On Thursday, the day before I left University City, I had a driving test. I passed, despite the mean examiner and the nervous crisis he engendered in me. (How does having an aggressive robot in the passenger seat in any way approximate an actual driving situation?)
Yes, that's right. I've only learned to drive in the last year, even though I'm over thirty. I've just never had the need to drive - I cycle for most of the year, and take transit or walk when I can't ride my bike. GF gave me the gift of driving lessons about a year and a half ago (uh, gee, thanks, honey) and though she insisted it wasn't so I could help her with driving when we rent a car (we don't own one), I still suspect that was part of it. Though she's a good driver, she's far from a happy one. Road rage, anyone? Fair enough, though - she could use some help.
I approached all this with ambivalence. I've had a couple of dangerous bike accidents in my time, both of which were the fault of careless drivers. I remember declaring vehemently, on my way to the hospital after the last one (I was pretty much fine, just needed some patching up) that I'd never be a driver. The woman who had hit me was, in the immediate aftermath, more traumatized by the whole thing than I was. As we waited around while the police wrote up their report, there was a strange reversal of roles, whereby I tried to comfort her. She was in a state of shock, I could see. She stood there glassy-eyed and unresponsive for quite a while, and then she pulled from her wallet some kind of nursing prayer or oath about always protecting the wellbeing of others. She was a public health nurse, of all things. Oh, the irony. It was that incident that drove home to me the terrifying responsibility that driving entails, and led to my post-accident declaration that I'd never get behind the wheel. The woman had made a human error. We all do this. But how do we deal with the consequences of mistakes that involve the lives of other people?
Well, things change, and now I'm a driver and have even recently become a competent one. (This feels like a miracle - I was a menace for the longest time.) But I've been thinking about how this feels. I've been thinking about how I like the feeling of driving, now that it's clicked, now that I get it. I like the feeling of control, and yes, mastery. But this is, of course, what's so dangerous, this sense of mastery. It feels like both lightness and weight - too much immediate responsibility for the lives of strangers. I'm not sure this is what I signed up for, and now that I have the piece of paper, I'm halfway to regretting it all.
I know this must sound overly dramatic, and it probably reads like a script for a cheesy driver's ed video for sixteen-year-olds, made to impress upon them the gravity of the whole situation. I'd have scoffed at it, had I read it a year ago, having forgotten that driving could be anything but instrumental. But I guess this is what happens when you learn under circumstances like mine, and at this stage in your life...(and when you're hardwired to over-process everything!)
Off I go on my bike, then, to the library...