Amaxophobia = The fear of riding in a vehicle.
April 8, 2016
When it comes to some things, I’m a coward. Not that I’m not a courageous person in general–I think I’ve made some brave decisions in my life, as well as any number of cowardly ones. But there’s one activity where the fearful side of my nature emerges in full force, to the point where I’m nearly incapacitated.
Most people I know are comfortable behind the wheel. But they didn’t live in Manhattan, then Iowa City, then Paris, and then Manhattan again–all places where most everything is walkable, there’s plenty of public transportation, and a driver’s license is nice to have but in no way a necessity. In concentrated cities with good public transportation such as New York or Paris, having a car can be more of an expensive nuisance than anything else.
Thus, though I took Driver’s Ed and got a driver’s license back in high school like everyone else, once I had the license I never actually used it except on the rare business trip or vacation until I moved to Woodstock at the age of 32. For the first time I began driving on a daily basis.
But Woodstock is very different from here. It’s 100 miles from New York City, whereas Snohomish is less than 30 miles from downtown Seattle. In Woodstock we were in the country. Snohomish is a small town, but drive a mile or two south on Route 9, and you’re unmistakably in the suburbs. Or you can just stand still and wait for the suburbs to come to you.
From my point of view, the big difference, the oh-my-God-this-changes-everything difference, is traffic. Living in Woodstock kept me out of any kind of traffic except on those rare occasions when I drove north to Albany, or even rarer, south to Poughkeepsie. I never drove to what we simply called The City–it was so easy not to, with the Metro-North commuter rail line right there on another North-South state road that paralleled a major highway and for some reason was also called Route 9. If you were smart, you stayed off the New York State Thruway northbound on Friday afternoons in summer, and then southbound on Sunday evenings. Other than that, traffic was something I never had to think about. Snow, ice, and winding mountain roads, yes. Deer leaping in front of the car were a constant worry. Traffic, no.
Here, traffic is all around, even on the thoroughfares through Snohomish (though we’re learning some back ways), up and especially down 9, on the way to Everett, which is what you might call our market town, and thick the moment you head in the direction of Seattle. And this is the West, where traffic is inescapable. You can’t ignore it by walking everywhere, you can’t circumvent it with public transportation, you’re stuck with it. It’s a major problem for everyone, but most people just find it deeply annoying. I also find it frightening.
Not long after we moved here, I decided to have an eye exam. Not because I couldn’t see but because I hadn’t had one in a while. As a matter of fact, I have the worst vision one can have and still legally drive without glasses in Washington State, although I always do wear glasses when I’m driving.
I made an appointment, headed to the eye place at Fred Meyer (a local big-box store), and found myself in heavy urban late-afternoon traffic. It was winter, and therefore rainy. I followed my GPS instructions onto I-5, also known as The Dreaded I-5. There are many good ways of going back and forth between Snohomish and Everett and none of them involve I-5, but nevertheless most GPS systems will send you by I-5 by default and I hadn’t yet learned any other ways to get there.
At least I wasn’t on the Dreaded I-5 for very long. In less than ten miles, I was instructed to exit onto Evergreen Way, a four-lane road that at that hour was a solid wall of traffic. The Fred Meyer was just over a quarter mile away–but on which side? The GPS would only tell me when I reached that quarter-mile. And if I guessed wrong, there would be no way I could get over in time. I eased to the right lane, partly out of a vague memory that it would be on that side and partly because the thought of a left turn in that mess gave me the heebie jeebies. By some stroke of luck, I guessed right.
Want to know what happens next? Stay tuned for Part 2.
Image of The Dreaded I-5: Jeff Wilcox via Creative Commons
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