I have a love/hate relationship with driving. Love when other people do it but hate when I do. It’s been that way since I first got my license when I was 17. Maybe it’s because my first car was a lemon-yellow version of Fred Flintstone’s car AKA “the Lemon.” Air conditioning came via the windows, which I cranked open by hand, radio was AM-only, and the horn was broken. Whenever I tried to drive on the Garden State Parkway—the main thoroughfare through my end of New Jersey—I said a quick little prayer hoping I would make it from Point A to Point B. I may as well have been peddling with my feet like Fred and Barney.
Although I like to blame it on “the Lemon,” when I dig below the surface I know that my lack of love for driving has more to do with my perfectionism than anything else. I almost hit delete on this blog because my earliest version was trying-to-hard-to-be-funny but lacked what I always call the “So What, and Why Should I Care?” when I edit other people’s writing.
I hate driving because I’m not a natural at it. I can think of so many friends and family members who drive like they are on a leisurely stroll. There’s no tensing of the neck, labored breathing, or butterflies in their stomachs when a light changes to green or a Mack truck appears out of nowhere trying to merge into their lane. You know those people. They palm the steering wheel instead of holding on with a death grip. I’ve been known to draw blood from fingernails digging into my palms. Those natural drivers go zoom zoom when they hit reverse for the length of a city block to then effortlessly back into a parking spot. I can remember driving from my house to my best friend Jen’s, which was maybe a ten-minute drive and then spending 20 minutes outside her family’s house inching this way and that, trying to parallel park across the street. Sweat dripped down the back of my neck because I knew that her dad was watching from the living room window, shaking his head, and telling her, “Linda’s here but she’s parking so it will be a while.”
Since then, my driving has improved. I’m actually not a bad driver at all. But that hasn’t stopped me from alternating between periods of driving and periods of “driving abstinence.” Living most of my adult life in New York City, that hasn’t been a problem. I’ve gotten by with planes, trains, and taxis. In 1998, I decided to move to Baltimore after visiting a friend a few times. There was also a church I was keen on joining there. That’s a whole other blog we can call “That Time I Joined a Cult.” After being “driving abstinent” for six years I hopped in my sister’s adorable cherry red Honda Prelude and headed to the Jersey Shore to visit my family one Memorial Day Weekend—phobic-no-more—temporarily. I put my mind to it, had a goal of moving to a place where driving was a necessity, and worked through my struggles with not being a natural-born driver every day.
I had quite a few glory filled years with that Little Red Prelude that my sister Lana was nice enough to give it to me when I moved to Baltimore, and its replacement, a not-so-cute-but-just-as-good-on-gas teal Toyota Corolla I bought used from the Enterprise car rental people. That was good because my then-job required me to drive from one end of the state of Maryland to the other.
I don’t recall exactly when my phobia reared its ugly head again. Just like I blamed “the Lemon,” I’d like to blame the times I had to drive on the DC Beltway. To this day, I am not a fan of anything circular when it comes to driving: not beltways but definitely not traffic circles. Growing up on the Jersey Shore in the 1980s meant you were never far from a traffic circle developed by an evil urban planner. Visualize the scene from “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” where they go round and round and round in London yelling, “Big Ben! Parliament! Big Ben! Parliament!,” but are never able to get off the merry-go-round-like traffic circle to their destination. That was me trying to get across town on any number of occasions. Thankfully, new urban planners installed a great new invention called a left-hand traffic light signal and I could get to my summer job without having heart palpitations.
My most recent bout of “driving abstinence” is over. Sadly, I know exactly what brought it to an end. My father passed away this summer. And my one regret is that I didn’t get to see him as much as I would have liked in his last weeks. That’s because I wouldn’t drive. I’m purposely using the word wouldn’t because I am perfectly capable of driving except when fear, worry, and dread overcome my will. I’m not going to make that mistake again. I’ve already gotten back into the saddle to visit my mom. The one lesson I continue to learn every day is that you have to work at overcoming perfectionism. I’ll never love driving. I still fantasize about winning the lottery so I can get a full-time chauffeur. Until then, if you see me in a blue Toyota Civic on the street, please don’t unleash your road rage on me. I’m still a work-in-progress.