The other night I was driving back from a friend’s house very late—the witching hour, as they say. So, like 9:00 pm. I stopped being a night person when I had Andrew.
I was driving back home through streets that I mostly recognized, when I realized I’d gotten into the wrong lane some ways back. I now had a decision to make—should I continue in the wrong lane, wherever it might lead, or risk challenging the person in the lane next to me to a game of chicken by changing lanes? He had a sports car that chose that moment to growl menacingly at me. I decided to take the path of least resistance and stay in my lane…unfortunately, at some point this became a turn-only lane, and I would have to turn onto the highway ramp. No sneaking home on safe back roads for me…it was time to tackle item 15 on The List—drive on the highway without freaking out.
I took a deep breath, reminded myself that I was a grownup adult who knew how to drive a car, and that the authority vested in me by the DMV said I would be equal to the task of navigating a highway. Even at 9:00 pm. I put the pedal down, turned onto the ramp, and found myself face to face with a line of trucks the size of buildings.
There’s nothing like that split second when you have to jump in between a truck and an unsuspecting car and take your rightful place in the traffic flow. It seems to slow down, the moment crystallizes. In the eye of the hurricane, you see where you’re supposed to go. And I did. There I was. I tensed, then un-tensed my shoulders. Less than a second to be super brave. I was in the line, where I was supposed to be. On I35.
My hands returned to ten and two and my eyes scanned for signs of exits I could take. And actually, for the sea of blinking lights and the rush of trucks passing me, the traffic was moving remarkably slow.
I realized as I made my tedious yet somehow alarmingly fast way home that highways really DO freak me out now just as much as they did when I was in high school. Every time the road turns a little bit and the white lines fade just a tad, I steel myself to drive the car off a cliff or into a ditch. I guess I just don’t trust the highway system to make sense, or for the rules to be the same after I turn some corner. And at night, EVERY headlight coming my way might as well be the car that does me in. Everyone seems more confident, EVERY car seems to be going faster than mine.
Whether this is a huge metaphor for adult life…I’ll leave that to wiser ones.
Maybe this will make more sense if I tell you that I grew up in a small to medium-sized town in New England, and I could take country roads full of potholes to nearly ever destination. Because of the potholes and Jimmy Carter-era speed limits, I don’t think I ever drove faster than 50 before I was 21. And because my parents taught at my school and I had friends going the same places I was, I had a ride every time I had to leave the house. Even college was easy—we were all too busy to leave campus anyway. When I moved down south and had to routinely hit 70 mph, I thought I was destined to fly off a ramp. It still hasn’t happened, but I think about it a lot. And never more than at night, when other cars just aren’t there until they’re right on my tail and blazing lights in my face.
But I obviously made it home. Even though it was like 9:15 pm and basically dawn, I considered stopping for a bundt cake to celebrate the great achievement of driving down a 3 mile stretch of road in a city I’ve lived in for nearly a decade. But I figured, why celebrate too early? This was only step one—taking the highway when I didn’t have to was the beginning of my journey towards confidently driving. Although I guess…I really DID have to, since I was in that turn-only lane. Because I didn’t change lanes early on. Because a tiny little car growled at me. I guess there’s nothing in this story that deserves a bundt cake, but we’ll work with what we have.
Thanks, team. 🙂