Note to readers: The apple may fall near the tree, but sometimes it rolls a bit before it comes to a stop. As a kid growing up in and around Detroit, I couldn’t wait to get my driver’s license when I turned 16. My twentysomething younger daughter Tova, on the other hand, only today got her first learner’s permit. When she jokingly suggested that I write about our trip to the Secretary of State’s office, it occurred to me that it fit right in with Derek Kreindler’s Generation Why series exploring the current crop of young adults who seem less likely to drive (or buy) cars than their parents and grandparents. I returned her jocular suggestion with a serious one of my own, asking her to share her thoughts on the experience with you.
My text message was half-serious. “Dad,” I typed with my thumbs, “You should write an article about this for TTAC.”
“No,” he replied. “You’ll write the article and I’ll introduce it.” A few minutes later, Dad pulled into the driveway. I climbed into the Chrysler 300 he was testing and told him I was slightly nervous. We were en route to a Secretary of State branch office so I could obtain a driving permit.
This would have been an unremarkable trip for most teenagers. It seemed to me to be an extraordinary milestone for a person who will be 24 years old at the end of the summer, but my dad told me about a growing percentage of young people who don’t drive. I guess that includes, or now I should say included, me. This resident of Michigan – a state where kids can get behind the wheel as young as 14 years and 8 months – had never learned how to drive.
My dad lives, breathes, and dreams cars. His daughter (albeit an avid fan of the Woodward Dream Cruise and someone who gets incredibly tickled when hearing “A Door Is A Jar” out of a 1980s vintage Chrysler product) does not. I’m used to hearing from my dad about historical tidbits and mechanical theories all the time, but my lack of a driver’s license has meant I’ve had little ability to relate to these fun facts over the years. Money was tight when I was in high school, and I simply assumed I’d learn how to drive once I had reached an age where paid instruction was not required.
By the time I was eighteen, though, I’d developed an intense fear of driving. I liked to tell people that I wasn’t calling my own abilities into question; rather, I was worried about “the other morons on the road” who might end my life no matter how careful I was being.
That wasn’t completely true, though. I did – and still do – doubt myself. How, for example, will I merge onto a freeway if drivers don’t let me in? How do I avoid panicking when my vehicle reaches a slippery patch of ice? How do I drive a stick shift?
People told me to get over it. Boyfriends, relatives, and even casual acquaintances offered to help me conquer my terror. But I was afraid. I told myself over and over that I was content with getting rides from my friends and taking the bus. That is, if “content” may be defined as “enormously dissatisfied”.
Detroit’s public transit system is pathetic enough to be considered non-existent. Some bus lines run only once an hour, and they’re notoriously late and cover a series of routes that are sorely lacking. There are no subways or bullet trains. There are no taxis roaming the streets. Walking between bus routes has improved my health, certainly, and I’ve enjoyed (most of) the adventures I’ve had while using mass transit. But when schedules and personal freedom matter, public transportation around here is generally not a good choice. In cities like New York and D.C., people don’t really need cars. The Motor City, though, has such a nickname for a reason.
This reality, combined with the relentless pressure of a certain aunt of mine, had convinced me to reconsider my travel-challenged existence. I’m not Miss Daisy, and I don’t have a chauffeur to drive me around. If I want to go to my favorite place in the world, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I must drive there. And if I want to be a truly independent adult, I must learn how to command the death machine on wheels known as a car.
The fear of driving, to my mind, is much like other fears. While it wouldn’t be wise to expect me to confront it “all at once”, the only cure for it is gradual exposure and study. It’s not a good idea to force a new driver, say, down a freeway on-ramp. A cemetery, though, might be a good place to practice at the beginning.
Fortunately, my two-hour visit to the Secretary of State was worth it, as my request for a Temporary Instruction Permit was approved. Out of the fifty exam questions I was asked, only one was answered incorrectly. Filled with pride, I texted dozens of people to tell them the good news. My first “official” lesson behind the wheel should happen within the next day or two. (Driving down country roads at five miles per hour when I was thirteen doesn’t count as “official”.)
The thought of merging onto I-75 still scares the hell out of me but I’ve decided to force myself to confront my nervousness. After all, what use will one of those cool “talking” K-cars be to me if I can’t drive one?
P.S.: Before you make any weird commewnts regarding the author, hover with the mouse over the picture. You have been warned. Schreiber can be merciless