I get nervous about traffic and high speeds. In fact, I was once pulled over in the middle of the night - lights and sirens and all - for driving too slow. I'm thinking they suspected me of (overly cautious) drunk driving, when really I was just heading home after a long night baby sitting.
In the the summer of 2002, I moved into my first apartment, had the city at my doorstep and thus didn't feel the need to drive anywhere. A few years later, I moved to NY, where cabs and subway cars fulfilled my every need.
"I don't know how to drive", I would say whenever it came up. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Every now and again my friend Maj would tell me that I ought to practice my driving. I insisted there would always be someone around to drive me those few times a year I wanted to go to IKEA. And in the event of an emergency, what good would a car do anyway? I'd call an ambulance, the police or a stranger in the street.
"You just never know," she insisted, and she was absolutely right. When the moment came and I actually did need to drive, it wasn't an emergency. And the whole point was that it wasn't me who needed to be taken to IKEA. It was someone else. Well, not to IKEA, but you get the gist.
Not surprisingly, that's exactly when I started to long for that freedom, which people with cars - or a desire to get one - so often talk about.
It always struck me a little undue to associate such a strong emotion with something so ordinary. Kind of like saying that buttered toast gives you reason to live. But when Maj eventually forced me into the driver's seat of her car and made me drive around in the very same parking lot we used to go practice in as teens, I felt it. The tease of freedom.
"I get a lot of requests from people like you," my instructor replied to my email, when I wrote and asked about taking lessons.
In the car he elaborated that by people like me he meant mostly 70-year old widows who've sat patiently in the passenger's seat for some 40 years.
(He also told me that he just got a bird costume for easter and had feathers all over his place, which really made my day.)
It went well, I think. The lesson, I mean. Nowadays they tell you to predominantly use your sideview mirrors in lieu of physically turning to look over your shoulders - a change I can really appreciate. They also teach a method called green driving, which I applaud from an environmental point of view, but less so from an habitual point of view. For better and worse, old habits die hard.
Perhaps it's due to the intimacy of a car. Perhaps it's due to my pronounced insecurity behind the wheel. Perhaps both. But sitting in that car and having a total stranger build your confidence felt a little like therapy. It completely brought me back. To being 18 and getting picked up by my driving instructor and going driving and chitchatting, all while fueling that sweet anticipation:
Soon, I can do whatever I want.