Twenty five years ago, I was working for a Calgary newspaper. I was to interview a fellow who was celebrating his 100th birthday in a community south of Calgary. It had been determined that at that moment he was the oldest Albertan with a driver’s license.
I reached his grandson on the phone, at the community hall where the birthday party was taking place. I asked him to relay to this guy my one question, and to call back with the answer.
Since this fellow would have been driving for as long as there had been automobiles, my question was, of all the cars he had ever driven over the past century, which was his favourite?
I was thinking, was it the Model T, the Stutz Bearcat, the rockin’ T-bird …?
The answer came back. Of all the vehicles he’d ever driven, his favourite was the brand new F-150 he’d bought a few months previously.
It’s hard to convey the sense of let-down I felt at this answer. Not to mention how lame my newspaper story ended up seeming, although the headline “A— is still in the driver’s seat at 100” had a certain punch.
Last month, I had the opportunity to ask G— the same question. G—, who we all know, had just turned 100 in Cranbrook.
G— pondered the question, then declared his all-time favourite car to be the 1973 Mercury Montego he had owned.
Yes! That’s what I’m talking about. Now that’s an answer! And a great car!
It got me thinking about mobility, in the “On The Road” sense, and how wedded we are, certainly in North America, to the automobile.
I speak for myself when I say the automobile is so very important, not just to my lifestyle, but to my life. I accept this willingly.
A car becomes a carapace, and extension of myself. It makes my life easier, and makes it more fulfilling. I don’t deny it. This mobility, this ability to get myself up to speeds of 100 kilometres an hour, or get to my destination in the blink of an eye.
Sometimes, when I’m stressed or upset, driving around aimlessly will calm me down. I get some thinking done. It’s like soothing a colicky baby by taking them for a ride.
Don’t get me wrong: I have lived easily without a car. In great cities with subways or an excellent bus service, and beautiful neighbourhoods and architecture to walk through, I don’t even notice my carless state. Not until I say to myself, ‘Man, I feel like hitting the road and getting out of town!’
We all understand about the fossil fuels, the carbon emissions, the climate change, etc. But we humans seem to have made our choice. We, and our civilization, will rise and fall with the automobile.
To have to give up driving, to have to surrender one’s license because one can no longer operate a car safely, is the official beginning of a new stage of life, for better or for worse. I’ve known many, some who have voluntarily made the decision to end their driving lives, and others who have had the decision made for them. It’s tough.
My turn will come. I’m already wondering: How will I react? With resignation and acceptance? Or with kicking and screaming: “No, take anything else but my driver’s license! Anything but my ‘On The Road’ mobility!”
G— is still driving. And power to him, I say.
* * *
On the other hand. By way of contrast…
Recently, we celebrated GoByBike Week in B.C., and everywhere in Cranbrook folks eschewed the internal combustion engine and took to the velo.
While I did not bike to work as much as I would have liked, I did go for a 30 kilometre bike ride with C—, as part of Team Cranbrook Food Bank. I went along the Isadore Canyon Trail, and as ever, I marvelled at the sense of flight and liberation the bicycle affords its rider.
It’s a different kind of mobility than the automobile — it’s more like flying. You find yourself in a more intimate relationship with the elements around you, and the road beneath you. The sense of balance and speed you suddenly possess is as marvellous as that very first time your parent put you on a bicycle and pushed you away. I remember my first time — it felt like a miracle, and still does, though I’m less aware of it now. You know what they say about riding a bike — you never forget (or is that elephants?).
I spent one winter riding to work on a bike. It meant mounting up before daylight and setting out in freezing temperatures. I loved it (although coming home, uphill in the cold afternoon was a bit of a drag).
The technology that goes into the bicycle is a marvel in its own right. As simple a machine as has ever been created, yet at the same time, a masterpiece of engineering.
A bicycle is the ultimate transportation. It takes our physical effort and transforms it into great power. It’s the best low impact cardio-vascular workout — although at the end of 30 kilometres on the Isadore Canyon Trail, I did feel the end of my youth was in sight. But I wasn’t too tired, because I was two-tired.
Surely, we will be riding bicycles on this planet long after the apocalypse.
I’d like to thank all the organizers of GoByBike Week for their efforts, and all who participated. It seemed like a two-wheeled holiday.
* By the way, my all-time favourite car in my short life has been my ‘79 Chevrolet Impala. I like the long stylin’ gas guzzlers. My favourite bicycle is my Norco Bush Pilot. Purchased from Gerrick’s in Cranbrook.
Pictured below: The author during GoByBike Week. Taking a break from all that high-flying on the Isador Canyon Trail. (Photo by Christina Blaskovich)