In December, I will have had my driver’s license for 42 years. That’s a lot of miles. I never had a desire to drive but knowing I was moving to central Illinois where they didn’t have subways, just cows and corn, fast tracked the need to learn. New York City’s subway system was always available to me. I grew up less than three blocks from the closest elevated train system. I navigated the subway with appropriate caution, but little fear. It was an easy mode of transportation and my friends and I knew the stops and the different lines and we never felt the need to drive a car. We were city girls. It was a different mindset from growing up in a rural setting. Getting a driver’s license was less a rite of passage. In college, some men I dated had cars, but most were as likely to ride the subway to pick me up. I went to a commuter college, so once again, I took buses and trains and it was nothing I thought too much about.
My only experience driving a car prior to the awareness that necessitated learning, was bumper cars. I loved deliberately bumping into the other cars in the arena, or whatever it was called. That was a kick. But then I had to learn to drive and not hit, bump or make contact with any other vehicles or I would be in very serious trouble. So said my father, an insurance executive, who described himself as “risk adverse”. He was the person who was going to teach me to drive. It was a difficult relationship, fraught with gutteral sounds, the likes I had not heard outside of a horror movie. He would count the m.p. h.s as I accelerated. As I rode along the local streets in our neighborhood in Queens,NY, which were one way streets, lined on each side by car after car, he would tell me “TOO CLOSE!! MOVE OVER!!!” and would utter those awful sounds like a fisher cat capturing a small animal. You would have thought I was aiming for my grandmother. It finally came to a halt, literally, when I stopped the car, at a traffic light, turned off the engine, removed the keys, and handed them to my father, the terrified passenger and I exited the vehicle. I turned to him as I exited, and said ” I will be walking home”. We did not speak of it again, and I insisted to my mother, that she get in touch with a driving school and from then on, I followed the instructions of a licensed driving school instructor, who had those extra set of actual brakes, rather than the invisible ones my father pumped repeatedly. I did take the driving test twice, since the first inspector failed me for not negotiating a stop sign and initially screamed at me “Get in the car stupid! It’s raining!”. I apparently did not turn on the windshield wipers quickly enough for him and I was racking up points against me so that by the time I returned to the test site I knew that I was not leaving with a temporary license. However, as my mother would say….I “fixed his wagon” by reporting his yelling at me and subsequently, he was fired, as he apparently, had been rather negative with other student drivers. The second time I had more confidence and aced the test, or at least didn’t fail it.
I enjoy driving now. I actually don’t even mind getting stuck in traffic, or at traffic lights, or locally at the bridge which opens up several times a day while the fishing boats pass through the swing truss bridge between between New Bedford and Fairhaven, Massachusetts. I try to obey most of the rules of the road and my personality also makes me wish I had a bullhorn to remind others of those rules. I often prefer driving to being a passenger, and sometimes driving alone, without music or news, is my modus operandi. I’ve become a backroads kind of woman, taking in the scenery, and slowing down to look at a cow or two, much to the chagrin of the person behind me. I signal even when there is no one around. In the end, I know that I have become “risk adverse” and I always wear my seatbelt. Perhaps he wasn’t the best driving instructor, but I did learn a few things. Thanks Dad.
Afterthought…teaching your kids to drive is also teaching them to drive away from home, sometimes. Keeping them safe gets harder as time goes by. Turning the wheel over to your child, and letting them drive you, is one of those moments when you know it’s going to be okay.
Safe driving and enjoy the weekend.