One part of the assignment for the “Enviromental Education” course, which I completed last week, was to point out in which way children and teenager are raised as destined (car) drivers. I don’t want to bore you with my scholarly thoughts on that, but working on it made me once again realize that my upbringing in that regard was obviously rather unusual. My parents weren’t environmental activists who condemned all kinds of motorized transportation or anything. But as long as I can remember, in our family the car was just an ordinary means of transportation. Not some status symbol, not some sanctuary, not something to spend a lot of thought about. Just a means to get from A to B. My mom for instance never had a driver’s license. My dad would never have considered “cleaning and polishing the car” a overly important weekend activity.
Our family home is a walking distance from the city center with supermarket and shops as well as the train station. When we were kids we were never taken to school by car, because my dad had to be at his school (he was a teacher) in the neighbouring town as well and usually left before we did. We walked or took the bike. When we went to the movies as teenagers we took the train into one of the neighbouring towns where there were movie theatres. My dad would never have thought of taking us anywhere by car, if we could get there on our own. My mom never was overly worried about me walking home from the sport team practice in the evenings. They raised us to be rather self-sufficient when it comes to transportation and looking back on it I actually appreciate that. And even though my brothers all own a car by now, they don’t idolize their cars either unlike quite a few guys I know. It’s a means of transportation and they would never take the car to run an errand, if they could also just walk that distance. We’re living in small town after all.
I think this upbringing is part of the reason, why I still have a rather matter-of-fact and unemotional relationship to cars and driving. Of course I got my driver’s license when I turned 18 and of course I loved to be grown-up and drive anywhere on my own. But not for the thrill of just going anywhere in a car by myself. When I started university in a town of the metropolitan area, I continued to live at home and went there by train. Public transportation was really really cheap for university students and money was tight. I never once thought about buying my own car to be able to drive there, even though it would have saved me up to one hour every day. Well, to be honest, of course I thought about it every once in a while, but when I also considered the cost (purchase, maintenance, gas etc) I knew that I didn’t want to spend any of the little savings or income on a car. With all that money I would have had to spend I also could have moved into the student dorm or a small apartment near university. But finances was one of the reasons I choose to stay living at home after all. So in my mind buying a car would have been a total waste of my resources.
This basically continued even after I graduated. I got a job, which was part-time and limited in time. Discount on public transport was one of the job benefits, and a car wouldn’t have saved me that much time each way after all. It’s quite similar with my current job. I would save about 1 hour of transportation time each day, but considering all costs involved I’d have to pay hell of lot more money to get there by car. So I still don’t own a car myself. I can borrow one of my brothers almost every time I need one (for evening or weekend activities, shopping etc) and as long as I continue to live in a walking distance to my family home, I don’t think that will change.
Of course, having to commute via train sucks every once in while, especially during this time of the year, when trains are late and it’s freezing on the platforms. I sometimes hate that I have to rely on certain schedules and can’t be as flexible as I would be with a car. But on the other hand I got so used to that over the years, that it doesn’t bother me that much after all. And ever since I started my life as a public transport commuter I got used to having this hour every morning (and afternoon) where I don’t have to be alert and quite awake yet. Time to read, to listen to music or to just think about some things, to dream, to make plans… unfortunately sometimes also to fret and worry too much. But I actually really enjoy to have that hour to basically just give my mind some rest. Or to let it wander and let me tell you: My mind is a rambler ;-)
And I know it could never wander as much as I want and need it to, while I’m driving a car. Even though I don’t have to pay meticulous attention to every move I make in or with the car (I’ve been driving for 16 years now after all ;-) ), I can’t relax in a driver’s seat as much as I can in a passenger seat on a train.
On the train relaxing comes easily to me. 15 years of training, I guess. Either with a compelling book, which will make everything around me disappear. Or with some music, which will drown out the world around me as well. Or the chance to just let my mind wander. To any place or time or imaginary world I set my mind to. I think I would dearly miss that if I would (have to) take the car instead of the train everyday. From the few times I had to take the car and drove to work (or to any other job I had in this metro area or even back in the 90s to university) I know that I prefer public transport. Even with all it’s downsides (schedules etc.), this regular hour of “me time” is something I’d miss, because I’ve got so accustomed to it. And I actually really like having it. I don’t miss the “personal space” which many people consider the main advantage of a car ride. Not to have to deal with anyone else, not to be too close to a stranger and all that. But sharing space with somebody else – even if it’s a stranger – never actually bothered me. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but basically I really don’t care, because I can perfectly shut that all out. It probably has a lot to do with the 15 years of training ;-)
Of course there are several occasions on which I don’t hesitate taking the car, because sometimes public transport is just not an option. And I sometimes also take it even though public transport might be an option, but I’m just too lazy to use it. But if I would have to choose between driving myself or taking the train, my first impulse will always be choosing the train, where I can just… be. Without responsibilties or obligations. Just Be Me.
My love for travelling on train makes it even so much easier for me to stick to my resolution to not fly when I can also travel in a much more eco-friendly way on the train. I’m taking the the train to Munic today instead of joining Bro1 and his friends, who will fly down ther and will be there twice as fast as I will. After reading the whole long post you might understand why I don’t think the time on the train is wasted. Not wasted at all…