What It’s Like Learning To Drive At 24

I’m 24 and I just got behind the wheel for the first time a few weeks ago. Honestly, I never wanted to learn how to drive. Usually when I tell people this fact they look at me blankly like I’m a very stupid person, but I’m not—I’m just from New York. This means that I’ve spent a lot more time as a pedestrian trying to avoid getting hit by a car than dreaming about driving down the highway on an epic road trip. In New York City, the public transportation is the best. Instead of Drivers Ed in high school, we got student MetroCards which allowed us onto the subways and buses for free.

Some of my friends got their license when they went off to college in more rural places. I did not. I put it off by purposefully moving to cities that would allow me to never drive. First there was Montreal, where it’s too cold to go anywhere farther away than a six block radius, and if I really had to—Hello, metro! Then I moved to Toronto, another driving license-less friendly city. But then, L.A. happened.

“You need a car” everyone said. “It’s impossible to get anywhere with public transportation.” “No I don’t,” said I, like the defiant, know-it-all jackass that I am. “I can get anywhere I want on a bus. Suck it.” Turns out they were all right. Fast-forward two months later, I found myself sitting next to a Russian driving instructor trying to stay in the lane and not crash while I went around double-parked trucks on New York City side streets.

Learning how to drive once you’re past the age of 20 means no feelings of invincibility that your 16-year-old self has. I’m already a pretty paranoid person. On top of that, in New York state, you have to attend a five-hour safety video which basically teaches you all the ways you can die and hurt people with a car. I did this before I started any of my hands on lessons. Afterwards I immediately went home, opened the door, laid face down on the floor, and had a mini existential crisis. I mean, what’s the point of driving if we’re all going to die doing it anyway?

Here are all of the things  I convinced myself would happen to me in a car that night:

– I drive in a sinkhole, world caves in, and I die.

– Another car will crash into me because the driver is texting, and I die.

– The car explodes… and I die.

– The car will come to life like Herbie, but instead of being cool, he’ll be a murderer. He kills me and I die.

– I will somehow get into a high speed chase, like in The Italian Job, and die.

– I will mix up the brake and the gas pedal and die.

– A bottle of water gets jammed underneath like in Final Destination and I die.

– The car goes back in time like in Back to the Future to when the dinosaurs were a thing, I get into an altercation with a T. rex, and I die.

– Someone hits me because they’re trying to eat a piece of pizza, and I die.

– I accidentally kill Bambi’s mom in a hit and run, and am responsible for screwing up a young deer’s life like the hunter… and I die.

Rational, right?

When I finally pulled myself out of Idiot Land two days later, it was time for my one-on-one driving lessons.

My driving instructor (let’s call him D.) explained a few things. Like how to put the car in drive, reverse, and neutral. He laughed at the things that I’m nervous and serious about, because he thinks I am being sarcastic. (D., Killing Bambi’s mom is no joke!) I then started the engine, which took me a while because I kept swiping my MetroCard in the ignition. He then instructed me to breathe and to relax my grip. (Story of my life). We went over the basics. Then I drove. Nobody died. It’s not as hard as I’ve built it up to be in my head. All of my anxiety was just an excuse to not do it.

So the next time you think you’re incapable of doing something, and come up with all kinds of crazy reasons you can’t do it for years and years (especially when it’s disguised as convenience), just try it. You might surprise yourself. And you probably won’t die.

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