Learning to Drive

Jared and I bought a Volkswagen Golf last month.

2001 VW Golf

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.”

Saturn breakdown
This is what happened to the last car I owned in the US. Totally not my fault.

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 fiancĂ© 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.

Passionfruit Cheesecake
Driving opens up all kinds of possibilities. Like procuring passionfruit cheesecake at the market.

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.

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  1. The other day at work I had to back the company UHAUL van down a hill in Hollywood on a one-lane road, at night, with a cliff to my right and stone wall to my left, while an irate crazy man stood in front of the van yelling nonsensical things at me (not making this up). And I did it without hitting anyone, crashing into anything, or crying.

    Point is, my driving skills have become totally boss in the short time I’ve been in LA. You’ll be owning Australia’s roads in no time.

    1. I’m slowly getting back to normal, even though I almost hit a car in my blind spot yesterday while changing lanes. I probably won’t ever drive a UHAUL, though.

  2. Driving on the L was a big adjustment for me – seems fine at first, but my reflexes are all for being on the R, so it stressed me out a couple times. I wish my life were less driving-dependent.. Suburban MN isn’t the most pedestrian-friendly area, unfortunately. You can do it! 🙂

    1. In a way, it helps that I’ve been off the road for so long – I’m kind of coming into it fresh. But there are times when I freeze and can’t work out which way I’m supposed to go – the right-side instincts are obviously deeply rooted in us!

  3. I. Hate. Driving.

    This could be a result of the following:

    1) an incident with me, a minivan, and mom and dad’s garage.

    2) an incident with me, an explorer, and completing a 360 degree turn in the air on my way to Indy from Bloomington in 2007.

    Either way, I also think back to when I used to drive without a care in the world, and now I believe that I have a very extreme, but semi-healthy fear of driving.

  4. I totally went through this when we moved to Japan last month. I have to drive for work, but I hadn’t driven in close to 2 years since we’d been moving around so much. Plus, the car is kind of a mini-jeep, which is bigger than any car I ever had at home. People told me that Japanese drivers never honk their horns, but I got beeped at 3X on my first day on the road!

    1. Ha! Kudos to you for driving in Asia…something I never even considered! I hit someone once in New Zealand while driving a work car. Had a mini-panic attack but my boss was totally unfazed. She even sent me home for the afternoon to ‘recover.’ Hope your driving experience is improving and the honks are decreasing!

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