I passed my driving test in December 2008. Once I had my licence I drove precisely 0 miles. I didn’t have a car, or any insurance to drive anyone else’s car. There was some talk of me perhaps driving in Paris last year, but thankfully it never happened – French traffic terrified me, and the public transport was so good that there was no need.
However, that cannot be said about the USA. I have taken the train here, to Chicago and back, and it was perfectly fine. The outward train was late, as I had been warned it would be, but ticket-holders had reserved seats and no mad drunk people tried to persuade me to join their cult.
I haven’t taken the bus, but Edith did one time when the car wasn’t available (more on that soon). Actually, she tried to, but failed. The bus driver drove up to the stop where four or five people were waiting, looked at them, and drove off without stopping. I assume that this isn’t bus company policy, but it is still discouraging.
At any rate, public transport wasn’t a very viable option for a lot of my journeys. There was the weekend we spent camping on a horse farm in a town called Peru, when we had to arrive on Thursday so Edith could help set up but then I had to drive home to babysit on Friday morning, and drive back. That was my first long journey on my own and it went well, apart from a five-minute detour when I took the wrong exit on the highway and found myself going south instead of north. Luckily American roads are designed for idiots like me!
I also drove myself to two prisons, and up to Michigan to speak to a psychologist and a former inmate. One of the prisons was a four-hour drive away; I did the whole thing in one day and arrived home exhausted. The other was slightly closer but my appointment was at 9am so I drove to a friend’s house and stayed there overnight before rising before dawn to get back on the road for two more hours. The main excitement on that trip was discovering that the satnav believed I wanted to go to a small dirt track in the middle of a cornfield. Thankfully the woman who answered the phone at the prison had dealt with exactly that issue several times and gave me a different address to feed to the Garmin machine.
I also did a lot of driving with other people in the car. On a totally fruitless seven-hour trip to Wisconsin to visit a prison (I had spent weeks arranging the visit, and then the warden woke up on the wrong side of the bed and revoked my approval while I was in the car park) with my friend Bob, I drove a chunk of the way back in Bob’s large, automatic minivan. Weirdly I felt less in control of the car than in Edith’s little manual; perhaps changing gears has some kind of psychological reassurance for me.
I also drove almost all the way to Indianapolis, and all the way back. I’ve done rather less driving in town, but even so I drove two girls aged 10 and 6 around when I was babysitting them, and drove into town to get to the library a few times. It’s a little more alarming when people are turning unexpectedly and I still haven’t quite understood the concept of being able to turn right on a red light.
I counted up the number of miles I drove alone, and it’s at least 1000. Add to that the hundreds of miles I drove with someone else in the car, and I have definitely driven more in two months than I ever drove in the years before – and probably I won’t drive again for at least another year!