How class can impact rites of passage

I rarely cover similar subjects in back to back posts, yet I read this piece from a Tumblr blog (I must be honest, not sure I quite get the Tumblr thing) and it really resonated with me. In fact I am extremely happy that the author tackles just how deeply the class we were raised in impacts us even when we are no longer a member of that class. It always amazes me in America how we say folks can move up the class ladder and how so many people refer to themselves as being middle class. Yet in a nation where the gap between the haves and the have-nots is almost an ocean these days, I think most of us are living in a class cloud where fear of being at the bottom keeps us hanging on to the middle when the fact is we are much closer to the bottom than we would like to admit. However that is another discussion for another day.

No, it was reading this piece that hit home to me something I have really struggled with and the fact that while I have blamed the situation on other issues the roots of my dilemma are very much based in money and in class.

I don’t drive. Once again I have said it and it’s embarrassing after all I am an almost 40 year old woman, college educated, fairly professional gig, and all that jazz but driving? Basically it’s gotta be life or death for me to drive. People who know me ask why I don’t drive. Well part of it is driving makes me anxious, no not just a little nervous, a lot of nervous. The type of nervous where mistakes can be made, and frankly I have no wish to kill myself or others due to being nervous.

Often people ask, was I always this way? Well, that’s where my humble roots play a role. In many communities in the US kids start learning to drive at 15 and at 16 get licenses. (Granted with graduated licensing I know that is not exactly how it happens now but that’s what it was like eons ago) At 15 my high school offered the written knowledge of how to drive as part of my physical education classes but the actual behind the wheel piece was not taught at my school and basically parents had to pay for it. My folks didn’t have the few hundreds required for me to take the behind the wheel classes and if memory serves me correctly we had no car at that time so I never learned.

I worked after school but my money was used to pay for my clothing and for my lunch money and bus fare back and forth to school (I went to high school clear on the other side of Chicago, having won admittance in one of the top academic programs in Chicago at that time). So being 16 as you can imagine I wasn’t exactly earning enough to handle my expenses that I was responsible for and saving to take driving lessons. Then there was the realization that since I had no car to drive there was no rush to learn to drive.

Long story short I went from age 16-30 with the idea of driving never crossing my mind in any serious way. I mean yeah there were a few times when a car would have been nice, it was sometimes inconvenient raising a kid in Chicago always taking buses and trains but I most certainly wasn’t alone. A lot of the reasons were rooted in lack of resources, having become a mother at 19; I didn’t exactly have a lot of spare cash lying around to afford the cost of driving lessons. Then there was the issue of actually buying a car and upkeep, it simply was not in my budget. Hell, even taking time to get lessons would have been a resource juggling act since I would have needed someone to watch my son so that I could to take lessons. Even when I started earning decent money, I just chose to live in neighborhoods that were easily accessible to public transit and things I needed and wanted.

Nope, it was the Maine move that brought the matter to the forefront. Granted my plan had been to live in Portland, Maine’s largest city where I figured I would be able to get by until I mastered this driving thing. (Yeah, dumb me didn’t bother to learn before moving 1100 miles away…figured being a 30 yo newbie it would be easier to learn in a small state) As fate would have it I landed a job less than 3 weeks after moving to Maine therefore giving me no time to get a handle on the driving thing. That first year in Maine was a real juggling act as my job required travel at times and the Spousal Unit thank goodness to his flexible schedule was able to assist me but it was hard.

I figured after a year or so I would learn and while I did the truth is learning to drive as an adult is hard and while I can do it, my own anxiety gets in the way now. I often think had I learned as a teenager it would have been better. One of the instructors I worked with explained that in many ways it’s harder for adults to get it because by a certain age you realize that shit…driving is serious business and if you fuck up it can have grave consequences. Whereas teenagers are fearless, this frankly can also be a bad thing.

Anyway in thinking about my driving issues and pondering how lack of resources can get in the way of folks learning how to drive actually made me think of many of my current clients and clients I have had over the years. Most of them don’t drive which for most low income folks especially in a rural state greatly limits ones opportunities. In my area we are fortunate to have public transit but it’s costly. A one way ride to Portland from my area (by car a 20 minute ride tops) is $5 that means a round trip is $10. As a result I have a lot of kids in my after school program who have never been to Portland or who rarely get to the beach despite the fact they live mere miles away from the beach. In Chicago it was poor minorities who rarely traveled around the city because they too had a lack of resources granted public transit back in my hometown is far more affordable.

It means that when lower income folks have cars they are almost always jalopies that are on their last leg, which pretty much describes every car my dad, had when I was growing up. Though in our case having access to good public transit did not limit me but at times it was a minor inconvenience.

Yet like the tumblr poster, even so called rites of passage are not always accessible to those who hail from the working and lower classes. Those of us who are able to emerge from that background and move up due to education are often still struggling with the residual effects of our childhood.

PS: People often ask me how I get around, well I bought a house in a very walk able area and even my office is less than a mile from my house. I utilize public transit and the Spousal Unit due to working from home is often able to help me out when I need to go further. One thing I do not do is ask others for rides since this is my shit with that said with the girl in grammar school now I am realizing I have to work on this issue. I need to get comfortable enough where driving is not this emotional and anxiety roller coaster and I am setting some goals and plans in place to get there.

9 thoughts on “How class can impact rites of passage

  1. Thanks for such a touching post, Shay!

    I’ve come to realize that class in America is so much more complex than rich vs. poor.

    I grew up solidly middle-class to those looking from the outside: lived in an middle/upper-middle class neighborhood, went to a private high school, dressed decently. When I got to college people thought I was well-off (which is laughable since my family struggled every month to pay my high school and the small amount of college tuition I had to pay after my loans). I’m what a friend of mine calls “hood rich”. My immigrant family wanted to live in a safe area and they wanted to send me to good schools. But, this often meant four of us living in a small (one-bedroom) apartment, and NOT living with my unstable mother. My family is now paying for their drive to stay outwardly middle-class (hello, foreclosures!).

    I didn’t take driver’s ed in high school (too young my senior year, and my family didn’t have an extra car to lend me). I didn’t get my license until I was a week shy of 22, after my ex-boyfriend taught me to drive in a week. And I didn’t get my first car until I was 24 (and that’s because I was offered a corporate job in the suburbs with a huge salary bump). Before that it was buses, trains and catching rides with family and friends. I was also able to get my car through my connection with my ex-boyfriend’s father, who was the president of a credit union (got a car loan with very little no money down). I’ve been lucky, I guess.

    It’s crazy because my grandmother lives in a really nice condo on the North Side–a condo that’s on the brink of being taken (again, bad decision-making). But, she still considers herself poor. And, like your dad, she questions the purchases I make or the way I choose to live.

    A close friend of mine who grew up in the “hood, hood” (Englewood) doesn’t drive (has never had a car) even though she has a good, professional job and lives in a very nice area of Chicago now as an adult. Her situation represents the complexity of class. Even though she and others like her “got out” of the hood and may never return, unless you fall into a ton of cash or marry rich, class will somehow always follow you in certain ways.

    I also loved the tumblr link about “Class Rage”. On a side note: I once sat in a small group with a (now former) friend who complained about not having money to put tires on her car, which incidentally was given to her, even though the week before she received a $10,000 inheritance from her grandmother. @<@ Rage, indeed. LOL.

  2. I drive a broken-down little “hoopty” but it gets me around. I live in Florida. My mother is from Maine. When she lived there, she rarely drove, preferring to walk almost everywhere.

    You must be in great shape if you walk all the time! 😉 I walked and rode my bike before I started driving. Now the pounds have piled on since I drive instead of walking…go figure.

    I agree, though. Class can definitely impact rites of passage. I attended an inner-city school that lacked many resources but we had a free driver’s ed program. If I lived in Maine, I would try to help you overcome your anxiety about driving.

    I was terrified when I started, but you’ll be OK once you get the hang of it. You can do it…I have confidence in you! I am also from the working class and I still struggle with the effects of that, but I learned that you just have to take it one day at a time. 😉

  3. I’m not so sure if it economics or just demographics. I grew up in NYC and if I still lived there now I probably wouldn’t know how to drive because there was is no need to. Then I joined the Navy when I was 17 but I didn’t learn how to drive until I was almost 21 and it was a pain in the ass. I was afraid to for all those years ( it took me months before I merged on the beltway!) and I would date people with cars and I made them drive me around lol.

    But it made me so dependent on them and I didn’t like that so I when I transferred to DC I finally had to get my license and I’ve been driving ever since. I couldn’t imagine NOT driving and waiting on cabs or other people. I need to get up and go when I want.

    After we got hit by the DD, I was surprised that I wasn’t nervous about driving again. I was pissed that my car was totaled. Here in Maine that is my lifeblood. And hot-footin it is not an option where I live.

    Unfortunately I have no advice on how to get over your emotional issues and anxiousness about driving. Just gotta take a deep breath and get behind the wheel and drive with awareness.

  4. I didn’t begin driving until I was in my 30’s. I just didn’t feel the need to be behind the wheel. Living in New Orleans, I was always able to get anywhere I wanted to by public transportation. I purchased my first car in my 30’s(two weeks after I got the license) because, by that time, I had two kids and I knew I’d need to have reliable transportation because of them.

  5. Thank you for sharing your stories, its really inspiring to know I am not the only old head. In my case its all mental as I have what I need to do it, can do but need to do it all the time.

    If nothing else Danielle, I need to get good at this so I can drive up to your place to hang out when I want to escape from the family. LOL

    Brown eyed beauty, I am in decent shape minus the pooch that even when I am in a size 4 never wants to go anywhere. Walking is pretty much my exercise aside from yoga and while its cool, the longer I am here and the more folks I meet I am realizing how limited I am by this thing. 🙂

    • You are welcome here anytime. And bring the girl-child she would be distracted by my kids. We are like the Borg and assimilate everyone.

  6. As always, I’m fascinated by your observations. I think many of your perceptions about class are exactly right, although I have to translate them in my mind, as I grew up in rural northern Maine where class operates differently from down here.

    I think your urban-background filter of life in southern Maine is the exact opposite of my northern-New-England filter, as I see southern coastal Maine as being neither rural nor Maine, but as a northern suburb of Boston with more of a Massachusetts culture than most of Maine. It intrigues me to try to understand which of your perceptions stem from being black in a predominantly white state, from simply being “from away”, or from having grown up in a major midwest US city. I appreciate your honesty in describing your process and how you sort this all out in your life at work and with your family. I’m always interested in how differently you see life here, but that, somehow, we often arrive at the same conclusions.

    Anyway, yes, everybody in rural Maine drives. It’s pretty much non-negotiable. (I know people you deal with in your job may not but, again, my filter renders your town as being “urban”.) When you get too old to drive, it’s truly a hardship. The farm kids and the poor rural kids actually learn earlier and are better at it as they have more opportunities to mess around on field roads and back roads.

    Maybe you could find a way to just putt around some of the small towns, neighborhoods, and parking lots in the area first before you tackle the main drags in your town and the interstate? With a friend riding shotgun rather than a spouse? Also, it’s kind of nice to practice early Sunday mornings (five or six am if that’s possible in your life!) when there’s no traffic pressure so you can just get familiar with the roads, lanes, lights etc.

    • Oh I have done all that and can drive, its truly a mental block that seems to hold me back. Pretty much once I learned how to drive and went through the process I pretty much was done with it. Of course that is not practical at all.

  7. I felt shame when I didn’t know how to drive by 16. Went to a private high school where it seemed every other person had a car. To make matters worse, my father was a driving instructor, but communicating with him was so intimidating I decieded to put it off. So He got a driving instructor- off the grid- and ended up being bilked ALOT of money.

    I got my liscense a month after my 23 birthday because I am planning to move out once I get a job and graduate.I needed it as a self-esteem booster. But it was a long road. I met alot of people who either couldn’t get around to driving so were in their mid-late 30’s.

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