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a man slumped on his desk, from 'The Sleep of Reason Produces



Archive for January 23rd, 2018


i am a passenger and i ride and i ride

I’m 48 years old now, and I’ve never learnt to drive. When I was 17, on a deserted street with big ditches either side, my dad and I discovered that I needed new glasses more badly than I needed to learn driving right then.And since then, the time has never seemed right. Brief windows of driving-opportunity have opened and closed around me.

For most of my twenties, I think the collective income of all my housemates could not have paid for a car, and besides, in London, where would we put it? In the sink with the dirty dishes? The move to California was the obvious opportunity. I figured somehow that it would be easier here, and that my people’s collective knowledge of stick shift might give me a head start.

My first American driving instructor simply didn’t believe someone as old as me could not drive. If you’ve ever seen Richard Herring’s Driving Instructor sketch, it was the same, but with a 70 year old J.D. “Boss” Hogg. “Don’t you even know how to drive?

I suppose he thought that if he insisted I drive back from the car-lot, I’d finally snap out of my charade. He held himself in horror as I immersed myself in the role of someone who could not drive — only now I was improvising the not-driving extremely quickly and at random things within sight of the El Camino freeway. I think I was his cue to retire.

After that, I even avoided driving videogames. In 2010, I looked up a San Francisco driving school that specialized in fearful, phobic or just unnaturally old non-drivers. This instructor was much nicer, and would tell me inspiring stories of previous incompetents who had finally got it together under his guidance.

With his careful stewardship, I failed three times, the last time (I swear this is true) before I’d even pulled out of the DMV. The Californian provisional license actually expires if you fail three times, as if you were playing Donkey Kong or something.

Really, the only thing all this car-learning got me was enough to understand that car-driving is madly dangerous,  barely within the capabilities of a baseline human to master. I’d sit in the passenger seat and watch the driver, like Ripley and the marines watched Bishop play the knife game.

At some point, I gave up my dreams of buying a pickup truck and claw back all rideshare debt I’d built up. Instead, I’d tell people that I’d chosen never to learn to drive. Basically, I said, at fifteen I’d anticipated self-driving cars and was just a bit out on the timing. I don’t think I really planned that far ahead — though I did believe as a child that tooth decay would soon be a solved problem, and declined to listen to a bunch of future unemployed doctors tell me to waste years of my life flossing obsolescent teeth. But I  convinced myself of this rationalisation when autonomous vehicles began to be a thing. After that DARPA Grand Challenge footage, I knew I was never going to face my demons. I’d be carried to the doors of heaven by obedient robots.

I’m not entirely rejecting the idea I could learn one day. It feels kind of wantonly ignorant to defy learning to drive. Plus, I’m learning the ukulele, and it can’t be more difficult than that, right? Actually some of my new skills, like managing a chord change while not dropping the instrument, might even be transferable into the motoring context.

But mostly I’m getting pretty good at just accepting my fate, and taking a lot of cabs. Also, I found out on one of those shifty-looking, FDA-unapproved DNA analysis sites, that I actually have a gene which is associated with, scientifically, not being able to get it together in any physical activity more complicated than hopscotch. So if the carbots doesn’t pan out, maybe CRISPR will get me there, faster.




petit disclaimer:
My employer has enough opinions of its own, without having to have mine too.