My dad parked the car on the side of Bronx River Parkway, jumped out, and told me to get in the driver’s seat. I had just gotten my permit and was in the middle of eating a BLT. “Now?! Really?!” Two of my siblings go to Jesuit schools in the Bronx but this was my first time really seeing the area, and I barely knew it well enough to navigate, much less to cruise lackadaisically in a city setting. “But… but… there are buses! And people! And fire hydrants! And other things that I can hit and that can hit me!” My dad wasn’t having any of it.
My parents are very strategic in teaching us lessons and enjoy preparing us for worst-case scenarios. When my oldest sister first learned to drive, my dad’s favorite tactic was screaming, “DEAR GOD, THERE’S A CHILD IN THE ROAD!” when she was behind the wheel. After she would swerve, shrieking and fighting tears in her eyes, my dad would chirp, “THERE’S NO CHILD. BUT THERE COULD HAVE BEEN. SO GOOD RESPONSE TIME.” Needless to say, she is now always prepared for stray children. My mom always holds on to the coat hanger thingy above the passenger seat like she’s in a turbulent subway car when one of us drives her. She started this practice when my aforementioned sister lost her grip on the wheel while on the highway, the time we affectionately refer to as the “Jesus, Take the Wheel” incident.
Thankfully, everyone was fine but, as a result, my siblings and I are subjected to creative ways of getting us to learn how to drive better. Which is why my dad leapt out of the car on the middle of the parkway and insisted I take a pop quiz in Urban Driving 101. I sat in the driver’s seat of the truck, a tiny girl being swallowed up by a tremendous vehicle (or as my parents like to call it “a KILLING MACHINE so BE CAREFUL”). I started the car with shaking hands and felt my jaw lock. My knuckles wrapped so tightly around the steering wheel that I could see my bones, possible instruments of murder and/or destruction when curled around the wheel. Gasping and gulping, I steered, paler than a wedding dress. And I prayed, OH how I prayed. It was an informal prayer that mostly consisted of whispering ohmygodohmygodohmygod, but it was a sort of prayer. I remember passing church after church and thinking that if I could borrow God to keep him in my backseat for just this one ride, I’m sure no one would mind. I was yelled at by furious men in black hats at a crosswalk and was nearly sideswiped by a city bus but I quickly came to the realization that I was driving, really driving! I was a pilgrim, exploring roadways and obeying laws! I was a pioneer, charting new and previously unseen territory! I was out of gas! After the blood returned to my head, I pulled over, spilled gas all over my tights, and was safely strapped into the passenger seat, drunk with power and slurring with excitement (“Did you see that?! I used my turn signal!!”). I was a golden god, an iron man, a fantastic driver, only having smacked the bumper twice, scraped the curb a handful of times, and killed one squirrel. (I didn’t know there were squirrels in the Bronx either…)
I officially got my license a few weeks ago. There’s something about driving alone for the first time that makes you stop the car repeatedly to check if there’s someone else in the back. Maybe it’s the fact that you’ve been in a car a million times but have never been driving one completely alone. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s that you aren’t ever completely alone after all.