class rage speaks
Ruminations on the personal experience of being poor and my journey toward being fully myself in spite of classism's silencing and setbacks. Here's to feeling a little less alone.
Here’s a confession: I’m twenty-two years old, and I’ve never, ever learned to drive.
Plenty of people don’t drive. Some are physically not able to, some avoid it because of environmental concerns, some live in cities where a car is unnecessary or a downright burden, some just prefer not to. Not driving is not always a class issue- but for me, in my own personal history, the reason why I don’t drive has everything to do with my socioeconomic situation.
In the state where I grew up, you could get your learner’s permit at age fifteen and a half- and that’s when nearly everyone did it. Not me, though, the reason why being the money that my parents and I didn’t have. My parents wouldn’t and couldn’t pay for insurance on a teenage driver. They couldn’t pay for the driving school that the state required, and they certainly couldn’t afford to replace the old, busted-up car with something that they would feel safe with me learning on.
I couldn’t do it on my own. My small income from a part-time job wasn’t enough to cover all of those things. Besides, once I started working, my parents stopped paying for most of my personal expenses, and I knew that every extra cent needed to be saved up for the college expenses they would also not be able to afford. So I waited- and now, six years later, I still have never had the money or opportunity to learn how to drive.
Right now, I live in a city where it’s possible to exist without a car, and school and work can be reached by walking, bus, or train. I’m lucky for that- because even with those advantages, not being able to drive makes my life considerably harder. I’m limited to housing choices and job opportunities that I can get to without driving, and groceries or other large purchases must be carried a long distance to get them home- or I have to pay for delivery. If I’m going somewhere in a group, I can’t offer to drive. I can’t even rent or borrow a car in emergency situations. I feel extremely guilty about going on long car trips with people, because I’m not able to trade off driving with them. Not driving impacts me physically, financially, and socially on a regular basis.
I knew that living without a car would be difficult, but I’ve also been surprised at the additional difficulty of living without a driver’s license- the card itself. I have an official state ID from the state I grew up in, which is supposed to replace a driver’s license for identification purposes. However, I always have to ask “Is a state ID okay?”, and the question itself seems to confuse people. In the state where I went to college, as well as the state where I live in now, it’s illegal to sell alcohol to me with my current identification; on one occasion, an acquaintance was denied service just for being near me, even though I had legal ID stating that I was over 21. More often, for other purposes where I need legal identification, I just get a hassle of confusion and mixed messages- what is this? Do we accept this? Is this okay? Do we need to demand some other form of ID? And so on, and so on.
Buying alcohol seems like a fairly minor peeve, and now, after considerable time, money, and hassle, I have a passport that I can use for that and other age-limited purposes. (Not that I can actually afford to travel on that passport!) But for someone of my age, that can really impact my social life and ability to blend in and feel comfortable in social situations- I know that after we left the liquor store after being denied service because of me, I felt deeply ashamed and uncomfortable and nearly cried. I already feel alone and like I will never fit in because I’m poor, and the double whammy of not being able to drive and not being able to participate in basic social interactions hurts even more.
More generally, I’m annoyed that having a driver’s license is so intensely associated with being an adult, and that not driving at my age and in my situation seems to evoke such negative responses- people laugh at me, call me crazy and my actions unsafe, treat me as if I’m naive and immature, and get irritated when I ask for help but can’t return the favor. I am no less an adult because I don’t drive, and I am no less an adult because I don’t have some arbitrary card that tells people I can drive. I’m just stuck in the situation that I’m in, in no small part because of my financial status, which is not likely to change anytime soon. Unfortunately, the common opinion of my peers is against me.