A few years ago, I finally broke up with cars. It was a long time coming.
Our relationship used to seem so exciting and practical. Now, it all feels like i was under some insane delusion.
It's not that we didn't have fun. At first. Like most kids who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, I thought of a car as something linked to freedom. It was a freedom I waited years to feel. My father let me practice driving in his car when I got my license at 17, but there was never any question of me driving the family car. Even as an adult, I was never allowed to drive my dad's car.
Married off at 20, as we did in those days, my first ex-husband and I got a car, but there was never any question of it being my car. Even though I drove it more often, the insurance man wouldn't register it as my automobile, "because everyone knows your husband will drive it anyway."
After that first divorce, when I finally did get my very own car, it seemed like a big deal; a good thing. It was an old Volvo, and I was immediately in love. I could take my son (then a toddler) around town more easily, and I could get a job farther away. That also seemed like a positive development.
It was a boyfriend driving it into a post several months later that put the end to the Volvo. It proved to be a stubborn issue to resolve: actually owning the car that I owned.
It wasn't until after the end of my second marriage, several years and cars later, that I was finally able to separate my men and my cars, and it was definitely a good thing. The cars lasted longer, and the insurance rates were lower since I was finally able to convince the industry that I was the owner.
Once I put an end to men driving my cars, ironically, I ended up with a Mitsubishi Lancer, which is a boy magnet, as I discovered. If I was driving on the highway at night, some kid in a Nissan GT-R or a Scion would try to pull a "Fast and Furious" on me. Every time. It was cute, sleek and fun to drive.
My car actually began to turn on me.
But, my pure relationship with my Lancer began to reveal a toxic side. I was freelancing, and working various places on contract. I was commuting farther and farther, just as gas prices were spiking. I would drive through endless bumper to bumper traffic, arriving at work with a tension headache already in place. I was developing bad habits of poor posture. After working at a client's office, I would rush into downtown Toronto for a show I would then review. I was living on coffee and pastries at various pit stops during my day.
I found myself paying a small fortune for parking, and still walking a long way to my destination. I'd rage at bumper to bumper traffic on the highway at midnight on the way home. I was beginning to opt for public transit on bad weather days just to avoid the gut wrenching drive.
Then, my car actually began to turn on me. That last winter together, we had to fight our way through several snow storms. During one night of wet, slushy snowfall, I braked to avoid hitting another car and ended heading up the wrong way down the Queen Elizabeth Way, with a tractor trailer coming straight at me. I managed to turn it around again and head the right way after a few crazy seconds where I was sure I'd end up under the truck's 16 wheels.
Two months later, roughly the same thing happened on a drive through the Niagara area. Once again, my car and I emerged safe and sound, but I finally knew it was over. I still loved my car. I just hated driving.
So, I sold it, making sure it went to a good home. I thought I'd take a break for a few months, maybe a year, and then buy another.
It's been seven years now, and I still don't miss driving. While money was probably the primary consideration other than feeling like my machine was trying to kill me, the benefits have actually been many and surprising.
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Here are a few: I have time to read books now; I see parts of cities I wouldn't see, or couldn't notice as I drove by; I eat better because I can't impulsively run out for fast food; I exercise every day because I can't go anywhere without at least a five minute walk to the bus; I haven't had a tension headache in seven years.
I actually like buses and trains. On public transit, I feel much more like part of the ebb and flow of a city. I realized how isolated you are in your car. In fact, looking down now at cars from my seat on the bus, they seem like an outlandishly wasteful thing. All that energy and materials to get one single person down the road?
I'll admit, if I see a nice black Lancer cruising down the street, I'll probably still take an admiring look. But, I think our love affair is really over for good.
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