Wednesday, April 18, 2012

My manhood at stake or when to learn to drive a car

The only vehicle I am lawfully licensed to operate (and usually whilst drunk)

I consider myself to be a fairly average person. My income, education, age, height, weight and all these other various vital statistics almost always fall right in the middle somewhere. I'm married, I have two kids. I pay a mortgage every month. I work in an office crunching numbers and writing reports. All very average, ordinary stuff. There is however one thing which places me in a very, very small statistic in North America.

I don't drive a car.

It's not that I don't own a car. In fact I do (by marriage anyway). But I am not licensed nor trained to operate this vehicle. My wife drives the car. My children often ask me why I don't drive a car, and this is what I tell them:
"Because I never learned how." "Why?" they ask.
"Well kids, I grew up in a household that did not own a car. The prospect of owning a car seemed distant - unfathomable even. The cost of the lessons, licensing paperwork and driver test: an unnecessary waste of beer and cigarette money." (Okay I didn't really say all that to my kids - but I probably will someday) 

So here I am. A grown man of almost 40 who has only ever known the passenger seat; driven about the town much like his own children. The larger question is should I be concerned about this? Increasingly, I'm afraid the answer is becoming more and more a resounding 'yes'. I will give an example of my plight.

I have participated in the Toronto Underground Market on a few occasions. This market takes place in the Don Valley - a beautiful place for which no bus or subway goes. The amount of kit that was required to prep and serve food to the masses is not something you can throw in a rucksack. Because of this, my entire family was required to come down into the valley every time I needed to do a sample audition or prep or even just drop something off at the facility.

Ah, to drive. What a freedom; to be able to throw lots of heavy things into a car and drive them where one wishes. To most people, this is simply something that they take for granted. It is something that I think I need to change. I need to give my wife a break for starters. Maybe she would like to have that second glass of wine next time we're out (shameful admission: I am free to get plonked whenever I like because I never have to drive).

The other reason is that I want to get into the restaurant business. To be self-employed requires a car. It's that simple of an equation.  

Lastly, there is the whole masculine element. Whenever I tell people I don't drive and that my wife does indeed drive, I almost always get this stifled giggle of bafflement. "How eccentric," they think. There is an element to society that feels a man needs to drive a car to be, well, to be a 'man'. You don't have to own a car; as long as you can operate one. Rentals are always an option. Well, what about the people who live in the city with no parking? Plenty of them are on the subway everyday. Plenty of downtowners and urban hipsters have their cool retro cruiser bikes etc, but they're usually single, young and/or students, artists and so on. But what about a married man with children? How many of those do you know that don't drive? I willing to bet its none. For some reasons, women get a pass on this. I know plenty of married women who don't drive. Sure, it's quaint and a bit anachronistic that this is somehow less strange than a married man who cannot drive, yet the point stands. This overarching, gender-specific expectation that I be licensed to operate a motor vehicle because I am a husband and father is almost enough for me to rise to the challenge and never learn to drive (most petulant of me).

Marco Pierre White, bad-ass chef; can't drive a  car

Either way, given the nature of this blog, it is probably of some interest why this topic is even relevant. Well, I know of one other man who does not drive and his lack of driving makes him by all means, even more interesting and relatable to me. The Michelin starred chef, Marco Pierre White, according to current accounts, has never had a drivers license. One of the best chefs in the world, a father, a husband (multiple times), and all around bad-ass cool guy? Yes. Driver? No. He has a hired driver named Mr. Ishii; a small, unassuming Japanese gentleman who wordlessly and diligently drives Chef White through both town and country. Often it is Mr. Ishii's duty to transport the Chef and his rifle into the wilderness to shoot roe deer. What a strange vision that must be.

Mr. Ishii checking his blind spot

Chef White with his driver Mr. Ishii

This oft overlooked fact about Chef White helps me cope with my own little bit of shame. I'm not sure where he stands at the moment on this, always the private man, perhaps he has gotten around to learning to drive. However, he was recently filmed driving Anthony Bourdin around the English countryside, but admitted to the camera that he was not licensed to drive his Rangerover. So perhaps he remains like me - a stranger to this most common of abilities and privileges. This is not to say that I will not learn to drive. My goal is to get my license before age 40. Time is ticking (and my wife's patience is running out). 

...then again, maybe I'll push the deadline to 45.

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