License to Chill

Life slows down when you can’t drive


Of all the dumb things I’ve done in the eight years I’ve been living outside of the United States, one of the most punishingly stupid was allowing my New York State driver’s license to lapse. It would have been easy to renew it, but about a year after moving to Paris from Brooklyn, I missed the deadline to file the paperwork electronically. By the time I went to the DMV, it was necessary to sit for the written exam. Out of sheer laziness (and the fact that I no longer have a fixed address in the state), I also failed to do this.

Now I find myself, for the first time, stranded in a rural part of the country, a place where it is difficult to call for an Uber. I’m briefly teaching at Bard College in upstate New York, and I am humbly learning about the significance of the American automobile in noncity people’s lives. It’s not all bad. My landlord has kindly lent me a bicycle that makes what would be a six-minute commute by car a 14-minute workout (walking brings the tally to 40).

But this forced cycling and walking has also been a gift. A means of communing with the surrounding farmland that glows burnt orange on these wonderful Indian Summer evenings. And up here, because I’m less mobile, I split my time between the college library, gym, cafeteria, and my cozy studio in an airy old Victorian. I take baths and read. I might feel differently come winter, but so far these constraints have been freeing.

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Thomas Chatterton Williams is the author of a memoir, Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd. He lives in Paris with his wife and daughter.


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