When a Car Is No Longer a Necessity
I remember the first time I drove a car. I was sixteen years old and had just gotten my driver’s permit (a pass/fail computer exam). I got into the car with my father, eager to learn this essential adult skill. As we made our way onto the main road, I could see him tense up with pure fear; I had no idea how hard to press on the gas, which made for the jerkiest five-minute ride to the local milk farm either of us had ever experienced.
Over the next six months I begged to drive at any opportunity, and, luckily, (despite their fear) my parents usually let me. The day I turned sixteen and a half, the legal age for a driver’s license in Massachusetts, I took my driver’s test. Unfortunately, my first attempt was a failure (the police offer who accompanied me had to slam on the brakes as I almost turned into oncoming traffic!) and I spent the next hour or so bawling my eyes out in shame and disappointment.
The next weekend, accompanied by a much nicer police officer, I carefully took the test again.
Thankfully, I passed!
Having a car was the definition of freedom and maturity where I lived. It was essential for doing just about anything– meeting friends, eating out, having a job, going shopping, etc. My high school parking lot was overcrowded, in fact, as just about every 16.5 year old owned some type of vehicle.
Here in Spain not only do I not have a car, I can’t even drive one!
First of all, I don’t legally have a driver’s license here, as I would have to take both the written and practical exams again if I wanted to get my Spanish license (a very expensive and difficult process in Spain). Also, I don’t know how to drive a stick shift, and virtually all of the cars in Spain are manuals!
Most of the time, this is fine. Living in a big city like Madrid, a car is not at all necessary. Transportation alternatives include:
Public transportation in Madrid works wonderfully and is clean, fast, and efficient. Despite recent cutbacks on some of the metro’s hours, the system still runs later than the metro in the majority of other cities in the world.
For many friends, having a car in Madrid is actually an expensive hassle. They need to find a parking spot every day, or pay high rates for a garage spot or a parking pass for the more central neighborhoods.
And when we really need a car (weekend trips, road trips, big Ikea trips, etc.) there are countless budget car hire companies to choose from. We’ve tried various car rental services and have had good experiences with all. Normally, we just look for a good rate with a mid-sized car, and book whatever company is offering the best deal. Sometimes we find rates of about 20€ a day for a decent car (not a mini car!) and the price ends up being much cheaper than if we had taken the train.
Sometimes I think about the fact that I don’t (and really can’t) drive here and it makes me feel like I’ve lost an important part of my freedom. Yet at the same time, I was never the best driver in the world (four or five accidents in five years) and often hated driving when I wasn’t in the mood. I think it’s just the fact that right now, if we ever rented a car and for some reason Ale couldn’t continue driving, I literally can’t continue myself. That makes me feel pretty powerless.
Has anyone else moved to a country where you no longer do something that was once really important to your daily life? And does anyone want to teach me to drive a stick shift?