Here’s the thing about being a pedestrian in Calgary, it takes forever to get anywhere. For example, I had a physiotherapy appointment on Fridays after work and while it would only take 13 minutes in a car to get there, it takes me a 15 minute walk, plus a 48 minute bus ride and then another 10 minute walk and so I had to leave work an hour early to make it on time. Now, that’s not to say Calgary doesn’t have a good transit system, it does, and you can get pretty much anywhere…although it may take a bus, a train, some walking and another bus, you will get there. Plus all of Calgary Transit workers are, without a doubt, lovely, but there gets to the point where you’re walking from the bus stop to IKEA along an unpaved road in the snow, uphill and you think, I’ve gotta learn how to drive.
The Canadian One and I don’t drive. He never learned and I have had lessons, owned a car and held the different learner’s permits in two different countries and yet still, I never got my full license.
And so we started.
We quickly obtained our learner’s permits (my third in a different country in 10 years, I feel like I’m collecting them!) and set about signing up to driving school. We started with our classroom lessons (surrounded by children who weren’t old enough to drink) back in February and then hit the road with spring-time positivity.
My first time out I almost hit a pedestrian. Like came-so-close-we-could-almost-say-I-did-hit-him. We were driving along and I stopped suddenly. ‘Suddenly’ as in I jammed on the brake, the car made a horrible eeeeeeeeeeeek sound and jolted to a stop. Thing flew off the back seat and landing with a thump on the floor. I looked up and there was the pedestrian, on the pedestrian crossing with the lights flashing, staring at me. He did not look happy, to say the least. And I, well, I was alive, he was alive, ok so I was stopped in the middle of a crossroads, my tires barely touching the white lines painted on the road but still, an achievement in not hitting the pedestrian.
I’m now obsessed with pedestrians. What are they doing? Where are they going? Even the ones just walking along the sidewalk with no intentions of crossing the road, I stare at them, their minds could change at any moment. Like the cars on the highway that don’t signal. What are they thinking?
Having been a pedestrian all my life, I’m used to cars not giving much of an indication of their intention. Take for example recently, when crossing the street on a red light, two cars from a perpendicular road took a fast left on their red light, almost running me over and when I jumped out of the way, I found a woman, on my side of the road, pulling up onto my pedestrian crossing and trying to do a lane change to the right lane by pulling forward and backing into the other lane in front of the car stopped before the pedestrian crossing. I walked back to my side of the road and waited for the next red light go around, I wanted no part in this madness as I felt there was a good chance I might actually be killed by one of these people.
But driving almost makes me miss being a pedestrian. Cars lane change, turn, cut in front all without signalling. They beep at me for going the correct speed on a highway even though I’m in a car with a giant STUDENT DRIVER sign on the top. There are a minute few who show patience and understanding toward me. They wait for me. They stop for me. They keep their distance from me and don’t panic me with their cutting across two lanes of traffic and appearing like magic in front of me. They slow to allow me to merge but of course, then I panic and wonder why they’re slowing and so I slow down too.
I can parallel park, but can’t turn into a parking lot space. I can drive in a straight line but slow when I have to change lanes. I stop for stop signs, yield signs, bunnies on the road, pedestrians half a mile away and expensive cars that look like they have stupid drivers in them. I can back out of a parking space like a pro but have trouble figuring out how to start the car. I can turn right but not left and it took me a full hour to stop turning into the wrong side of the road in my first lessons. It’s not my fault Canadians drive on the wrong side of the road!
The one thing I do like about driving in Canada though: automatic cars. Having learned in both Ireland and England in manual cars, and spent more time causing small traffic jams on tiny residential roads, the ability to just stop and go as you please is reason in itself to learn here. My mother still regales people with the story of how, when I was 23, I stalled the car so many times on our residential street with a plethora of cars building up behind us that in the end I just stopped the car, got out and she had to shuffle into the driver’s seat and take over.
I do miss my manual car a bit though. It was a white Opal Corsa I’d named Fleelo, after my inability to pronounce the word ‘phyllo’. My brother had a blue car called The Escape From Fleelo.
Fleelo was dented on both sides. Once from me misjudging the distance between the pillar in my mother’s driveway and the side of my car and the other was caused by my brother. He denies it. But there was a dent where there was no dent before. There was a blue streak of paint inside the dent. There was a white smattering of flakes sprinkled on the left back bumper of his car. I’m not a CSI expert but…well, you can guess where my thinking went.
I’d forgotten about my car when I moved to Korea, having given it to my mother to look after. She had, after all, driven it to England for me and then come back and got it and drove it back to Ireland after I decided to embark to the Land of the Morning Calm. I was walking home from the mall one day after my return to Ireland 4 years ago and saw Fleelo drive past me, an unfamiliar driver steering her wheels.
I walked into my mother’s house, demanding to know how Fleelo got into the hands of this person to be told she’d been sold to a guy down the road for 100 Euros. Shocked and saddened that Fleelo was gone, my mother couldn’t help but point out:
“You’ve been home for a week…didn’t you notice your car not here?”
No. No I did not.
Hopefully things go a little better with my second car!