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My Post-Driving Life [Dmitry Samarov]

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Samarov
1414 Rider
 Posted 1 year, 2 months ago

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CTA drawing #34

I didn't learn to drive until I was 22. A year later I was behind the wheel of a cab. That's not how it's usually done in America. Most kids couldn't wait to turn 16 and get their learner's permit. Driving has been sold as freedom in this country ever since the advent of the automobile but it's slowly starting to change. And that's a very good thing.

Growing up in a city with public transportation, learning to drive never crossed my mind. A train, bus, bike or—most often—my own two feet could get me anywhere I wanted to go. My parents had a car but for whatever reason I had no desire to know anything about it. I was forced to learn toward the end of my undergraduate days. I had an interview in the graduate painting department at Yale University and had to haul my paintings from Chicago to New Haven. I did so in my girfriend's old Ford Grenada. I didn't get accepted into the program but my new skill came in handy after I moved back to Boston upon graduation.

I drove a cab from 1993-97 in Boston, then from 2003-12 in Chicago. Add 3 years of delivering Thai food and a good chunk of my working life has been spent behind the wheel. Driving has always been associated for me with making a living and rarely with pleasure or freedom. Watching rush-hour traffic in the city all those years, I never understood why most of the others on the road were doing what they were doing. In a city like Chicago there a many alternatives to the private vehicle and almost all are more convenient, affordable, and relaxing. I can think of few less productive or more wasteful and depressing modes of commute than sitting in gridlock twice a day, an hour or two each way.

In the last ...

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CTA drawing #34

I didn't learn to drive until I was 22. A year later I was behind the wheel of a cab. That's not how it's usually done in America. Most kids couldn't wait to turn 16 and get their learner's permit. Driving has been sold as freedom in this country ever since the advent of the automobile but it's slowly starting to change. And that's a very good thing.

Growing up in a city with public transportation, learning to drive never crossed my mind. A train, bus, bike or—most often—my own two feet could get me anywhere I wanted to go. My parents had a car but for whatever reason I had no desire to know anything about it. I was forced to learn toward the end of my undergraduate days. I had an interview in the graduate painting department at Yale University and had to haul my paintings from Chicago to New Haven. I did so in my girfriend's old Ford Grenada. I didn't get accepted into the program but my new skill came in handy after I moved back to Boston upon graduation.

I drove a cab from 1993-97 in Boston, then from 2003-12 in Chicago. Add 3 years of delivering Thai food and a good chunk of my working life has been spent behind the wheel. Driving has always been associated for me with making a living and rarely with pleasure or freedom. Watching rush-hour traffic in the city all those years, I never understood why most of the others on the road were doing what they were doing. In a city like Chicago there a many alternatives to the private vehicle and almost all are more convenient, affordable, and relaxing. I can think of few less productive or more wasteful and depressing modes of commute than sitting in gridlock twice a day, an hour or two each way.

In the last few years companies like Zipcar and iGo have presented alternatives to private car ownership. Rent a car for errands, then park and walk away. Simple. The proliferation of ride-sharing services like Lyft, Uber X, and Hailo also point to a new enthusiasm for escaping from the “freedom” of being shackled to one's own vehicle. Drivers want to be compensated for being stuck with these hunks of metal and who can blame them? The Divvy bike-sharing program has, by most accounts, been a big success and new bike lanes seem to appear around the city every other week. All these developments point to a tidal shift in how residents think about getting around their city.

One of the key benefits and pleasures of city life is the chance to interact with others. The private automobile is antithetical to that idea. It's a closed environment which only comes into contact with other similarly closed environments when they conflict. A traffic jam is rarely the place to make friends. Cars are mainly obstacles to other cars. This is not to say that pedestrians and bicyclists spend their days dancing jigs and spoiling one another with group hugs but that when they near one another there aren't yards of metal, plastic and glass separating them. As unpleasant as an overcrowded city bus may be, it's certainly less alienating than thousands of vehicles on a highway, each with one occupant, each going their own way.

They say that forward-thinking industrialists are investing in driverless vehicles and they can't get here fast enough for my taste. I can't wait to relinquish the control, but also the stress, worry and expense that comes along with my car keys. Any time I leave the house and take the Metra or the CTA rather than the car, the world feels like a lighter and more enjoyable place to be. With all the alternatives available these days, I hope never to buy my own automobile again. A car-free future would be a beautiful future indeed.

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    KSkon
    51
     1 year ago

    Similar experience.  I grew up in the Bronx and heavily leveraged the bus and subway.  Never had money to take a taxi, and took the Greyhound or Amtrak out of town maybe twice a year. Only a few of my friends' parents had a car, and I rode on it a few times, but I can count the times in both my hands.  That was my childhood.

    Oh, one more tidbit.  My dad's friend was a private taxi owner with a TLC license.  When my family needed a car (say to go on vacation to upstate or needed to pick up a furniture), we literally borrowed his taxi.  I do remember feeling a bit self-conscious when my father and I would pull up at events (say a concert), furniture store or a friend's house, in a NYC taxi, and it wasn't because I hired it there.  All is good though, because I never felt that emberassed because everyone I knew didn't have access to cars either.     

    Then again, being in NYC, we were always reminded of people with better lives with nice cars and enough money to take taxicabs. :)

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    RedANT
    1061 Rider Driver
     1 year ago

    I find freedom in having a car, (I have 4, 2 strictly for work, and 2 for personal use) because it allows me to go where I want, when I want, without having to rely on 3rd parties.  If I want to grab something from the store, I get in the car and go, then get back in and return home.  No playing with an app, waiting for a filthy vehicle to pick me up, waiting at the store for another vehicle to stop  by, and paying multiple fees for it. 

    IMO, self driving vehicles will usher in a new era of technology dependence, and the end of personal freedom.  Regardless, self driving cars are a very long way off, and certainly won't ever take hold during my lifetime.  

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      Peterthebull
      140
       1 year ago

      While I agree with your points on why I would feel "free", I fall in the camp of someone who drives into the city sometimes spending 1 hour each way.  I don't want to do it but i have to, and I do feel trapped.  Then once I am downtown, I gotta do something about the car. I have to stress over where to park.  I first look at street parking, sometimes park little outside the city and take the subway in, and sometimes I pay $30. The car becomes a liability and a huge baggage.  I've even thought about buying a motorcycle but my wife doesn't let me. (she's afraid I will kill myself. probably a sound advice as I am not that coordinated)

      So I don't feel that free anymore when I look at it in this light.

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      scotchyscotchyscotch
      33
       1 year ago

      Do you live in the city or suburbs? I think a lot of this depends on that. People who live in the burbs will take a lot longer to ditch their cars, if they ever do (doubtful).

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    bBerman81
    267 Rider
     1 year ago

    Did you draw that picture? One with the markers of a city bus?

    Pretty baller.  Love it.

    Show Hide  1 Reply
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    kias_revenge
    132 Rider
     1 year ago

    If more people ditched their cars, imagine how much better the parking situation would be in cities.

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    LeeBron117
    67
     1 year ago

    So you are a taxi driver who can't wait to have your job disappear and be taken over by robot taxis? Isn't there some irony there? LOL

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    kmcdonald1
    101
     1 year ago

    Traffic = "Cars are mainly obstacles to other cars." LOL.

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    dancingdiary
    39
     1 year ago

    Where did you enjoy driving more Boston or Chicago? Both such great cities!

    Show Hide  4 Replies
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      Samarov
      OP 1414 Rider
       1 year ago

      Hard to compare. Boston was a lot harder to learn in terms of geography. No straight streets and a lot of one-ways in the opposite direction to what you need. I was in my mid-20s driving there and it seemed like an adventure. I was in my thirties and forties in Chicago and it was more of a means to an end. But as cities go, Boston doesn't hold a candle to Chicago. You can read about all my cabbie experiences in my books: http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/H/bo11074174.html and http://www.curbsidesplendor.com/books/where-to-a-hack-memoir.

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        jbauer
        391 Driver
         1 year ago

        What, hey, I read that book!  You are the author?!    My wife got that for me.

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          Samarov
          OP 1414 Rider
           1 year ago

          Yep, that's me. Thanks for reading!

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        jasongraff
        16
         1 year ago

        Ya, Boston's streets are some of the worst. Duck tours had to shorten their route becuase of Boston's traffic.

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    cheesehead
    512 Driver Rider
     1 year ago  (edited 1 year ago)

    I love that illustration!