Jared and I bought a Volkswagen Golf last month.
To my great relief, it’s an automatic. Embarrassingly, I can’t drive a manual. There was an unfortunate incident when I was 17 involving me, my dad’s truck and my Grandma’s barn, and ever since then, I’ve been wary of manual vehicles. Jared’s mom is teaching me, but I have a feeling it’ll be a while before I’m able to start the car without it lurching around like a drunken kangaroo.
It might be while before I’m comfortable driving in general, actually.
One of the great things about travel is discovering places that don’t require cars. One of the not-so-great-things is that I sort of…forgot how to drive.
Not the nuts and bolts of driving – I still remember which is the gas and which is the brake (mostly due to a different, equally unfortunate incident at 17 involving my parents’ van and the garage), but somewhere along the way, I lost my confidence.
When we were in Indianapolis, I drove twice. The first time was across the street to the Dairy Queen, and the second was along a multi-lane highway. Getting to DQ was alright (spurred on by the promise of an ice cream cake), but driving south on 37 was terrifying. I gripped the wheel precisely at 10 and 2, cringing every time a car whooshed past on either side of me.
“Why do people do this?” I screeched. “We’re all barreling down the road in our own personal death traps.”
How had I ever done this so effortlessly as a teenager and into my 20s? And why couldn’t I do it now?
I didn’t drive again until Jared brought home the Golf. We went to the Newcastle Farmer’s Market, and I volunteered to drive, pretending that it was no big thing.
It was almost like being 17 again, in a Golf instead of a Chevy, my fiancé next to me instead of my father. I circled the car once, forgetting that the driver’s side is on the right in Australia. I scooted up the seat, adjusted the mirrors, started the car.
And I remembered.
Driving doesn’t have to be intimidating. It’s just…driving. Check your blind spots, be aware, and off you go. We cruised to the market at a pace slightly faster than a crawl (no need to get silly) and I found myself enjoying it.
I forgot the feeling of independence and promise that comes with getting behind the wheel of a car; you can go wherever you want to go. I could drive to Queensland if I wanted to. Darwin, even. Sure, all I intend to do is get to the nearest coffee shop, but the point is, I could go farther.
Australia’s vast continent suddenly feels accessible; like I can hold it in the palm of my hand. Except for the times I find myself veering into oncoming traffic, thinking I’m in a turn lane.
First, I’ll master driving on the left. Then maybe we’ll talk about Darwin.