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How I Finally Got Over My Fear of Driving

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I grew up in the South and the Midwest, but some part of me has been a New Yorker for as long as I can remember. Yes, I dreamed about tall buildings, Broadway shows, and being one of those cool people who wears all black and doesn’t make eye contact on the subway. But mostly? I’ve just always hated driving.

As a 14-year-old in suburban Missouri, I asked my dad to start walking me through a few pointers so I could think through the process before I got my learner’s permit at 15. But, God bless him, instead of helping me understand how to ease off the clutch and shift into gear, my physics-minded father launched into a long lecture on torque. (Note: I still do not know what torque is or what it has to do with driving, but if you’re interested, here is a Quora post that could potentially shed some light.)

So when I got my permit, I was still totally in the dark about driving a stick shift — the only option in our driveway at the time. On one incredibly frustrating day, my dad tried to teach me in a nearby parking lot, and it ended in tears. Later, my mom did the same, and I broke a record for Number of Times an Engine Can Stall During One 3-Mile Drive.

But it was, honestly, kind of fine not being able to drive. Thanks to my late-August birthday, most of my friends were older, so hitching rides was easy. I did finally get my license at nearly 17, after a tornado sent a tree crashing down on one of our old stick-shift Saabs, and my dad replaced it with an automatic. But because I was soon off to college in Chicago (at a very walkable campus — no car needed), I only had about a year, give or take, of real driving time. 

Which means that I was particularly well suited for life in NYC, a city where for eight years now I’ve very comfortably relied on walking, public transportation, taxis, (more recently) Lyft — and the fact that one of my close friends and frequent weekend-trip companions gets carsick if she isn’t in the driver’s seat. 

Of course, over the years, as my confidence in my ability to get by without a car increased, my confidence in my ability to drive — unsurprisingly — plummeted. I had a near-panic attack one Friday night before a river-tubing excursion I’d foolishly offered to drive to. I turned into a sullen teen when I visited my parents one Christmas and my mom asked me to pop over to the grocery store to pick something up. I shamefully declined to help when my neighbor asked me to move her car once, to avoid a parking ticket when she was out of town for longer than expected. I convinced my husband that it was too expensive to pay for a second driver on our rental car during a vacation in Italy. Basically, I got out of driving any way I could think of. 

And then, this September, I was invited to bring a plus-one on a heavenly-sounding trip to the Berkshires. I’d been aching to get out of the city and see some fall leaves, and my husband had been complaining for a while that he’d never been invited along on any of my work-related adventures. So it seemed like an obvious yes — but there was a catch. The trip was sponsored by Ford; to get up to the picturesque villages of the Berkshires, I would personally have to do the majority of the driving, as the journalist invited to experience the car.

[For the full article, head over to Refinery29]

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