Confessions of a Late Life Driver
I was a month shy of my thirtieth birthday, my husband decided that
not having a driver's license was a lousy thing for me to have in
common with our three-month-old son.
same brown eyes — yes. A fair complexion and practically opposable
big toes — you bet. An "outie" bellybutton — hey, why not?
But no driver's license? My husband had a point: At the rate I was going,
our son had a good chance of getting his driver's license before I
thought of driving a car had always made my stomach lurch. When people
found out that I was a non-driver and asked why, I glibly joked that
I was a lethal weapon behind the wheel, tacitly suggesting that I
could drive but simply chose not to. The truth is, I was absolutely
phobic about driving.
I was eleven, one of my uncles offered to let me drive an electric
golf cart. All in all, it would have been a good experience, had I
not mistaken the power pedal for the brake and nearly smashed into
a brick wall. Badly shaken and certain that I posed a huge threat
to society, I didn't attempt driving again until I was a 29-year-old
wife, mother, and graduate student.
at them, Steve. They're babies," I whispered to my husband as
we waited to confirm my driving clinic reservations. I looked at my
fellow student drivers, lanky teens full of enthusiasm for the weekend
ahead. One boy, literally half my age, had a mohawk and lazed against
the front door of his monster truck. A sticker on the back window
warned, "Fear This." I thought, I do. Oh God, I
marveled at the confidence and excitement that these kids had for
learning to drive. For them, it meant dates, after-school jobs, and
road trips. Freedom. Emancipation. Adulthood. For me, it meant overcoming
more than fifteen years of fearing that I'd get the pedals mixed up
and kill myself.
dividing into two groups, we began our day by warming up on a circular
course strewn with orange pylons. Around and around the course we
drove at 10 mph, avoiding cones and shielding our eyes from the rising
sun. My group's collective talent for maneuvering between cones at
extremely low speeds quickly became evident to our instructors, who
presented us with increasingly challenging courses.
group spent the rest of the afternoon tooling around on the skid pad
to master inclement-weather driving skills.
at where you want to go," our instructors reminded us,
"and steer in that direction."
a young driver, had her own spin on that bit of advice: "Look
at your driving instructor standing ten feet in front of your
car and steer in that direction."
second James, the instructor, was standing tall, pointing
her toward a parking place, and the next he was kissing the
The student drivers stopped their cars, the driving
instructors ran to James, Tara instantly burst into tears,
and I quietly thanked God for not making me be the one who
almost killed our instructor.
was only slightly hurt. I mean, sure, he gimped around
a lot the rest of the afternoon and winced every time he swung
himself in and out of my passenger seat, but I must say that
for a man who narrowly escaped filing the ultimate workers'
compensation claim, James handled his injuries with aplomb.
Tara remained borderline hysterical until her
parents came to take her home.
was feeling pretty cocky the next morning when my husband
dropped me off at driving school. I sat in my little Mitsubishi
before the lessons began, smugly surveying all the other students
fidgeting in their cars and checking themselves out in the
rearview mirror, and thought, Man ... I could kick
all of your asses on the SAT if I wanted to.
spotted Tara the Terror. She sat glumly in her parents' suppository-shaped
minivan, looking like she'd rather have been at home scrubbing
toilets. Tara's sour mood aside, the morning held the same excitement as the day before. We were fine-tuning
our skills in preparation of the afternoon's "parents'
recital," a humiliating event that involved negotiating a tricky slalom course in front of our parents
— or in my case, my husband and infant child.
nerve-wracking was the part where our parents — or in my case,
my husband and infant child — had to get into our cars with
us as we showed off our amazing new driving skills.
was so nervous that my recital was more like Mr. Toad's Wild
Ride. I blazed through a red light when I should have changed
lanes to catch the green light, accelerated and turned when
I should have braked and turned, and plowed through an orange
pylon or two. Despite these major infractions, which would
have earned me a date in traffic court in the real world,
I was still proclaimed a "much-improved driver."
been more than two years since my driving school adventures,
and I'm now a seasoned driver. Occasionally, I wonder about
my fellow students, particularly Tara the Terror. I wonder,
did she pass her driving test? Is she more confident
on the road? Has she killed her first pedestrian yet?
a driver, it pleases me to report that I must be doing something
right because I haven't been ticketed, arrested, flipped off,
shot at, or driven off the road for my minor offenses. Driving
has opened my world up to the possibilities of dates, after-school
jobs, and road trips...all of which would all be extremely
exciting if I weren't already in possession of a husband,
a career and a passport.
I feel like I'm sixteen years old again - or how I should
have felt when I was sixteen, cruising down the narrow country
lanes of my hometown with the windows open and the GoGo's
singing at the tops of their lungs about having the beat.
For the first time in my life, I finally feel like I've got
the beat, too.