Monday, November 21, 2011

Lovely Life List: Learning to Drive

If you've been following my blog from the beginning (I know there are a few of you!), you know that I have a sort of bucket list/life to-do list thingy that I call my Lovely Life List. Do you have one of these? You really, really should. I can't even tell you how much of a difference writing mine has made. Writing a life list is such a great exercise in identifying your goals and helping you chart your path. And I don't know that I believe all of that nonsense in The Secret, but I do believe that you won't get what you want if you don't ask. So put it out there in the universe! You can see my original post here. And check out Maggie at Mighty Girl. She is pretty much a Life List guru.

Some of you may also remember a few months ago that I jumped head first into one of my most feared life list items: learning to drive. When I was making my list, it was hard for me to even include that item. It felt scary to even admit I wanted to drive. And I was afraid it would just sit on the list forever, mocking me and making me feel like a failure. But I also knew that my inability to drive was a bit of an Achilles' heel. It bothered me that I couldn't do this thing that just about everyone else could. I was embarrassed to tell people I didn't drive, I hated having to ask people for rides, and I hated how defensive I got when people teased me about it.

Surprising but true, up until this summer I really didn't know how to drive. I got my license at 17 along with my friends, but after just a month I had a bad accident and vowed never to get behind the wheel again. OK, well I didn't make some kind of dramatic declaration...I just literally never got behind the wheel again.

Conventional wisdom would probably say that was a mistake. I should have tried to get back on the road right away, because the longer I was away, the harder it became. But I would say that not driving was really just me making a statement that I know myself and I know what is best, and I would drive again if and when I was ready. And you know what? That's exactly what happened.

Flash forward to this summer, when I realized that I wanted to move to Florida to volunteer at Give Kids the World. I figured out pretty quickly that this move would mean driving a car. I did briefly toy with the idea of trying to find some public transportation options, but central Florida is just sprawling, and I knew I would be incredibly limited without a car. So I decided I needed to bite the bullet and figure out how to get confident behind the wheel.

I didn't know anyone who had taken driving lessons in NYC, so I turned to my friends Google and Yelp for advice. I found a driving school that had great reviews and reasonable prices, and after several false starts (OK, I probably stalled for a few months), I made an appointment for a lesson. I read and re-read the reviews I found online. People spoke of getting over years of driving fear and loving the freedom of being able to go where they pleased. Part of me was excited that one day, this could be me...but a big part of me doubted that I would ever feel so comfortable with driving. Driving a car is SO much responsibility, and I just didn't think I could handle all of the mirror checking and lane changing and merging of it all. I was afraid that I would always be afraid, and that is not a good way to be as the operator of a motor vehicle.

What if I encounter some zombies while driving? I think it is a valid concern.

So this summer, I took a grand total of 5 driving lessons. I thought I'd have time for a few more, but the days flew by and I did have a few issues with my driving school forgetting to show up at the agreed upon time (their one flaw was their online scheduling system). I practiced changing lanes, I practiced driving in the rain, I practiced parallel parking (despite my protests -- I never have to parallel park in Florida!). I felt better behind the wheel, but suddenly I found myself in the Orlando airport picking up my rental car and I realized I had to drive out of there by myself. BY. MY. SELF.

After checking in at the rental counter (yes, I'm sure I don't want an SUV! I barely know how to drive a regular car, thank you), I made my way to my generic white standard 4-door car and sat in the driver's seat for about 30 minutes trying to pump myself up. I felt absolutely sick, but I knew I couldn't sit there forever. I backed out of my spot -- sloooowly -- and headed toward the exit. I followed the signs out of the garage, then out of the airport, then before I knew it...I was driving!

My GPS lovingly guided me through Florida's finest non-interstate highways (wasn't brave enough for I-4 on my first go 'round). I gripped the wheel pretty tightly and drove in total silence (took me a few days to decide I could handle the radio), but I made it. Left, right, left, right...and suddenly I was pulling into my destination: the parking lot of the Super Target in Kissimmee (had to make a stop before getting to my new place). I cruised in just as the sun was getting low in the sky, I found a spot far, faaarrr away from any other car (wasn't ready to face my fear of dinging other cars), and put the car in park.


I was so relieved and happy and giddy and PROUD of myself...I swear, my feet didn't touch the ground as I walked into Target. I wanted to hug random people, I wanted to sing...I wanted a stiff drink. Probably the wrong instinct for a new driver, but that's how I felt!

I navigated myself to Publix and then finally to my new home, and this will probably go down as one of the most memorable drives of my life. I had driven myself from the airport to my new home, all by myself. A simple act that a million people have done but for me, a true accomplishment and the unshackling of myself from one of my greatest fears. I felt like a weight of about a million pounds had lifted.

Looking back at my previous driving experience, I realize now that I just wasn't ready to drive when I was 17. I don't know why, but I just wasn't ready for that responsibility. It doesn't make me a bad person, it doesn't make me just means that when I turned 17, I didn't magically wake up with the skills I needed to drive. But it is hard to have that much self-awareness when you're a teenager. I wish I could have said, "it doesn't matter that all of my friends are driving, I just need a few more years", but at that age it is not so easy to swim upstream in that way. I appreciate that as an adult, I very rarely feel like I need to do things just because everyone else is doing them. Yay for being a grown-up!

And it turns out, I don't mind fact, I kind of like it. In my first week, I put about 450 miles on my little rental car, and since moving to Florida I know I've logged nearly 2,000 (which is impressive considering I don't have a daily commute). And I really feel comfortable with it. I can handle driving at night. I can navigate U-turns at wacky traffic lights. And I can even handle I-4 (but I'll only do it if I really have to).

Do you want to see my car? Here it is -- my little green bean!

I'll have to save the story of buying the car for another day. Navigating the used car market in Florida is an adventure and a half. But for now, I am happy -- thrilled! -- to be crossing a big item off my Lovely Life List. Learn how to drive? Check!


  1. Melanie here! I enjoyed this piece, please email me--I have a question about your blog. MelanieLBowen[at]gmail[dot]com

  2. Aww... We have the same thing. “Learn how to drive” is on my bucket list and was crossed out when I was 19. I didn't take a formal lesson. My dad taught me. I guess, if a daughter will learn how to drive, it's her dad who should be the first man to teach her. He would have been a great instructor if only he had more patience. Haha! Though, I've learned the basics in 3 weeks. Have a safe drive, Alison!

    Fe Penley