I’ve stopped driving. Funnily, or not, the impetus happened one day when I almost didn’t stop. I was heading towards the turnoff out of Quaama onto the Princes Highway, saw a car coming from the north, went to brake… no response. Went to brake again… still rolling down towards the highway. Looked down to check where foot was: not on brake. Planted foot on brake, stopped car just before give way sign.
Although my memory of this is frame by frame, it all happened much more quickly than it took to write this, or even to read it. I’d been going slowly anyway, and I always try to brake a few metres back from the intersection so I have a clear view of traffic approaching from around the bend to the south. These things saved me and the people in the approaching car.
I let my pulse return to normal then continued, cautiously, up the highway – I was on my way to the Cobargo Folk Festival – but by the end of the day I had thought twice and called my partner Hansa, who got a lift there (thanks Rose!) to meet me and drive me home.
I weighed up my options. I work at home but I still need to get around. Hansa and I go out together once or twice a week, shopping and such, but he drives anyway. He would be happy to drive me around to my other commitments but he does have his own life, after all.
And we have next to no public transport around here.
Install hand controls on the car? We looked into it but it’s quite an investment. I wanted to see if I could somehow test-drive a car with hand-controls first, to see how it felt before laying down my money. But in the meantime, I decided, I’d get lifts.
I often need to go to Cobargo, fifteen minutes up the highway, where I attend meetings on two committees. I figured that there are about seventy households in Quaama. And many of those seventy households are members of the Quaama email list. It’s a bit like the telephone party lines of old; you send an email to the list and it goes to all the members. And on a particular day, at a particular time or close enough, someone just might be going up the highway to Cobargo.
It was thus that I found myself riding with Geoffrey and his kelpie Jess one Wednesday afternoon. Geoffrey needed to pick up a trailer in Cobargo and wasn’t particularly fussed at what time. The following Friday Rose was coming through from Bega. She lives on the highway between Quaama and Cobargo but was happy to go the extra few kilometres to get me there. The next week Veronica needed to pick up her daughter from her job at the Cobargo Bakery so was happy to drop me off beforehand.
One thing I realised very quickly was that I enjoyed having a chat with these people. I knew them all to a greater or lesser degree, but had rarely before had been able to share 15 minutes of conversation with them.
The other heartwarming side was that every time I sent out an email with the subject “Lift to Cobargo?”, I got a couple of emails back to say, “If you don’t find a lift just call me – I’m not going to Cobargo but I’m happy to take you.” So I’ve found myself in Brett’s car twice. Brett’s in between jobs and, I suspect, likes an excuse to get out of the house. And Elizabeth drove 40 minutes south from Narooma to pick me up, turn around and drive us back north to Cobargo for a meeting we were both attending.
And my fellow committee members always check to see that I’m fixed for a lift, and make it clear that they’ll always come to collect me, although none of them lives in Quaama.
I constantly plumb the depths of my appreciation for this community I live in. Maybe that’s been the best part of not driving – getting to feel that sense of gratitude all over again. As for the hand controls, right now I’m not in a hurry at all.