Monday, August 17, 2009

I-5 Finally

What you fear the most will come back to haunt you.

What you want to avoid will meet you when you least expect it.

What you don’t want to see will look at you in the eyes.

I could have written about this in my usual humorous, wry, sarcastic, “I don’t give a shit” style. But when I think about it, I am struck by the truth of my above mentioned lines.

For years, I feared to learn to drive. I even shuddered at the thought. Even when I learnt to drive, I was shit scared of freeway driving. I wanted to avoid it for as long as I could.

My summer pals went jogging in Greenlake, and I thought of accompanying them with a book and my mp3 player, just some time to while away from home. Post running and dining, we headed home. This time, I was behind the wheels. Usual drill. No music in the car. No unnecessary talking. No rolled down windows or unnecessary noise. The GPS was set to the “avoid freeways” mode. It would take some 10-15 extra minutes, and a few miles of extra drive, but still, no I-5 for me. I’d take the I-5 on a special occasion, maybe a few months from now, when I had all mastered the skills of driving. I even asked them to double check the GPS. “Avoid Freeway” mode.

I drive an unknown road, and the next thing I see, I enter a lane with the sign “I-5 South only” written in front of me. A signboard it wasn’t, it seemed it was my fate written all over me. A goof up. An unpredictable, brainless machine for a GPS. I instinctively slowed, even wanted to reverse the car if I could. The driver behind me honked. Bleddy impatient man.

I had two options. I could freeze and be honked at and get hit. Or I could pretend as if nothing had happened, and keep driving. Survival instinct, I was so close to doing the first when I did the second. I cautiously took the next exit.

I reached home safely. I parked the car. I shut the engine. I somehow made it to the front door of my apartment. I shut myself up in the restroom.

I began to sob.

I don’t know if it was tears of victory, or tears of relief that I was alive. Later that night, I counted the numerous occasions when this has happened to me.

What I feared the most has always come haunting me. What I wanted to avoid the most has come looking for me.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Flights of Freeway

No matter how tired and sleepy I am, I must document this before I sleep. I smile to myself as I type this. It’s a very special night. It’s a very special feeling. It’s the same feeling you get when you know you are falling in love.

I kept hesitating for days, concocting a lot many excuses – bad weather, bad traffic, exhaustion, and what not. The truth was, even though I had bagged my license, I was shit scared to hit the freeway. I imagined driving my car from office to work, a good 20 miles, the majority of it being on the freeway, and I shuddered at the dozen different things that could go wrong. I could hit something, something could hit me, the possibilities were endless. I felt scared, guilty, and then went into denial till I knew I had to do it.

And I decided to do it.

Back from office, I asked the boys (my roomies) to hand me the car keys. I know what they thought with the look they gave me. But it was time I got rid of my fears and took the plunge.

Office to home, I drove a good 20 miles for the first time, all by myself. It was mostly on the freeway, and it was shit scary. 520 West it was. It’s the first time I drove at a record speed of 65 mph. There were so many times when I wanted to give up and take the next exit. But driving till I reached home would have made me the happiest.

I know I slowed down unnecessarily so many times. I was honked at so many times (I think 6 times) especially while yielding to opposite traffic while taking a left on green. I am thankful to those who were patient and let me merge at Montlake. I know it isn’t that big a deal or that great a distance, even marathon runners run more than what I drove. But the first trip on a freeway is always scary and special (I don’t count the previous 2 mile freeway driving experience with my driving instructor 4 days ago). Maybe someday, I will fulfill my dream of driving to any national park, any beach, without hesitating about the length of the drive. Maybe someday I’ll do a US cross country driving trip. But these 20 odd miles of driving with all the tension and honking and slowing down will always be special.

I am not exaggerating a bit that by the time I had reached home, my limbs were shaking and my back hurt out of the tension released. But little steps, one step at a time. Just thinking about it gives me a high that will not let me sleep easily tonight.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Driving Myself Crazy

I don’t mean to sound sexist, but I have always associated cars with men. Men driving cars. Race cars, everyday cars, sardarjis driving huge trucks. Little boys playing with their huge collection of cars, ramming one into the other. Strong men controlling and maneuvering a vehicle moving at breakneck speed with their hairy, powerful hands. An alter ego of mine liked to believe that the steering is not meant for manicured, pretty hands with red painted nails. A woman coming out of her driver’s seat to open the door for a man is unheard of.

Anyway, these were my excuses to myself for not learning to drive. But come America, you are not really expected to depend for office commute or grocery on your friends. My US trotting trips would have been more fruitful if I knew how to drive. Instead, I waited for buses for hours, not just for the office or grocery, but even while going out on a date, while visiting Disneyland in California, even while exploring the beaches in Hawaii.

Come summer, I hosted 2 interns at my place so that they would teach me how to drive. Sharing my space with two boys is a different story altogether that would make a good few dozen blog posts, but for later. They were friends of friends of course, not random strangers.

As you can imagine, its been an interesting summer for me, living with two guys who have helped me car hunting, giving me advice on things I knew nothing about (car insurance, car maintenance, etc.), and took me for my car practicing lessons everyday. I did take half a dozen classes from the driving school, but the rest, I left to them. There was no respite after a long and hard day at office. They had to take me out to the nearby streets and sit through the process of a rather wobbly-handed me driving.

I am sure that more than me, my roomies prayed I passed the test. More so that I could spare them the “take me out for driving practice” chore at weird times of the day.

I parallel parked perfectly. I backed around the corner more than perfectly. Uphill parking, downhill parking, emergency stopping, changing lanes, everything went fine. I sat through the torture of having a Chinese man as my driving examiner at the DMV whose instructions I barely followed. He deducted 2 points for me taking a slow left turn, never realizing it was my random guess that he asked me to turn left. He took off 4 points because he thought I drove slowly, not realizing that when you don’t follow your examiners heavily accented Chinese, you drive slow. But all that is beyond me.

Yes, and so are the days of asking my roomies to take me to practice, of waiting for the driving school instructor to come pick me up. Gone are the days when friends would ask me how much more time I had before I took the test.

For after 1.5 month’s trials and tribulations, I passed my driving test with flying colors. In the very first attempt.

I am on top of the world. If there was a remake of DDLJ, my dad would take me around those heavily framed pictures of my long dead ancestors and boast about how they drove cycles and bikes, while I am the first person in the family to actually own a car and know how to drive it.

I’m still scared of speed and have not yet hit the US freeways. But passing the driving test has been a huge boost to my confidence.

Not that it makes me wish any less that my fictitious brawny, hairy, chivalrous man with strong hands still drove me around and opened the car door for me.

Thank you everyone for all the good wishes, it all worked. sunshine has one more feather in her cap now. She can drive.