When discussing traditional milestones of American adulthood -- marriage, babies, investing in something beyond an extensive sneaker collection -- learning to drive rarely enters the conversation. This is because most people accomplish that feat before their brains are fully formed. That's how easy it is, I guess -- but I wouldn't know.
I've survived almost 30 years without a driver's license. There are a number of reasons I've abstained so long: I was raised in Brooklyn, where my impression of cars was that it took two hours to park them and they served as an additional way to get robbed. When I moved to the suburbs in my teens, I knew my parents couldn't afford to buy me a car or even add me to their insurance, and I preferred to spend my meager earnings on necessities such as pot and Taco Bell. Why squander my menial paychecks on self-sufficiency when I could binge on mystery meat and sweet ganj instead?
Accepting my carless future as fate, I became something of a charity case -- relying on friends, family, and the occasional stranger to get around. I knew this wasn't sustainable, so I made plans to move back to Brooklyn after college. There, the MTA would enable me to feign competence. (This worked for eight years, until the thought of inhaling one more stranger's coffee breath sent me screaming toward California). But, in hindsight, all of the "practical" excuses I had invented were a veil for what was really happening: I was (am) terrified of driving.
This guy might as well be handing me a basket filled with live grenades and hungry cobras.
Is it pathetic to admit that I don't trust myself to operate a car? That I can't envision myself merging onto a highway or hitting the brakes in time without causing a Final Destination chain reaction? Well, color me pathetic, because these are things I'm afraid of. And this fear -- which I've managed to harbor for more than 15 years -- has impacted not just my mobility, but my entire life. Mostly in unforeseeable ways, such as ...
#5. My Self-Worth Fluctuates Based On Where I Live
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New York was the perfect place for a non-driver to hide in plain sight. You could even boost your self-esteem by becoming one of those condescending assholes who's fluent in public transportation and judges everyone who isn't. "Did you hear that noob ask if the A was running express? Who doesn't know that at 11 p.m. every other Wednesday, the A transforms into a commemorative plaque of Kanye's VMA speech?" (Answer: probably a noob who knows how to parallel park.)
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Is transportation without the constant scent of fresh hobo pee even transportation at all?
All of that false bravado would vanish as soon as I ventured outside of the city: to visit friends in the suburbs, while on vacation, or anytime the words "road trip" came up. During these jaunts away from comfort, I would regress into a hapless backseat child, whose schedule was dictated by whoever my adoptive driving parents happened to be that week. These temporary bursts of humility made me long for New York, where I was no less outwardly incompetent than anyone else. Whenever one of these trips came to an end, I returned home with a sense of calm, knowing I would soon regain control over my life.
Then, I moved to California. I live in a walkable neighborhood and rarely need to leave it, so I don't feel too hindered by my inability to drive. But, this is a car-centric city, and I can no longer hide the fact that I'm terrified of something that's a basic fact of life for my friends. Being confronted with this gaping hole in my skill set after years of avoidance has reacquainted me with my high school insecurities. No matter how much I've accomplished, I can't help but compare myself to everyone who manages to get on the road everyday -- 16 year olds and octogenarians alike.
This whippersnapper has totally forgotten what it's like to walk uphill in the snow, both ways.
What do they have that I don't? Aside from a driver's license, a semblance of confidence that would really come in handy sometimes. Because ...
#4. It's Horrifying To Be Left Alone In A Car That Isn't Legally Parked
"The car should be fine here," they said. "Just move it up a few inches if the cops come." Like, do you understand that you're entrusting me with property worth thousands of dollars? That I have the potential to destroy in all of two seconds? Illegally?
If people didn't want this to happen, they shouldn't have made the
brake and gas pedals look like twinsies.
When my mom attempted to teach 15-year-old me how to drive, the first thing I did was panic on a corner turn, hit the gas instead of the brake, and drive her Toyota Corolla onto the next-door lawn, stopping inches away from the house. (No one lived there at the time, but still.) I haven't been behind the wheel since I was 18, during a fleeting New Permit High when I thought I might be capable of driving without killing anyone. I know that inching up or moving to a parking spot is second nature for drivers, but both are terrifying to me. And when I'm terrified, I panic. And when I panic, I ... well, I drive onto people's lawns.
Hollywood (and certain plants) made this seem way more fun than it actually is.
I know this makes me the worst person to have in your car and maybe a bad friend in general. Believe me, I think about it a lot. Because after a while ...
#3. I Worry That My Driving Friends Kinda Hate Me
OK, they don't hate me. But, I know I make their lives slightly more annoying, even if I shell out gas money, say thank you, and remain cognizant of the solid they're doing me every time their car is involved.
The thing is, I have great friends who don't treat me like a leech (at least, not since high school). It's possible they feel fine doing the odd pick-up now and then. But, this is a favor I am unable to repay. I can repay their generosity in other ways, but I'm not the friend you call when your car breaks down or when you need a ride home from surgery.
Unless you enjoyed surgery so much, you want to go back and do it again.
And as someone who's benefited from specific, car-related favors, I do sometimes feel like a garbage person for not counting "helpful in cases of emergency" among my friendship offerings. This says more about me than it does the grievances -- real or imagined -- of my friends. It's actually one of the more motivating arguments to take some lessons and get a license. But then, I get protective over my not driving because ...