One of the best days of my life was the day I got my driver’s license when I turned 16. After passing the test, I drove my mother home and took off in her massive Buick LeSabre that easily seated 7 people I was alone in that car, rock music blaring, windows wide open–it was glorious.
I drove everywhere. Once I drove to Las Vegas with my friends on a whim, putting money into slot machines and carrying around big cardboard containers of nickels. We didn’t tell our parents, and they never found out. We were only 17 but no one at the casinos seemed to care. In college I drove back and forth between home and San Diego, where I went to school, the two and half hour drive quick and easy, the only traffic when we reached Santa Monica. Most of Southern California was still undeveloped 40 years ago.
When I was working, after I divorced my first husband, I developed a paralyzing phobia about driving on the L.A. freeways–not a convenient problem for me, since much of my work involved doing just that. I would have panic attacks and have to exit the freeway in search of a pay phone to call my mother, who would calm me down. Driving on surface streets and a little time took care of the problem.
Driving my children around consumed much of my life for many years. My cars were conveyors of little people, grocery bags, sports equipment, and carpools. Baggies of Cheerios and juice boxes littered the floors in the beginning, and later it was softball and football gear and granola bar wrappers and Gatorade bottles. As my children grew bigger, my hours spent driving grew longer. I have no idea how much time I spent sitting in my car, waiting for one horde of children or another to climb in, noisy and smelly and wonderful. The day my youngest child got his driver’s license was almost as liberating as the day I got mine.
So it was with great relief that, early on, I ceded all of the driving responsibilities–when we were in the car together–to my husband. Whether a family outing with all four of us in the car or just the two of us doing husband and wife kind of things, it was rare–and now it’s virtually never–that I would be the one driving. My husband doesn’t see this as a problem–in fact, he prefers it. I have come to believe that the world is filled with those who drive and those who are driven. I am most definitely the latter.
Most of the time I am an easygoing passenger, sometimes complaining about the air conditioner (I want it on high, he wants it on low). Dual air systems have been a great help. I’m not crazy about his choice in music–hard rock and roll from the 1970’s–but we can usually find a happy medium there, too.
Sometimes we disagree about his parking decisions.
“There’s a spot,” I’ll say.
“I won’t fit there,” he’ll say.
He will keep on looking until he lurches to a stop, pulling into a space that is as far away from our destination as possible.
“THIS is the spot you want?” I’ll ask.
“Do you want to drive next time?” he’ll respond.
And then I shut up because no, I do not want to drive next time–or any time, if I can help it.
I still drive, of course. Living in Los Angeles, it’s not easy to have a life if you don’t. I drive to get things done, to see people, to take care of business. I don’t drive as I used to when I was 16 or 17 and there was only traffic during rush hour–with abandon and enjoyment and lots of loud music and cigarettes. I drive quickly and carefully, from here to there, a bottle of water and a tin of Altoids my only indulgences. My car is clean and neat, not a Cheerio or errant French fry to be found.
Now, though, I won’t drive at night unless I absolutely have to. I won’t drive on freeways during bad traffic hours–which is near all the time. I wait for my husband to make those trips, comfy and cozy in the passenger seat, staring out the window at all the people driving their cars–eating, texting, talking on their phones, doing their make up, reading (yes, reading). I judge them all. It’s a wonder anyone gets anyplace.
Sometimes I wish I could approach driving with the same happy abandon that I did that day in 1978 when I got my driver’s license and took off, on my own, for the first time. After driving tens of thousands of miles over the past 39 years, there is no joy left for me when it comes to cars–except for knowing that, as long as he’s around, my husband will drive whenever we’re together. And I don’t even have to buy him French fries or Gatorade to get him to do it.
Previously published on Purple Clover