Today's Episode of Navel Gazing has been brought to you by the letter D and the number 55.
"Stay alive 55"
Oh how quickly we grow up! How desperately we yearn for those magical car keys... those tinkling talismans that will take us out into our great big world filled with friends and adventure and all that naughty behavior we promise our parent's we're not doing.
Ha ha, yeah. That was not me, by the way. That was some wildly more socially successful neighbor kid. Not me. I was the boring, inept, girl-next-door who had no idea what dating was really even about until well into College.
I even got onto the whole "driving" bus late. I got my license, as a matter of fact, at 22. That's twenty two. Yup. Twenty two whole years on this big scary planet before I sat my kiester behind the steering wheel and decided to start driving my own self from place to place for once. Because seriously? It was beginning to be a problem, the whole "me no drive-y" thing.
Many of my peers were wheels-up at sixteen, with ample lessons and practise time for years in advance. Living in the boonies does that to a kid, and any kind of isolation at teenagerhood is usually a sure sign that revving engines and oil-changing lectures are nigh. You just can't live on a farm in Iowa, for instance, and have ANY kind of life without a car. For my part, in my teency weency little town of 2,000... being socially fluid wasn't really as big a deal for me.
The big motivators for getting kids into cars: freedom, love, hormones... just didn't apply to little ol' me and when the big day finally came for me to grow a pair and learn to do this driving thing, it was all about utility instead of fun.
Even when I was taking official AAA driver's ed (at 21 *shudder*) the teachers were so enthusiastic about it. "how else will you get to all those great sales?" she swooned. "how else will you meet your new heart-throb at the bar?" she dreamed. She was obviously superimposing her own dreams of a brilliantly mis-spent youth onto me. My youth was largely well-spent, however. And I didn't have a knack for all that drunken whimsy and late night booty-calling. I didn't have a clue about shopping or fashion or sales and the thought of gunning it down the highway for a half-off special at Shoes-R-Us frankly put me into fits of disgust and horror.
But there I was. Learning to drive. My body had finished most of its changes and now it was up to that body to control a whole new kind of machinery. It was big and dangerous and loud and it smelled like gas and oil and rubber and that fabric-y mom-car smell that all cars have when they're not yours. It was a big car. A jeep, actually. It was a mid-90's green jeep cherokee. Automatic. There was no way I was going to risk the safety of the general public by putting myself at the helm of a gigantic stick shift. Not when there were so many other things to learn about speeds and gagues and car-lengths and mirrors and stopping distances and signaling and then how HOLY CRAP I was going to be the only single person in the whole universe who actually paid attention to all of those things anyway...
Short story = learning to drive was hard and scary for me. And I largely hated it. Screw that, I hated driving. I hated it wholesale. I hated it like most god-fearing Americans hate every visit to the doctor which involves their colons.
I'm still not a fan. I'm still not in the same bucket as the people who love to drive fast. I've never gotten a single kick out of speeding or passing someone. I've wrestled with my share of road rage, of course but mostly that's just to pass the time. I do speed, from time to time, mind you... just not for fun. And I don't drive for fun either.
But I am starting to see the medicine in it. There is something about driving over moderate distances that really helps the ol' thinkmeat. It's different as a passenger, because then you can really unplug and just let your brain go off the leash for a while but when you're driving you still have so much to pay attention to. Your whole body is so much bigger and every bump in the road every gear shift and every smell means something to you and in the middle of it there's all this tidy thinking that takes place. It really feels efficient, in a way, to do my thinking like that. It's easy as hell to slip into the bad thoughts and the dire thoughts and the thoughts that take me to places I don't ever want to go again - but it's also easy to see those sorts of thoughts coming when I'm driving and so I can just as easily re-route myself mentally as I would with the vehicle of which I am in control.
Driving, if you will, forces me to pay attention to outward stuff. On a very binary "do this or else" kind of scale. And I like that. I've done some of my best "writing" while in control of a vehicle going between point A and point B. Now, when point B is more than eight hours away - things change again, but not exactly in a bad way.
For the 45 minute commutes, though, or for the short trips to "gramma's" house... Driving has become (if not a joy or a release) a way for me to do a little system check every now and then. It feels really good to be able to focus so intently on something so important and it is actually kindof satisfying to do it right. It is tremendously satisfying, too, to be able to see someone else's misfortune ahead of me and to be able to adeptly drive myself OUT of the way and not get involved with an existing or an "almost" accident. Twice that's happened, I've "missed" two big accidents. Simply by paying attention, I avoided compounding someone else's terrible luck.
That's not exactly a silver lining, but there you go. That's the best feeling I ever get when driving: not being in an accident.
It's something I strive for every time I get behind the wheel. I do everything I can so that I'm not in an accident. I am always mindful of it - not in a white-knuckle kind of way either. It's a very zenlike awareness, if you ask me. Or my husband. But rest assured that when I'm driving, I'm doing my best to keep all four on the floor, as it were.
I wish more people would do that.