The Freedom of Wheels, Revisited

Back in February 2010, I wrote a post called The Freedom of Wheels, in which I explored what having a car and a bicycle means to me. I have often been aware of how much freedom wheels give me, even though I don’t actually enjoy driving a car all that much. I much preferred using the public transportation system in Germany, when I was there for five months. But, alas, in this country, most of us do not have this option.

As I was writing my talk for the upcoming appearance at the Sunderland Library (this Wednesday instead of last Wednesday because of the storm that buried us), I unearthed something that I hadn’t ever really seen quite this way. It has to do with the lack of freedom I had when I was a single woman living in my original community, because I did not have wheels.

It was customary for Amish parents to provide their teen sons with a horse and buggy. I resented being dependent on the men for horse and buggy rides. One day I said to my mother that this wasn’t fair, the girls didn’t get a horse and buggy. She retorted that girls are more expensive, because the parents have to pay for their weddings. I knew even then that women got a raw deal… the men were handed their independence, while the women were forced to be dependent on men their whole lives long. 

Because I had no means of transportation of my own, I was dependent on the use of cars to get around. “Use” is the key word here, because even though the Amish don’t own cars, they ride in them on a regular basis. They will hire their “English” neighbors to drive them where they want to go and pay these “taxis” by the mile. The Amish are often asked why it’s okay for them to ride in cars, when they are not allowed to own them. One Amish man asked a question in return, “When you fly somewhere, do you buy a ticket, or the plane?” While this is witty, it does not answer the question. I found that the Amish often don’t know themselves other than, “It’s just the way it is.” 

The times it really mattered that I didn’t have transportation is getting to and from youth gatherings. And my family lived on the far outreaches of the community, so it wasn’t like I could even beg a ride home with a neighbor boy. I used to have to pay for a taxi to take me to the singing, and then I had to decide whether to schedule a ride home with this taxi or not. If I did, and then got a ride home with a date, I would have to call off the taxi. If I didn’t, and then no one asked me for a date, I could get stranded. I remember that happening to my sister and me one summer night when the gathering was perhaps eight miles away. We tried calling several taxis in the middle of the night, but got no answer. So we walked home. That was the longest walk of my life. Riding in a buggy would have been a luxury that night. 

So, I thank my lucky stars for wheels once again. I’m going to go ride my bicycle while looking out over the town as the sun goes down. I know I won’t really be going anywhere, but I want to ride just because I can. And besides it’ll be good exercise while reading the novel I’m in the middle of. 
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2 thoughts on “The Freedom of Wheels, Revisited”

  1. I sometimes see girls and women driving buggies here, of course they are Mennonite. But even some girls have little ponies and travel with them. But most have bikes and even in this frigid weather are out on them. I was so tempted to pull over and ask a girl on a main highway (and I am talking MILES from an exit)if she wanted a ride as it was in single digits and dark bit didn’t know if I would offend or scare her despite me being a woman.

    As for appreciating your wheels, you go girl. That stinks that the boys get all the power but not suprising.

  2. A lot of similarities to Mennonites here, where boys can and do get their agricultural drivers license at 15 (which means you have to throw some tomatoes in the truck before you drive somewhere) and the girls, who don’t drive until much later!
    No one had to tell me how important it was to drive. Half the money I made from the time I started working at 15 went towards my first car, which I owned and insured myself. Thankfully, my parents were supportive of this, which made it possible.

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