Sunday Rant: Transportation Woes

I'm not one of those people who thinks all cars should immediately be wiped off the face of the earth. I grew up in California. We don't really do not driving. I got my driver's license on my 16th birthday and spent the next two years commuting for 90 minutes a day in a little two-door Honda. So I totally understand the need for a car, especially if you have children, or a job in the middle of nowhere, or you want to be able to buy more than two bottles of wine at a time and don't have Schwarzenegger-strength arms. But here in Oxford, I don't drive. I'm lucky enough to live all of half a mile from my place of work, and about fifty yards from my local pub. Oxford is a small city. You can walk from one end to the other accidentally just by taking a casual evening stroll.

And it's great to feel smug! I just love being smug. I am smug all the time about something. Sometimes I'm smug about little things, like the fact that I eat a lot of salad. But mostly I am smug about the fact that I don't own a car. And therefore I AM HELPING TO SAVE THE PLANET. Or something.

Except that every time I have to go anywhere that isn't Oxford, I'm envious of all the folks who don't have to spend a day and their life savings to get places. A typical train journey to London, for instance, involves jamming yourself into a carriage so tightly packed that I'm pretty sure sardines would find it roomy and sitting miserably in the vestibule half-hoping that the man next to you downing cans of Carling might, after his fourth or fifth of the morning, offer you one. A typical train journey to anywhere else involves a £70 return fare to Wopping-Under-Bottom, which is nowhere near where you actually need to go but apparently the "most convenient station", followed by a 65 minute wait at the platform while Bob-the-only-taxi-driver-within-a 50-mile-radius finishes his cup of tea.

You probably think I'm being hyperbolic, but I'm not. I have honestly phoned a taxi driver who told me, extremely pleasantly, that he was happy to come pick me up from the village green, only the kettle had just boiled and he had some nice biscuits in the cupboard so I didn't mind waiting, did I?

No, I didn't mind waiting. Nor did I mind paying the equivalent of a year's tuition at Oxbridge for the pleasure of riding in the only taxi within a 50 mile radius, because I AM SMUG; I do not own a car.

So yes. I get why people have cars. I even keep thinking that when I'm grown-up enough (it'll happen any day now, honest), I'll probably buy one too, and then find something else to be smug about, like the fact that I feed my children eggs from our own chickens (regardless of the fact that I'm terrified of chickens - that's dedication to the cause!) and read them long articles from the Guardian weekend magazine at bedtime. Oh yes, people with cars can be righteous, too.

But, listen. I'm not grown-up enough to own a car, and I'm idealistic enough to still want to put up with the woes of public transport because I think it will actually make a difference. And if I am on my bicycle, and you are one of those angry, aggressive drivers who seems to resent the presence of anything else with wheels being in or around your space (your space being defined, of course, as everything in your line of sight - road, pavement, houses, trees, bike lanes), I'm going to blame the car. Because I'd like to assume that you are a nice person, even if you are not behaving like one.

It's like this one time that I was crossing the street, and a driver who I can only assume was on his way to save someone's life made a right turn after the light had turned red. He sped right through the pedestrian crossing, nearly knocking down a large, lumbering chap in the process. The large lumbering chap, surprised and, I assume, a little shaken, gave the car a hearty thump on its way past.

Maybe he shouldn't have done this - he hadn't been hit, after all, and it did reek of misguided aggression - but the driver definitely should not have done what he proceeded to do, which was to pull over, exit his vehicle, and knock the pedestrian over. There was a lot of swearing involved, and as a final gesture, he kicked the large man's glasses into the gutter before shrieking away in his little sedan. But I'm sure he's perfectly lovely most of the time.

Also. If you want to park IN MY FRONT GARDEN, feel free to try. I know the roads around here are pretty narrow and the fact that every terraced house seems to have a ratio of three cars to every one person makes it difficult to park (last year, the newly-arrived and adorably naive students next door had the audacity to leave a note on a car parked in front of their house: "Please Do Not Park Here It Is Our Space." Ah how we laughed. Ha! Hahahahaha!)

But please don't be surprised when I have to brush up against your parked car on my way to work in the morning. I know you find the very idea of a bicycle despicable, but consider for a moment the logistics of squeezing a heavy Dutch sit-up-and-beg past your vehicle when you've left half an inch between your tires and my front gate. It's science, people. It can't be done.

Of course, as I'm busy trying to actually get my bicycle onto the road, all the angry pedestrians in their early-morning hurries are glaring. Because, obviously, I have no right to stand on the pavement. Because I own, although I am not currently on, a bicycle. Those weird prams that seat eight children (because octuplets are so common?) are fine, but my God, what a crime it is to wheel a bicycle! Which would be fine if the drivers didn't mind sharing a little space on the road, but mostly there's just a general sense of angst. There's honking, and sighing, and yelling. Even cyclists don't like other cyclists - I've been yelled at as often by prim old ladies on Pashleys as I have by rahs in Land Rovers.

(And yes, I've done the yelling too. And yes, I hate myself for it. BUT AT LEAST I CAN FEEL SMUG ABOUT SOMETHING. Right?)

Why can't we all just get along? And go merrily on our ways?