Most of us fortunate to be part of the affluent Western world take the act of driving a vehicle for granted. The independence brought by being in the drivers seat is generally unspoken and blanketed by the layers of the very real and conscious logistics related stuff: purpose, traffic conditions, time limits, car repairs, kids tantrums, toll costs, car parking and more.
So what happens when the ability to drive is no longer or has never been available to you?
Our cars are not just functional. They are objects of beauty for some. Collectible valuables for others (often seen as status symbols) and they provide the mechanism to indulge in adrenalin fuelled sports.
My driving career began at the age of 12 on my Aunty’s farm. My Dad and three younger siblings were farm sitting when one morning after breakfast Dad threw me the keys to the family Ford Falcon. “Pick me up in the first paddock at midday “, he said as he left me choking on my Weetbix ™. My previous driving experience was a Dad lesson in an antique pick up a year earlier on another Aunty’s farm and I was none the driving wiser for it. With my 8 year old brother supervising and a few duco scratches from a barbed wire fence interaction after performing my first U-turn I arrived sweaty palmed and breathless to collect Dad for lunch.
At 18 I scraped in the attainment of my Driving License much to the surprise of Dad. I ‘putt putted’ around in my 1964 Volkswagen Beetle, soon laying Dad’s fears to rest and became an adequate and eventually competent driver. Despite a side mirror flying off on a country highway, constant dimming of headlights when simultaneously using the indicators and an engine timing situation that surely met if not exceeded the EPA noise limits, my enthusiasm for driving never waned.
I soon became the chauffeur to three offspring and their friends (the best means to communicate with teenagers is when they are trapped). I happily steered my girlfriends around fun filled weekends away and mine was the car pooling vehicle of choice for dinners or concerts . Driving a manual car for many years I totally owned the hand brake start, admittedly with less trepidation once I experienced hill assist technology.
Gaz has always worked in the car industry so I have been lucky enough to drive many new cars over the last 20 odd years and probably became a little blasé about having a transportation device that was always shiny and fresh. It was certainly incremental to my joy of driving.
Alas the insidious intrusion of LGMD into this part of my life began in my early forties and my halcyon days of self driving were gearing down. As the muscles in my butt and hips began wasting the ability to lift my feet up when seated became more difficult and inability to push in a clutch became too dangerous to ignore. Not even advanced power steering technology could hide the trouble I had with reversing from a car park as my arms began weakening. Steering a corner whilst lifting the left thigh up with my right hand to engage the clutch was not a cool move. So out went manual driving. A skill I did enjoy and took a small amount of pride in, in this era of automatic transmissions.
This was frustrating at the time and I had a little inner foot stamp/dummy spit but I could continue driving an auto – which I did. As my right leg is stronger I could transfer from the brake to accelerator with minimum effort. Keeping my heel on the floor I transferred between the pedals with a smooth slide and then executed a neat ankle pivot to adjust pedal pressure – almost seated dance moves. Simultaneously I was having increasing difficulty rising from a lower (normal height) seat and as normal car seats can be quite low I drove our higher base Subaru Forester and Subaru XV, to which I would later add a cushion for height.
As my condition worsened these adaptations became dangerous and uncomfortable. I would eventually carry a rollator (walker) in the boot and have friends help me out of my car at the destination.
It was time to call it quits. Quits to spontaneously feeling inspired to get some ingredients and make something delicious for the family that day. Quits to picking up my Mum or Mum in law to go out for lunch. Quits to working and volunteering out of the house on the same basis as previously. Quits to popping in to see family and friends. Quits to solo visits to regional Victoria to stay with family or solitary day trips to the beach or the hills and to many other simple uses of the car.
This might make parking a little difficult but I am handicap-tain of my own ship again
Of course I‘ve adapted and jumped back into the drivers seat of autonomy with the purchase and modification of a KIA Carnival (post coming soon). Along with the help of friends, family and carers, and a solid dose of introspection. But I can’t deny that I still miss the freedom that I once took for granted.
I understand that there are those who have never had the desire to get behind the wheel and there are those who have never had the chance. But so much of life is about perspective and from mine driving was a ‘thing’ for 30 years and the loss of that while not tragic, has been significant, and I am truly grateful for the experiences, the conversations, and the service I could be a part of while in the drivers seat.
If you still drive –appreciate it.
If you can’t – I get it.
And let’s always remember how lucky we are to consider such first world advantages as being a right, rather than a privilege.
See you on the road.