On road of life, she's hitching

It's no accident that a crash or two can steer

a person into an existence without wheels.


March 05, 2000|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,Sun Staff

The 1995 teen flick "Clueless" informed us that a virgin who can't drive isn't worth listening to. I may not be entirely clueless, but I'm definitely carless.

Perhaps, temporarily, you too were a carless loser during this winter's snowy weather, which I like to call "suicide weather." A friend of mine, forced to walk to work in the snow, said to me: "Now I know what it's like to be you."

No way, dude. You have no idea. A week or so of weather-induced walking is nothing compared with the hell on wheels that daily car-free living can be.

Do you know what not having a car in Baltimore means?

It means having to eat the Uncle Ben's Bombay Chicken Rice Bowl every night of the week, because they don't have the Szechuan Chicken Bowl at Eddie's on Eager Street, which is the only grocery store you can reach on foot.

It means begging for a ride home from work every day because if you walk home after dark you will be shot by a transsexual crack dealer.

Get a cab, you say? You try to get a cab in this city. Cabs are not an option in Baltimore. They pick you up if and when they feel like it.

In short, carlessness means total submission and humiliation.

So, you ask, why don't I just shut up and get a car?

I am not wheel-less because I can't afford it. I am wheel-less because you can't afford to have me on the road.

Yes, I have a license -- with a fabulous picture, I might add. And I can turn the wheel and step on the brakes and ... what's that other thing?

But I cannot drive. Rather, I cannot drive well.

Many people can't. But in my almost Zen-like state of self-awareness, I accept this. The fact that there are others on the road as utterly incompetent behind the wheel as I am is enough to keep me off it.

It's in the genes

No one in my family can drive. Last year, for instance, marked the first time that my sister's car was hit by a driver who is not in our family. My grandfather once drove into someone's living room. It's genetic, like cholesterol and mental illness.

The consequences of carlessness have plagued me for much of my life.

I grew up in California, where driving is a religion, like Scientology. Nobody walks in L.A., Missing Persons told the world in their electrifying '80s hit, "Walking in L.A."

When that song came out, it didn't really bother me, because I lived in San Diego and was 6. But later, I grew to understand its significance.

In high school, a car is essential if you hope to have dates and a life. I remedied that by having no dates and no life. Later, when I did have a car, it seemed wasteful, as I still had no dates and no life.

Here in Baltimore, where I can no longer rely on my parents and middle-aged boyfriends to drive me everywhere, I have an elite group of chauffeurs, I mean, friends, who cart me about. They don't really mind. When they say, "You're just using me for my car. When are you going to get a car?" what they really mean is, "Why, I'd love to take you to the Canton Safeway for the 18th time this week, because I love you!"

But sometimes they taunt. They abuse their power. Oh, yes they do.

"Oh, I went to Target this weekend," they'll say, so cavalierly, so casually, so maliciously, as I salivate at the prospect of being able to drive to Target.

The media also have it in for the immobile minority.

Imagine listening to "Car Talk" on National Public Radio with nary a car to talk about. It hurts.

These indignities are unavoidable for me, a responsible citizen devoted to protecting the lives of others, listening to NPR and annoying my friends.

A lifestyle choice

Besides, driving would also force me to seriously re-evaluate my style. Driving in platform shoes is not an option. Also not an option, for me: wearing flats, especially those lame ballerina slippers everyone's wearing lately. See my dilemma?

And cars are such a pain. I can't understand why anyone would buy an expensive one. They always break down. People steal them.

Sometimes illegal aliens steal them, tear out the back seat, transport their friends over the border and leave M&M wrappers everywhere, the way they did to my dad's unsuspecting Camry.

Plus, you have to find parking. It seems, especially in bad weather, that the average person spends up to 90 percent of her life looking for parking.

This is a time commitment I am not willing to make.

On top of all this, I also happen to have the depth perception, coordination, concentration and sense of direction of an English muffin.

I still have to make an "L" shape with my thumb and forefinger to tell the difference between my left and right.

If I have not yet convinced you that I am an accident waiting to happen, here is my on-the-road resume:

* First danger sign: I fail my initial driver's test for running a red light. Whatever.

* First crash: My sister's car. After making an illegal lane change, I proceed to go at the wrong time at a four-way stop and smash into the side of a truck. The trucker's company makes windows, which are mounted on the side of the truck.

* Second crash: I hit a parked junk heap. A bus full of convicts drives by, and they laugh and point at me. I use the insurance money to buy clothes. Good thing I do, because just a month later ...

* My car blows up: Well, almost. Long story short: Stranded on Nebraska-bound interstate. Spend three days in Motel 6 in St. Joseph, Mo., with six-pack of Corona and really bad cable. They know me at Denny's. Finally sell $4,000 Camry to chauvinist pigs at scrap metal yard for 60 bucks.

And all that doesn't take into account objects I've hit that haven't damaged my car or called for legal action.



Now, pick me up at 10 o'clock, not 10:15. I need to get to the Canton Safeway before it closes tonight.

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