January 25, 2004


I'm forty two years old and I just drove on the freeway for the very first time.

Yeah, a milestone.

I grew up in Manhattan. I knew how to change from one subway line to another through long underground paths, how to ride standing up and not holding on, swaying to the rhythm of the cars rattling through the tunnel and aboveground, I knew how to jaywalk in the space between fast-moving cars and shoulder my way through rush hour crowds on the sidewalk, but I never learned to drive. Not until we moved out to LA. At age twenty seven, I think, maybe twenty eight. I wasn't ready for the speed and the fast lane changes and the pressure of a highway, so I got by using surface streets. Then I was ready but the car was old and Dan felt insecure about my trying and I happily agreed to wait.

Today, in a two-month old car with a powerful V6 engine, I accelerated up the on-ramp and merged with the seventy-mile-an-hour freeway traffic. All the way to Pasadena, which meant getting off one freeway and getting on another (it's not an interchange, you have to actually exit the freeway, drive a few blocks, and get on the new one). And my hands gripped the steering wheel just a bit and I could only listen to melodic music, nothing too jangly, my nerves were already tight, but I did it and it felt almost normal.

It's a funny thing. It's like learning to swim instead of walk. Or dive instead of wade into the pool. The action -- driving -- is the same, but the sensations are different. Cars zooming around you and you're in the midst of the swarm, cheek by jowl with the heavy spinning wheels, the pistons firing, the drivers with their hands on the steering wheels and their minds at least half on the road. It's very much like swimming in the middle of a group of fast-swimming fish, like the great current in Finding Nemo, the ones the turtles ride. It's like surfing, I guess. The powerful swell around you and you're riding it, staying with it, responding to it. It uses a different sense than stop-and-go city traffic. No stops to catch your breath, just an endless wave.

And I did it. I'm not ready to drive from here to San Francisco on my own, not quite yet. But from Hollywood to Pasadena is a start.

Posted by Tamar at January 25, 2004 09:13 PM

Yay! Congrats on 'swimming the current.'

I liked the comparison of freeway driving to riding the current in Finding Nemo. It's so true.

Posted by: Amanda at January 26, 2004 10:48 AM

Your post sure brought back memories: I remember driving the freeway the first time at age 31; didn't get my drivers license until I was 25.

I think you will find it liberating after a while.

Posted by: Renate at January 27, 2004 11:37 AM

Wow. Parallels. I grew up in New York (Queens), never got my driver's license, and then moved to LA when I was 29, and learned to drive here. And yeah, the freeways terrified me at first. But now, well, I actually prefer freeway driving most of the time. As I'm sure you found with street driving, in the beginning you'll overanalyze it, and you'll be hyperaware of the whole process, but eventually, it becomes second nature.

I'm proud of you!


Posted by: Tiny Coconut at January 27, 2004 12:14 PM