne’s until we arrived at a flat stretch where he felt free to gun it. Let’s just say the car exploded at full throttle and I was in the guts of a jungle beast. The experience was dangerous and thrilling, the closest I’ve come to flight without leaving earth.
Here at home, two of my favourite people, whom I used to count on as backup drivers, have relocated to downtown hi-rises and become converts to public transit. They’ve sold their vehicles – a Smart Car and a Honda Fit respectively, trading them for bundle buggies, which I find comic at their expense. They rent cars if they must.
One of them recently drove my Kia to Stratford while I navigated. I paid for gas and called many of the shots. Everybody flourished. At the end, I got to keep the car.
I’d say that qualifies as good feminism. Right??
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