I’m something of a late bloomer, and I feel no shame in admitting that it took me until the age of 21 to feel comfortable behind the wheel of a car. After all, cars are scary contraptions when you’re cautious, and I was the most cautious kid in school. I avoided driver’s ed until it was unavoidable, and then proceeded to have a minor accident with the car used for the class and was henceforth excused from any behind-the-wheel exercises. I figured I’d always have my high school buddies to chauffeur me around if I wanted to go anywhere, so why bother learning to drive?
Well, my friends began to drift apart after graduation, as most high school groups do, and once I proceeded to flunk out after one year in college and had to get a job to pay off my exorbitant student loans, I became something of a burden on my car-friendly relatives. The push finally came in 2000, when I was on the cusp of 21 and in need of my own set of wheels to get me from Point A to Point B, especially if I intended to go back to school.
What finally turned me around on the whole “to drive or not to drive” issue was a song by Jonathan Richman, a song about the pleasures of driving. “Roadrunner” presented a romantic view of driving that I’d never really considered, one in which tractor-trailer trucks didn’t suddenly jackknife into your lane, or angry drivers nudge you off into a ravine many miles deep because you cut them off at the overpass. My nightmares of vehicular massacres were alleviated by Richman’s driving ode, which promised the allure of bright suburban neon and Stop & Shops that catered to your every need. Instead of doom and gloom about the many dangers found on the open highway, Richman made me understand that driving was a uniquely passionate experience, something to be enjoyed rather than feared. To drive was to be human, and I didn’t find a better example of this than Jonathan Richman’s wondrous poem of driving enjoyment.
So I bit the bullet, learned to drive, and even managed to get my license after three attempts. But the best part of getting my freedom was the afternoon I got to drive my grandparents’ land yacht Buick (my old, beat-up Skylark was in the shop, a common occurrence that taught me the importance of always looking for something to go wrong), which had a tape player, and I stuck in a mix tape with “Roadrunner” as the opening track. I can honestly say there is no more fitting venue for the song than to have it blasting across your stereo system as you cruise down the highway, oblivious to the many potential dangers of the road and simply enjoying the romance, the passion, the exuberance that can be found only behind the wheel.
Sure, I got started later than most of my peers when it comes to driving, but thanks to “Roadrunner,” I’m still enjoying it while most everyone else my age has become bored with it. Nothing beats driving down the highway, with the radio on…