Dr. My Roommate and I went for a walk last night: the tea shop, and then Fiesta Farms (which was closed), and since Fiesta was closed, the big Loblaws at Christie and Dupont. I wanted the groceries; she wanted the walk, and maybe some yogourt while we were up.
I don't remember how we got onto the topic of why we don't drive.
Neither of us do. We both can
; we both have held driver's licences in the past, although for me it's the deep and distant past: I haven't been behind the wheel of a car since I was 18. The roommate bikes, and I walk.
She had a reason for why she didn't drive, a fairly neat and clearly articulated one which has nothing to do with the way bike lanes, cars, cyclist and driver behaviour on the roads, safety, and the whole general culture war between bikes and cars, downtown and uptown, is politically exploding in Toronto this month, after the Public Works Committee of municipal council recommended that the year-old bike lanes on Jarvis be removed.
My reasons? I had to stop for a second (on the other side of a stoplight, next to the big, leafy hedge at Bathurst and Wells, which nudged against my shoulder) and unearth it. Yes, there are the environmental benefits, the health benefits, the fiscal benefits of choosing not to drive, but those are really the bullshit on top. If I really wanted
to drive a car, I would, I'm sure, have an equal list of benefits to doing so. There is something deep inside me that just finds the act inimical to my personal nature, and so no matter what the drawbacks, I'll put it aside and structure my life -- downtown rents, travel times, occasionally missing get-togethers in the far suburbs or Hamilton -- around that lack of desire for cars.
What it is (I said, after starting to walk again, reaching up to brush low-hanging maple leaves, get a handful of the humid, muggy breeze) is that I dislike the disconnection that comes with doing your travelling in a car. When you are in a car, you have a skin of metal between you and everything else. You control the temperature of the air, the sounds you hear, the tactile input. You don't have a chance to see things, so much, because if you're being anything like a good driver, your eyes are on the road. It can be an inherently wagons-circled experience: moving on your way in a bubble. In a car, the world goes by.
On your feet, you move through the world, and in it. You smell the air. You hear insects, and traffic, and wind, and other people's snippets of conversation. You touch and are touched by plants; pet other people's dogs in the park; jostle and bump and shake hands. You stop places, read signs, look in windows, study the sky. You linger. You engage.
This morning, I read a post from one of my favourite Torontostuff bloggers, Cityslikr
, about being at home in the city
What struck me most about these conversations, though, was how in touch with their surroundings the folks were who spent their time hunting and fishing. At home in their environment, knowing everything there was to know about every hill they climbed, every point they positioned themselves at while tracking their quarry.
It all got me to thinking and wondering if those of us big city dwellers could ever attain such equanimity with where we live.
The other reason I don't drive is because of a certain idiosyncratic little fear.
I get afraid, I think, that when you spend too much time in spaces that are defined by hard borders, which you control, which are all about you
and where you are not simply a component, equal to all others, of that bigger, more-encompassing space? That your head and your heart start to think that way too. That you withdraw a little from an openness to random experiences -- to the thought that you may well get rained on, or told by a drunk-or-just-weird guy on the sidewalk that you are totally awesome
-- and a sense of community, both social and geographical. You will not have stories about your places. You are not at home.
This could be true. This could be true just personally for me. This could be a delicately crafted pile of steaming bullshit. Who's to say? For you it might be nothing, or more of my trademark flakery -- and that's cool, because we're different people. For me, it's like breathing.
I have lived in this neighbourhood a year next week, and I know its byways. I move through it like a needle through soft fabric. I can tell you stories about this tree, or the Most Metal Garage in All Toronto (south of Bloor, alleyway around Lippincott or thereabouts), or the Door to Nowhere, whose function we do not understand, but the pondering of which is really, really entertaining. I know where all the little parks are, and the fruit trees, the cheap hardware stores, the secret bar patios. I know my neighbours. I know when the tiger lilies bloom. My fingerprints are all over this place now. Its fingerprints are all over me.
And maybe that's the first step to the thought Cityslikr's positing: Cities are our homes. Instead of fighting that idea, we need to embrace it and figure out the best ways to make our home, well, livable. Dare I say, desirable? For everyone who chooses to put down stakes here and not just those who can afford it.
I think about how to do that a lot. Don't talk about it so much lately, not in this venue, but it's going on up there. And some of that drive to the livable and desirable comes from civic programs, funding allotments, infrastructure initiatives; but some of that comes from us
. Some of that is cultivating a personal and very individual capacity to open yourself to whatever the city will throw your way; to giving it space to leave fingerprints all over your head and heart, and not just trying to leave yours on it. Relationships are two-way things. Your interaction with the place you live in, if it is to be truly a home, is no less a relationship than a marriage. You can't keep a marriage going on metal walls, and controlled sound systems, and climate control.
I have no water-proof, bee-proof, age-proof idea on how to do this. Like I said, you're you and I'm me, and what works for one person is pretty much guaranteed to not work for another, and that's just how things are. But I do have a good starting point:
Take a walk. Take a couple, long and meandering, with no particular destination in mind, or no real attachment to how you get there. Engage with the things you find along the way. Touch things, and smell. Linger.
See how you feel about it.
It was a good walk, last night. I got home, and slept well after.