Learning to Drive in LA

fear liar

When I was a teenager, I failed my driving test three times.

Yeah. 

I mean, even after I took a six-week driving course and had loads of behind-the-wheel practice. The reason? My utter and complete disinterest in precision. Like, turning into the correct lane, always putting on my blinker, not changing lanes in an intersection—you know, life saving factors. But, even when I managed all that on the second go, I could not parallel park to save my life. Or in this case, pass my test.

On the third and final shot, the instructor testing me was an older man who had not enjoyed teaching me over the course of my training. He’d — more than once — told me to get out of the car and walk off some steam, which, for a girl with a hot head, was like turning up a boiler.

I withered inwardly when he approached the car. Shit. May as well give up now. But, I was determined, and too stubborn, to ever go down without a spectacular fight. I got in the car. I would ace this test just to spite him.

I received two marks right off for technique. He goaded me with snide remarks, red ink on the page. Then, as you can probably imagine, my blood began to boil. By the time he was testing my parking, it took everything in me to keep going. And, unsurprisingly, I failed to parallel park.

I began to cry. I am an angry crier, but also I was deeply disappointed that the freedom attached to that driver’s license was out of my reach. I needed that freedom. I needed to be able to roll down the window and fly over country roads, my music blaring, a cherry limeade from Sonic in the cup holder. I had plans.

The instructor turned to me, took off his bottle-cap glasses, and rubbed his watery, gray eyes. Stop crying, he said. I’m going to pass you.

I furrowed my brow. Too suspicious to be happy. Still too pissed off to stop crying.

I can’t have you in my class for another six weeks, he said, and then he smiled. But please be careful. You are not a good driver. 

This was not kindness, and in that moment, I didn’t care. I got what I wanted, and he got the last word.

It was only years later, after multiple car accidents, after crying — and lying — my way out of speeding tickets, after having my ex-boyfriend and my brothers, my parents, my friends, fellow shitty drivers, and, yep, constantly myself, reiterate this declaration over my driving, that I realized how thoroughly I had internalized this limitation.

I was thirty-two-years-old, we were thinking of moving to LA, something I had dreamed of doing since I was a little girl, and I wasn’t sure I could handle driving in Los Angeles.

When I would imagine LA, my thoughts would trail, fast, to the honking traffic, the zipping between lanes, the confusing off-ramps, the millions of people on the road all fighting to get somewhere, maybe right where I was also trying to go. There was no subway like New York City, no tube like London. LA was sprawl reached best by car, and I was not a good driver. 

It had been years since I’d gotten in a car accident. Years since a genuine ticket. (Okay, there was that one for speeding where I rage cried at the police officer to no avail.) I was not a bad driver, not anymore, but still I believed nothing had actually changed. I was sixteen, failing my driver’s test and being given a pity license, all over again. I never should have been allowed to drive. I would never be a good driver. It didn’t matter that I was so much better now.

During the debate over where we would live, I was talking with my LA friend about my hang ups. I was not saying that I couldn’t drive. I was not saying that this, more than almost anything else, was why I didn’t want to go.

She asked me, point blank: Is part of your hesitation about having to drive in LA? 

Yes. Squeak.

You’ll be fine. You can drive as well as anyone else here. You’ll learn. 

Wow. What an asshole. How dare she state my fear out in the open like that and make it sound so completely surmountable? (FYI, this is what good friends do.)

Confronted with the truth about a lie I’d bought into for most of my life, I actually laughed. Out loud. Dismantling an argument you’ve been making for why you CAN’T do something is liberating. CAN’T should be a dirty word. CAN’T is the word that stops motion.

When we did finally move to LA, I knew I had to get in the car and drive. I had to use Siri for guidance and I had to take it slow, and it was okay that my hands were shaking. Only by DOING IT would I ever overcome. Whether I thought I could or not. And I did. I did it one little trip at a time. I did it over and over until I turned into one of those assholes barking at the idiot without their blinker on changing lanes in an intersection and speeding through a school zone.

The lie had been true long enough. Once I stopped believing it, I suddenly was actually a very good driver.

Here is what Learning to Drive in LA has taught me: The only thing stopping me, is me.

Get out of your own way. Let go. Drive with faith and when the fear paws at your mind, flip it the finger and get on with your journey.

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