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Old 08-19-2003, 03:36 AM
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Mein Auto:
Talking Hey NYC residents... Can you drive?


Licensed to Drive? Fuhgeddaboutit!
Most New Yorkers Do Without Wheels By Michael Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 19, 2003; Page A01

NEW YORK -- As America has long suspected, no one here can drive.

Lawyers, doctors, day laborers, actors, psychotherapists: New York City has more able-bodied, non-licensed, car-phobic adults than anywhere in the United States. Seventy-three percent of Virginians have a license to drive. Sixty-nine percent in Maryland can get behind the wheel of a car. More than half of the District's residents are licensed drivers.

In this city, approximately 25 percent of the inhabitants possess a driver's license. (How many of that select club actually can drive is another matter.) Caroline Hwang, 33, a novelist and editor, is one of New York's carless millions. She lives in Manhattan and walks, hails cabs, uses her subway card. She packs her beach towel and takes the Long Island Rail Road to the Atlantic Ocean beaches and bums a ride when friends insist on one of those bucolic weddings north of the Bronx. As a teenager in Wisconsin she had a license, but that seems so yesterday.

"I asked my boyfriend recently if I could sit in the driver's seat. I couldn't remember which was the accelerator and which was the brake," she recalled. "I feel like New York City is set up for people like me."

Bill Bastone runs TheSmokingGun.com, a whimsical investigative Web site. He grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens, a couple of blocks from the elevated No. 7 train, which rolls right into Manhattan. He went to New York University and worked for the Village Voice. He neglected to take driver's education in high school, and that was destiny. He is 42 and doesn't have a learner's permit.

"I don't remember dreams, as a rule, but the only ones I do recall are about out-of-control auto wrecks," Bastone said. "So maybe I need to sit down and talk to someone about this."

Or maybe this car-and-license thing is more proof that New York floats somewhere off the East Coast. For most Americans, the car -- the Mustang, the Bronco -- packs as much iconic wallop as a horse for John Wayne. But not here -- in New York, you are defined by the IND, BMT or the IRT trains. When electricity failed last week, those carless commuters were left with only foot-power.

New Yorkers plan work and play around their inability to drive. They vacation on Fire Island, because no cars are allowed. They tend to travel east to London, Paris or any other European city with a good subway system instead of heading west, say, to Utah or Wyoming or Nevada, all of which have long highways and no Yellow Taxis.

Ask Jimmy Breslin, this city's most famous newspaper columnist, why he doesn't drive. The 74-year-old Newsday writer begins: "I started out at a house on 101st Avenue in Queens and right there the Q-8 bus stopped. The A-train was over at Liberty Avenue. I mean, a car? There was no need. The transportation was wondrous.

"Besides," he added, "I worked the night shift at the Long Island Press, and I needed to save my extra [cash] for beer."

SEIU Local 32 BJ went looking recently for a few good labor organizers to unionize custodians in the wilds of New Jersey and Long Island. All refused.

"They simply don't drive," noted Richard Schrader, a union consultant. "I had one guy, a great prospect, but when he gets off the bus in Glen Cove, where's he going?"

Driving in New York is not natural. Periodically, the men and women at the city Department of Transportation measure the average speed of a car traveling across midtown, which they invariably find moving at the rate of a Galapagos tortoise. Then there are other problems: alternate side of the street parking, rapacious meter maids, $100 parking tickets, exorbitant insurance rates, incomprehensible and contradictory highway signs and the fact that no car in New York ever stays in its lane.

"It's bad enough to sit in the back of a taxi and watch," Bastone notes. "Who wants to be part of that?"

Even romance bends to a license-less rhythm. Chris Policano, 42, serves as chief spokesman for the City Council. A decade or so back, he asked his beloved to marry him. She said yes, but set a condition: He must obtain his driver's license.

"I'd had learner's permits, many, many permits," Policano recalls. "But scheduling the road test was so daunting. There was that parallel parking thing."

As it turned out, Policano took his road test along the Brooklyn docks in a blizzard. The test officer wanted to get home and said to skip the parking. So Policano is a licensed driver. But that fact hasn't transformed his life. "You know," he said, "it's a lot easier to say: 'Taxi!' "

Jeri Drucker grew up on Manhattan's Upper West Side, a regional hot spot for the driving-challenged. She is planning her son's wedding on the far side of the Delaware Water Gap. It's a logistical nightmare. Her sisters don't drive, nor do her adult nieces or her uncle. Her stepsister drove in Los Angeles once, but she moved back to New York and gave that up.

Drucker plans to rent something akin to a school bus to haul her family out there.

"My father had a license," Drucker said, "but that was a long, long time ago, and he never drove. Maybe this is inherited?"

In this unlicensed wilderness, the city's hundreds of auto schools hang shingles like lanterns for the auto-phobic. As Ira, an instructor at the Bensonhurst Driving School, said of himself: "I'm not a teacher, I'm a psychotherapist."

There is the man who has had learner's permits for 17 years and comes in each April for a lesson or two before deciding he can't handle it, and disappears. And there are legions of 58-year-old accountants and 62-year-old lawyers who see retirement approaching and start thinking Boca Raton and Tucson, if only they could drive."

We have 75- and 80-year-old students," said Wilma Valenzuela of the Professional Driving School on East 23rd Street in Manhattan. "They always ask: 'Do I drive right away?' I say: 'Not if you haven't driven before, you don't!' "

Some drivers come in for late spring tuneups. They have licenses but have never used them and now need to get to the Hamptons. "We take them to a quiet street, sip a cup of tea and let them ease into it," said Elizabeth Lim of the Grand Prix Driving School.

All of which is very nice. But as this is New York, a tincture of belligerence can sneak into conversations with the license-less. As in, "Why should I drive?"

M.P. Dunleavey, an editor and Manhattan native, recalls relatives poking fun at her for being thirty-something and not having a license. "I didn't think it was funny," she said. "There was something gauche about having a car. It was so -- suburban."

Joe Dunlap, 34, has spiraled through the city as a bike messenger, traveled the world and now is studying to get his master's degree in education. Someday, maybe, he'll get a license.

"If I get bored and I'm like 50," he said. "I just might do it."

Stranger things have happened in New York.

Last edited by TD; 08-19-2003 at 03:42 AM.
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Old 08-19-2003, 05:02 AM
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JST JST is offline
A sudden sense of liberty
Location: U of ///M
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Aye, we used to run into people from "the City" at U of Mich. that had no driver's licenses, despite being college age. You cannot imagine the degree of dripping contempt that such folk were held in by people from Detroit, Michigan. Actually, you probably can.
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Old 08-19-2003, 05:32 AM
ff ff is offline
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I think my brother would fit in pretty well in NY. He's head-over-heels in love with the city. He owns a car, but only puts on about 2000 miles a year. In other words, the perfect candidate for public transportation.

Me? I'd only consider public transport if I could at least drive some of the way to work. Kind of defeats some of the purpose, but I need to do it. It's in my blood.
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Old 08-19-2003, 05:55 AM
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·clyde· ·clyde· is offline
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Originally Posted by ff
Me? I'd only consider public transport if I could at least drive some of the way to work. Kind of defeats some of the purpose, but I need to do it. It's in my blood.
I can't stand the fact that I take the subway, but I really have something against paying obscene amounts for parking too. In my case the choice is almost $300/mo to park downtown or take advantage of the free subway farecards that my agency gives me. There are less expensive garages and lots that are further away, but they still aren't cheap and come with other drawbacks.
OH NOES!!!!!1 MY CAR HAS T3H UND3R5T33R5555!!!!!!1oneone!!!!11

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What are you gonna do?
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Old 08-19-2003, 06:38 AM
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glaws glaws is offline
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Just one more argument against living in a human ant-hill. I dont have to think "It's 10 o'clock, I wonder where my car is". I can be out of town and on the open road in 20 minutes. I can look out my window and see green, growing things. Etc, Etc. AND (waving fat fingers in the air) Texas has it's own power grid not connected to the rest of the US!!

A friend will allways try to help you up when you fall. If I can't get you up: Hell, I'll just lie down with you.
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Old 08-19-2003, 08:09 AM
eugeneDC/TX eugeneDC/TX is offline
sometimes i wish for an x
Location: houston, tx
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i lived in dc about 2 months with my car before going back to tx, i gotta say, i loved that in dc my car was more fun than function. granted if i was going to stay in dc, i probably wouldnt have bought the car... i hate that i have to drive here in houston, sometimes a quick hop on the metro/subway is a lot easier than getting in the car and dealing with all the maniacs on the road. (although we are getting a limited light rail system here in houston)
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Old 08-19-2003, 08:10 AM
eugeneDC/TX eugeneDC/TX is offline
sometimes i wish for an x
Location: houston, tx
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Originally Posted by glaws
Texas has it's own power grid not connected to the rest of the US!!
that might've been the most amusing thing for me to see during the blackout coverage. the three power grids... texas had its own. i laughed...
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Old 08-19-2003, 08:17 AM
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The Roadstergal The Roadstergal is offline
Any ride will do
Location: Yay area, CA
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That was pretty much me until I moved to Seattle. Chicago has a great public transit system, and a bike path that goes from the city to the northern suburbs. No license. Philly has an OK public transit system, but since the only place to go if you're in Bryn Mawr is into downtown Philly, I didn't notice. I could bike between Bryn Mawr and Haverford and take the bus to the airport, and that was about it. The Bay Area has bike lanes on busy streets and BART; I biked almost everywhere, and took BART the rest of the way.

Then I moved here, and public transit is sporadic and the only bus from Bellevue to Seattle takes forever... so I got my license. At 25.
"This is a revolution, dammit! We're going to have to offend SOMEbody!"
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