Some people love cars. They romanticise them, taking great pride in shining, dusting, polishing and admiring them. The thought of driving the open roads, engines purring like cats, fills them with glee. They even take photos of them, which they store on their phones as if they were family members. Well those people are not me! I have no idea what my car is apart from that it’s a Mazda. Am I supposed to know something else about it? Gas cylinders? Tanks? What? Anyone? You see, I have no idea at all! Do I feel shame? No!
This indifference meant I avoided driving for as long as possible but eventually, in my early twenties, I took lessons. I was pretty useless. I could never get my head around the idea of looking in the mirrors – I mean, why look in the mirrors – just look straight ahead, that was my motto! Well, that certainly got me nowhere! Finally, four tests and sixty lessons later I passed!
At 24 I got to put my skills to the test when I went to work for an art director. She bought a car for her penniless artist boyfriend, which she then allowed me to drive during the week. Now this car was a second hand Skoda and really, it should have been CRUSHED. It was ugly, really old, really slow and for some really weird reason you could only feel the pedals if you took your shoes off. As a first time driver I thought that was just me, but no, her enormous 6ft 4in boyfriend also had to take off his huge shoes and use his big, scary, hairy bare feet to feel the pedals. When I drove it taxi drivers routinely chased me, attempting to push me off the roads, their fists clenched, waving violently out of the window “Stop driving!” they would shout. “Get that car off the road!” Yes, insults followed me daily!
My next job was at a photographer’s studio. About a month into the job, my boss asked me to drive to the post office in the Studio’s car. Well, there I was looking for it, going round and round in circles when I got stuck down an alleyway. I left the car and found a truck driver, “Hello kind Sir, do you think you could help me please? I am stuck and I can’t reverse out of this winding alley”. I mean honestly, how had I ever passed my test? It was criminal! Luckily the man helped me without laughter or disdain! I arrived back to work two hours later. “That should have taken you 30 minutes” said my boss, shaking her head in disbelief. No, I wasn’t a natural.
I decided to give driving a rest, which lasted quite happily for another ten years. Then I had my daughter and there was no getting around it, I had to drive. My husband suggested gently that I take some more lessons. Forty lessons later my instructor told me I was ready to be let loose on the roads of London. “Great!” I cried excitedly “We’re buying a car this weekend, I’ll be driving by Monday!” He leaned over towards me, expression a mixture of doom and desperation “Please, please buy an automatic!”
Twenty years later I can finally say I am happy to drive. I push my way across the five lane motorway here in Chicago every morning on the school run, occasionally shaking my own little clenched fist at other drivers (much to the horror of my kids) and you know what, I feel pretty darn good about it! I can drive! I’m the Queen of the road and I like it!
Pic: Bucktown, Chicago