Whenever I tell people my wife doesn’t drive, some folks assume that since Bovey is Asian, she can’t pass the driver’s test.
She has a driver’s license (and once bragged to me that she scored a ninety-two on her road exam). She just refuses to drive.
Now and again I encourage Bovey to take the wheel, for selfish and for practical reasons. If Bovey could drive, I’d be spared the zombie apocalypse otherwise known as the grocery store.
The monotony of inching through a crowded grocery store makes me feel like I’m in a zombie movie, walking dead everywhere, bumping up against me and crashing their carts into mine. I immediately get claustrophobic and short of breath just walking into a grocery store.
And inevitably I see zombies I know. It’s so awkward.
I try not to look in their carts but it’s hard not to and of course they snoop my cart, too.
“Yes, I’m a grown man and those are Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, okay. And yes, those are Guittard semisweet chocolate chips, not Nestle’s Toll House, and yes, I buy Seattle’s Best Coffee, too.”
What I really want to say is, “Life is way too short for cheap coffee and chocolate, okay, you got a problem with that?”
Instead I play nice. Exchange pleasant chit chat about the weather as I discreetly hide my Preparation H under a sirloin.
There’s also practical reasons I want Bovey to drive.
One of these days all the sugary cereal I eat and all the chocolate I stuff in my face is going to make me a diabetic with a heart condition.
So some morning when I’m indulging my frosted flakes weakness and turning blue in the face, it’d be nice if she could drive me to the nearest emergency room before my heart explodes.
This actually happened once. My heart didn’t explode. I needed a ride to the hospital.
I was writing for a local newspaper when some of us reporters decided to blow off some steam playing some three on three basketball.
About 30 seconds into the game I jammed my index finger catching a pass and broke it. Maybe five minutes later, I went up for a rebound and came down on someone’s shoe. Bam! Just like that, snapped the fifth metatarsal on my right foot.
Neither injury felt that bad so I didn’t go to the hospital right away. The next morning when I woke up, my foot felt like someone snuck into our bedroom overnight and encased it in cement. I tried to stand but did a face plant into the wall and woke Bovey up.
She offered to call us a taxi but on a reporter’s salary, that seemed extravagant, so I drove us. Put my right foot over the console and worked the pedals with my left. Came within inches of singing soprano in the Vienna Boys’ Choir.
Later one of my fellow reporters drove me to and from my operation and then for a month, as our car sat in the driveway and until I got my cast off, I bummed rides to and from the news room with my editor and a revolving line up of reporters, whoever was available.
The doctor told me not to drive, which I thought was ridiculous until I got behind the wheel. I immediately understood why he advised against driving. My foot throbbed inside the cast so hard it made me nauseous.
And when I tried to work the pedals, my foot kept slipping off the brake and landing hard on the gas. When your foot is in a thick, heavy cast, you have no feel at all for the pedals. Once my cast even got jammed under the brake pedal while I was pressing the gas. I barely freed it in time to avoid rear-ending another car.
I told Bovey it was either drive us to the grocery or gather worms and acorns from the backyard before we starved. She agreed to drive us but only if I went with her. So I propped my foot up on the dashboard and sat in the car while she shopped.
At least I didn’t have to go inside with all the zombies.
That’s the only time Bovey has ever driven in the seventeen year’s we’ve been together.
Bovey says she worries too much about crashing our car or running down a pedestrian, that there’s too much going on all at once, cars everywhere, stop lights, people on sidewalks or crossing the road, that it’s all a kind of sensory overload she just can’t handle.
I think there’s also a tiny part of her that fears being labeled the stereotypical Asian driver.
Personally, I never gave much thought to the stereotype that Asians are bad drivers until one day Bovey cracked a joke about it.
There’s even entries in the Urban Dictionary for Asian driver. They read something like: the driver who drives on the freeway at a lightning fast 23.2 mph in the fast lane. The reason airbags were invented. They seem to have immunity to the middle finger.
I don’t have any scientific studies to disprove this stereotype, but I can tell you from my experience with Hong Kong traffic, despite driving on the wrong side of the road, they manage quite capably.
Hong Kong drivers deal with a plethora of obstacles, too, not only voluminous traffic, but buses, from mini buses to double deckers, cable cars, pedestrians, scooters, and deliverymen who pile their dollies impossibly high with boxes and dart in and out of traffic.
There’s also the Hong Kong taxi drivers speeding through the streets at the same heart palpitating rates as New York City taxi drivers, weaving in and out of traffic and doing everything short of driving on the sidewalks to get to their fare’s destination fast and in one piece.
The biggest difference between the taxi drivers here and in Hong Kong is the Hong Kong driver opens the door for you and helps put your luggage in the trunk. In Hong Kong, the driver even uses a lever to open the back door for you while he remains seated. How brilliant is that?
The only way to get a New York City taxi driver to open the door of a taxi is to dash from one without paying (I have no firsthand knowledge of this; it’s merely a hunch).
Some Hong Kong taxi drivers even cajole you to fasten your seatbelt before they pull away from the curb. In New York, the taxi is going 50 mph before you can even close your door.
And I love how taxi drivers personalize their cars with a picture or two of wives and children, maybe a Jesus bobblehead or rosary beads dangling from the rearview mirror.
Yet, in Hong Kong, many drivers take this whole personalizing thing to an entirely different level.
They clutter their dashboards with Buddhas, Power Ninjas, Transformers, assorted cartoon characters, hang lanterns from the rearview and mount cellphones across the dash.
It’s a wonder they can see out of the windshield at all, not to mention how distracting it must be with their phones buzzing and chirping and playing cheesy Chinese love songs.
Yet, even with all these accoutrements on the dashboard, they still get you to your destination fast and unscathed.
And crash statistics in Hong Kong and New York are comparable if you account for the number of cars on the roads in these cities.
In 2011, there were 15,541 accidents in Hong Kong, resulting in 13,214 injuries and 104 deaths (Hong Kong Transportation Department). In New York the same year, there were 73,060 accidents, resulting in 49,634 injuries and 250 deaths (New York State Department of Motor Vehicles).
In the New York metropolitan area, there are about 2 million cars on the road, while in Hong Kong, that number is somewhere around half a million, which makes the ratio of accidents to cars about even.
There was also a recent study in Ontario, Canada revealing that newly-arrived immigrant drivers were 45 times less likely to be in an accident as compared to Canadian-born drivers.
A similar study in Australia also showed Asian immigrants were far less likely to crash their cars than native-born Aussies.
Unless I buy a BMW, I don’t worry about Bovey becoming one of these statistics (she says she’ll learn to drive if I buy her a Beemer. She’s pretty and smart.)
But buying a BMW seems like an expensive solution. I’m thinking more along the lines of having our groceries delivered. I’m sure it’s cheaper than a Beemer. But I fear a zombie might show up on my doorstep, wheezing and glassy-eyed and smelling like … like … well, death, right? He’s a zombie. And what if his arm falls off on our porch? Who cleans that up?