Freedom of Wheels

The return trip from Campbell River last weekend placed me in a contemplative mood. Have you ever considered the importance of wheeled conveyances in our lives? When I was a child I lived on a float that was tied to the rocky shore and partly surrounded by water. On the beach side the trees and undergrowth came down nearly to the high water line. Unless it was low tide even walking outside was restricted.

Then we moved the house on to land! That summer when I was nine my parents bought me a bike. Not an ordinary drab boy’s bike but one with a low slung bar to accommodate a girl’s skirt. My bike was a bright green colour and had modern balloon tires to give it a smooth ride. And that was the way I began to know the beautiful feel of wheels under me that could take me farther and faster than my quickly growing feet.

The big problem about all of this was that we now lived in a large truck-logging camp where gravel roads were rough and dusty. On weekdays loaded trucks came barreling down the hill on their way to the log dump across the creek from our house. It was dangerous for me to ride on the road leading out of camp. What I did enjoy was the smooth ride on the rough board deck of the pier that ran out to the wharf. It was a good opportunity to be away from my sister, who wasn’t allowed to take her trike there. I could be alone to watch all the boats coming and going.

The summer I was 16 years old my parents moved to Campbell River. Thankfully they agreed I should learn to drive and since they owned two vehicles it would not be any inconvenience to them. For 10 days at a time my father was working away, having taken a ride with his work partner, so his half ton stick shift truck was available for my use.

But what a disreputable looking vehicle it was! Its dull blue colour wasn’t noticeable but its bashed bumper and fenders certainly were. Dad had been fortunate to purchase the current year model at a very good price because by some reason never revealed to us the truck had been rolled into a ditch. The marks were not put there by him, or me, the student driver, but it certainly elicited second looks when I drove by.

Thus began my driving lessons with Mom as the instructor. She had only been driving for a few years herself and had taken paid lessons at the time so she knew the rules and the route I needed to learn to pass the driving test. Better yet, she was clear in her instruction of parallel parking, which we practiced on Sundays in an empty parking lot until I could do it proficiently. Thanks to her patient instruction I still can do it well.

Oh the freedom of having a driver’s licence! I had a summer job and being able to get myself there on time was a feeling to be treasured. The next summer I obtained employment at the Campbell River Lodge located on the Campbell River itself. The work was varied: serving guests at mealtime, typing and copying daily menus, occasionally shopping and picking up mail at the Post Office. For the latter chores I was allocated Mrs. Painter’s elderly Mini Minor car. Such fun it was after sitting up high in Dad’s truck, to be bombing around the familiar roads in that little stick shift vehicle!

At university in Vancouver I was without a vehicle and relegated to the tired and slow bus system if I needed to leave the campus. During those years most students had no vehicle, borrowed or otherwise, to get them to and from the university location. It was just the way it was and I eventually found my way easily on buses to the places I needed to go.

During my year of teacher training the time came to practice my teaching techniques at the assigned Vancouver high school. Once more I felt the freedom of wheels when my current ‘boyfriend’ and now husband, lent me his car. Unfamiliar as I was with the Vancouver streets I was able to find my way following the bus routes I had already learned and travelled on. Again I was on my own, that wonderful feeling of being independent of other systems and able to plan my own way.

I can still remember the different cars I’ve driven, some of them his, some my own. But the most powerful euphoria came from deciding which brand and year and colour of automobile I wanted to drive, and making the purchase myself with money from my own bank account.
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I make fewer long trips these days but over the years there have been many “road trips.” I recall a significant trip, perhaps it was a first of its kind, when the destination was Kelowna for a CFUW BC Council conference. I packed up and picked up three other Nanaimo Club members, leaving three children at home with their father.

Such freedom there was to be able to get away for a long weekend with adult friends to discuss adult issues. Many of the women I knew, for various reasons, were not able to go away on their own, and they considered me fortunate. Yes, I was fortunate but always there had been that need to travel along my independent road, as long as it did no harm to others.

Some years later when the children were grown and gone I made a lengthy trip through British Columbia. The car was new and of my own choosing, and this was the beginning of a new volunteer role. Once again I felt the power of independent choice, of creating my own route map. Each stop along the way had its own significance and I remember the people and the places still.

Some of those memories came back to me last week on the road from Campbell River. Five hours, including stops, alone in my own car to contemplate the power and freedom that wheeled vehicles have provided. It has been a great ride.

Lesson from my Father

My father was of the old school philosophy, “save money for what you want, never go into debt.” He lived his life the way his Norwegian-born parents had. Trust, and a shake of the hand, represented a promise – a deal.

Even later in life he was suspicious of credit cards. When we introduced him to a cash card to supply his needs while in the care home, he practiced using it. Went to the bank across the street, lined up to the teller’s booth and took out $5 or $10 at a time. And did that daily to be reassured the magical card still worked!

The only time that I remember Dad and I having a serious difference of opinion was when I asked him to sign a loan for me to travel to Europe for the summer. It was after my university graduation and before I would return in the fall for a year of teacher training. I knew after that I would be employed, and not free enough for extended travel. He understood my reasons but they did not sway him. In desperation, I turned to his brother for a loan signature, where I held an account at the local Credit Union. My uncle had done some travel and knew its benefits.

So it is that with the exception of a home mortgage and two credit cards, paid in full monthly, I try to live by my dad’s rule. The happiest day of our early married life was when we ceremoniously ‘burned the mortgage.’

The economists and professional financial advisers I read, and listen to, say we could be entering an uncertain period of decline, not unlike 2008, with even the possibility of a WW#3 on the horizon. Many advisors say this is a time when holding cash is the best approach, certainly until the market shows its direction more clearly.

This brings me to my thoughts as I contemplate promises of the various national leaders, and their local candidates. The benefits some of them propose to give me, with borrowed funds from my taxes, could mean a debt that is impossible to repay. Think Greece. I watch world news too. It will be a drain on the country for many years, especially if interest rates rise. My young kids’ savings accounts benefited from 18% GICs. Maybe our candidates are too young to remember those days.

By now Dad would have been apoplectic!