People tend to look at me funny – a look somewhere between pity and caught back laughter – when I tell them that I don’t have a driver’s license. It’s as if I’d just admitted to them that I wet the bed. But I was born and raised in New York City where a car is about as useful as a donkey and just as difficult to find parking for. I did have a license once, I got it when I was 16, doin’ that American rite of passage thing, but it expired years ago and there hasn’t been any real impetus to have it renewed. There are plenty of things about growing up in New York City that differ from the rest of the country, the rest of the state, hell, from most of the other boroughs!
The CountryTime ® Lemonade memories of childhood are completely lost on me. The lemonade stands, the rope swing over the crick, catching fireflies; I thought dandelions were flowers until I was a teenager! How lucky was I to be able to bring weeds home to my mom every day! (How lucky was the city whose landscaping I was inadvertently tending.) The “beaches” were where we were warned to “wash off well” or we’d get yeast infections, and we were told not to go barefoot, even while swimming, to avoid hypodermic needles, condoms and other remnants of the Summer of Love 80’s Edition. No-one I knew would lay in the grass and stare up at the stars because a) what stars? and b) laying in doggie-doo is not an urban pastime. Were it not for sleepaway camp, I might have grown up thinking a hike was a long distance – like between our block and the pizzeria we didn’t go to “cuz it’s a hike, yo!”
Speaking of definition differences: in my childhood, the balcony was the fire escape and the roof a terrace. I have no concept of time since here, 20 minutes is 5 minutes unless you’re waiting, and then 5 is 20. The school bus was the subway unless you were rich – then it was car service. A picnic was eating on a stoop, a stoop was the front stairs of a house, a house could be an apartment, but a housing was a beating, and the mall was the West Village.
New York enjoys a geocentricity akin to Israel. Everyone makes their pilgrimage here and everyone wants to claim it as their own, the border being the Hudson and East Rivers. Were you so unfortunate as to be born on the other side of these, in any direction outward, you may as well fess up to sleeping with your cousin (This goes double for New Jersey, and throw in stinky, skanky or tacky for good measure due to the Hatfield/McCoy tradition of the NJ hate which has never been explained to me but which I proudly uphold.) And up to this border is the extent of the geography we can recall off the top of our heads.
The New Yorker once illustrated the mentality of New Yorkers by placing New York City at the forefront of the image and everywhere else in the world off in the horizon somewhere. This is, in fact, the maps we use in our public schools. Therefore, while the average American cannot find Korea on a map, I cannot tell you where Nebraska is…I also don’t care…because I am from New York (which I might be able to find) and it’s not like I’m going to drive there.
I think this is why I have never really felt the need to have a driver’s license. Somehow, growing up in that biodome, I adopted the belief that I wasn’t going to need it anywhere else. That there would always be public transportation, and where there wasn’t, I probably wasn’t going to go anyway. Out of the country, I wouldn’t be allowed to drive, so again, why bother. But now, as I split my time between New York and Montreal, it occurs to me, maybe it would be worth it to get a driver’s license if just to arrive at my destination in “real time”. The trip is about 6 hours by car and 10 by train (that’s 15 hours by train when using the New York Time Code). And perhaps I could use the extra time to figure out the other states that border Canada.