The Red Cars of early Southern California would still be rolling today if more people felt like I do about driving — and yet the easiest way to find me is to check my front seat.
Occasionally, I am even gripped with longing for the New York City subway. I didn’t relish too many other things about my two years in Queens, but I never missed having a car.
Yeah, I know.
That’s nigh on to heresy in these parts, but there you are. This basic distaste of being behind the wheel was exacerbated by my children hitting the age where they require endless chauffeuring. Not just one or two environmentally sound trips a day. Oh, no.
We needed to go cross-town to new friends’ houses and back again, to the basketball courts, the gym, the movies and then the pizza place, and then the video store and then the mall and then and then.
To and from, back and forth, times two children. I feel like I should have a pit crew waiting in my driveway as I raced home just long enough to unload one group of kids and pick up another.
It is clearly Nature’s way of getting parents ready to let their teenagers take the wheel. At first, I wanted to raise the driving age to 21. Soon I was lobbying to drop it to 14.
Meanwhile, my aversion to the California state hobby has led me to reconsider the local train system. I have had pretty good luck with my train travel, but I have recently heard troubling tales of trains arriving and leaving half an hour earlier than scheduled. I began taking trains when I was forced to live in the wilds of Los Angeles and later when pressed to return there to visit friends.
The difference between taking the train and driving myself was that when I drove, I arrived at my destination with clenched teeth, clammy hands and every map I owned spread out in the front seat.
The friend I was visiting greeted me, relaxed and gracious. When I took the train, my friend would arrive to pick me up with clenched teeth and clammy hands, and I greeted her, relaxed and gracious.
Still, the quintessential difference between a land where rapid transit is king and one where it is an afterthought can be seen in the comparison of California train stations with New York’s Grand Central. Los Angeles’ main terminal is cool, with its long, marble-floored hallways, immense ceilings and carved moldings.
But unlike the constant bustle of Grand Central – a main artery of transportation for the East Cost – L.A. has a resonant emptiness that echoes its bygone pre-auto heyday.
We do have some terrifically convenient stations now from Solana Beach to Oceanside, but I can’t quite let go of my original vision that my trip should be something like riding the Orient Express. Instead, my last trip included a dozen teen-agers who never sat down or spoke below a shout from Fullerton to L.A. Coming home, it was a class field trip. I kept wishing the pilot would tell them to fasten their seat belts.
Meanwhile, unless the train begins to stop outside your house, parents remain chauffeur extraordinaire, standing ready to leave every 15 minutes to everywhere. It’s good they sell food at the gas stations.
Jean Gillette is a freelance writer who remains a lousy, grumpy driver. Contact her at [email protected].