My husband Carl and I have a Sunday morning ritual that dates back as long as he's been working at his current job. Maybe longer than that. I get up at 7:00 and leave the house at 8:00 to drive him to work. I drop him at a nearby gas station, unless the weather is extremely inclement. He likes to go into the store, buy a pack of smokes, and walk the quarter-mile or so to the restaurant. Even if it's raining, he can manage with his big black umbrella. Then I go to Starbucks, or some other breakfast-type place, and usually do my portion of the grocery shopping afterward. The rest of the day is mine.
We do this because on Sundays, the buses don't start running until later, so he needs a ride.
At this point in the conversation, someone will often ask, "Okay, I know you only have the one car, but can't you let him take it and drive himself in just one day a week?"
No. Because Carl doesn't drive.
At this point in the conversation, I get a variety of reactions. Few of them are very kind. A large part of the incredulity I encounter comes from the simple notion that as a man, Carl is biologically programmed to drive a car. All guys drive. It's a testosterone thing. They drive 'em, they race 'em, they wreck 'em, they fix 'em. Period.
A woman who doesn't drive gets a lot more sympathy. Down here in the south, people will say "Bless her heart," meaning "Well, she's sorta feeble upstairs, who wants a woman like that driving, anyway?" There are plenty of men who privately believe women shouldn't drive at all. That old stereotype still hangs on, that every women, somewhere, has a man around who will take care of the driving.
My grandmother never drove, and my mom didn't learn until she was about 42. She wasn't a bad driver, but she never felt comfortable with it. She frequently went out somewhere and came home hours later, crying because she had gotten lost and had no sense of direction. I, on the other hand, got my license just shy of age 19, embarrassed because most of my classmates got theirs a year or so before that. Before trading in my beloved but terminally ill Chevy Cobalt for my current ride (a Subaru Outback), I relied on Uber and Lyft to get to and from work. Not a bad setup, for the most part, but I was more than happy and relieved to be back behind the wheel again.
So, one may ask, what's with your husband not driving?
Back when we met, he told me that some years before, he'd gotten a DUI and his license was suspended for several years. Wow, I thought, he must be counting the days before he can get it back. When that time came, a couple of years after we were married, I eagerly asked him if he was ready to hurry off to the Motor Vehicle bureau and start driving again.
"Well," he said, "there's this fine, y'see..." So that ended any talk of him getting his license. I didn't know what to make of it. Whether it was really possible for someone to lose their license indefinitely. I wondered if he'd committed an offense so serious as to lose his license for life. But I was busy and perfectly content to be the driver in our family. Eventually my son got into his teens and I voluntarily began teaching him the rudiments of driving. He took to it like most teenage boys do.
One summer day when my son was still far too young for driving lessons, the three of us took a day trip to a nearby tourist town in the North Georgia Mountains. We had a great time, but my 1995 Nissan Altima was sending some odd messages on the dashboard, and before I could give much thought to what this would mean, it quit on us. Flat quit, on top of Brasstown Bald. It was the alternator, so in order to get down off the mountain, it was necessary to put the car in neutral and use the hand brake to control the speed. I ultimately managed just fine, but the park ranger thought I was just a tad too emotional (duh, I had my husband and my kid in the car and I was scared, so sue me). He turned to my husband and said "Buddy, you want to take the wheel here? I think you'll do better." Carl immediately said "No, I don't have a license." The ranger impatiently shook his head and said "I don't care about your legal status -- can you just get behind the wheel and take it down to the bottom of the mountain?" Carl again declined, and that was where I got to show the ranger that yes, I was perfectly capable, in spite of all that estrogen I was toting around.
But that was where it finally dawned on me that my husband was constrained by far more than a piece of paper. He did not and would not drive, no matter the circumstances. Sometime after that, I asked his sister. She made me swear never to tell Carl that she'd told me. He had hoped that somehow I'd never figure it out (and/or never leave him for his lack of honesty). No, she said, Carl had never been a driver. Well, I didn't leave him. We've been married for over 20 years now.
Here's where we get into the pet theories.
His sister reasons that Carl is the fourth of six kids. Growing up in an area where public transit was easy to get, he could always hop a bus or train, or get an older sibling to drive him somewhere. He just never had any good reason to spend the time or the money, and the family was always too poor to afford more than one car, anyway.
Another hypothesis concerns Miz Laura Mae, their late mother. She was a force of nature -- big, loud, and very easily pissed off at the world and the six kids that she was raising without much help from either of her ex-husbands. The family likes to share a story about Carl, who at a young age, got behind the wheel of an idling car and, in typical kid fashion, got it rolling without having the slightest idea what to do. He ran it up on the curb, into a sign, or onto the family's front porch, depending on who's telling the story. Regardless of the details, he tried to "drive," made a mess of it, and one can only imagine Mama's reaction. Poor kid probably didn't sit down for a week, and may well have come away with a deep phobia of operating a car.
Two more possibilities. I have observed Carl in a state resembling a petit mal seizure. Just a couple of times, where he had no reason to zone out, but did. Just for a minute or two. Long enough for snapping the fingers in front of his face and saying "Earth to Carl, come in Carl." One of those times he was in a doctor's office and they were able to test him. The results were inconclusive. He described it as everything getting "quiet." Whether or not he's prone to seizures, we're both aware of it. Neither of us is super-eager to see this happen when he's traveling at 50 miles per hour.
Finally, well, my beloved is a klutz. I've seen him steer a shopping cart through a grocery store, and people's loved ones are in danger. He also occasionally drops large fully-loaded trays of food on the floor at work, which at least gets him a round of applause from the restaurant patrons.
Better he stick to walking, riding the bus, and being a passenger who never objects to anything I might play on the radio.
Good thing he likes NPR.