Before this week, I hadn’t driven a car in three years. I live in Brooklyn, where cars are unnecessary for the most part, and so I don’t own one. Not having car payments or car insurance payments or the need to buy gas makes me feel better about the rent I’m paying.
But so usually, when I go to my parents’ house or anywhere that isn’t New York, someone else drives me around. It’s not like I expect chauffeur service or anything, but when you tell someone that you haven’t driven in three years and that you’d need to be driving their car if you drove, and also you’re uninsured, they tend to volunteer driving duties.
This time, though, Frank and I were in San Antonio for his eye surgery last week, and then we headed up to Austin for the South by Southwest music festival. Laurel and Julia, two of my friends from high school, live in Austin, and last year and this year they’ve invited us to come and visit for the festival. It’s great because we have a place to stay for free, and I love to see my friends, and they help me and Frank navigate so that we don’t look like the rest of the tourist dinks.
So anyway, I had to get us up Austin on Thursday and then back down to San Antonio in time for our flight on Sunday. It’s about an hour drive (if you are a normal driver, which clearly I am not) so asking one of my parents to drop us off and pick us up seemed a little excessive. And that is how I ended up re-learning to drive.
My mom bravely volunteered her car for the experiment, and so last week I slowly started driving places again. First it was just around the block, and then to the Taco Cabana, and then, eventually, to the mall. Truth be told, I’ve never been a very good driver. When I was first learning, I had a major disaster than ended in tears, a broken garage, and hundreds of dollars worth of damage to my mom’s car.
I didn’t wreck the car this time, but I was pretty shy at first about changing lanes, turning left, merging, and basically anything other than driving in a straight line on an empty road. My problems were compounded by the fact that I’d never really gotten San Antonio’s geography straight in my head, and whatever I had figured out in high school was long gone. Being continually lost and also afraid to change lanes wasn’t ideal, but as Thursday approached I got more and more sure of myself.
I got us up to Austin without a hitch, buying gas and stopping at Sonic for cherry limeade like a pro. On the way to Laurel’s house, I got lost and almost had a freakout, but I’d been driving for a couple hours by that point and we’d been given the wrong directions, so I think that’s fair. Once there, I let Laurel and Julia be in charge because they knew the way to all the secret parking lots, and also because watching me total my mom’s car would’ve put a damper on the festivities.
Sunday morning, three days out of practice, I was a little shaky, but got us all home in one piece. Some birds had crapped on the car, so I even took it through the car wash, which went fine except that somehow I pulled out before the dry cycle started.
All in all, the return to driving was a success, I’d say. I’m glad I did it. It’s odd not to be able to do something that all Texans, including me, know how to do at age sixteen. Since it wasn’t Frank’s mom’s car, he didn’t drive at all, and I found myself feeling a little sorry for him. There’s something a bit infantalizing about being driven around—I never felt it as a non-driver, but once I could drive again, I noticed it right away.
I guess it’s just a cultural difference. There are lots of people who I know that grew up in the New York/New Jersey area and just never learned how to drive. When I first moved there from Philadelphia after college, I found those people really strange and almost appalling. Never learned how to drive? That’s like saying you never learned how to type or something. Grow up. But slowly it stopped seeming odd and started seeming almost like a badge of pride: they never had to live somewhere that was immersed in car culture.
Now that I’m back to driving, I feel conflicted. On the one hand, I hate driving and am legitimately terrible at it. One of my favorite things about moving to New York was never waking up in the middle of the night in a panic trying to remember whether it was a street cleaning day. On the other hand, driving is a useful skill that it’s just weird and juvenile not to have, so I should probably try and keep up at least a basic level of proficiency.
I probably won’t have the opportunity to get behind the wheel before Thanksgiving, so it’s not really a question I have to settle right away, I guess. For now, I’m just glad that the car is safe and sound in the garage, and I am no longer responsible for its well-being. Just because I can drive doesn’t mean that I should.