I often find myself reflecting on what my life was like before – before I got my driver’s license – before I got my own car. In those days I spent a big part of my life in the role of “the passenger”.
I belonged to a lift club, which took me to work and brought me home. Getting to town to do shopping wasn’t an issue because I just hitched a ride with my landlords (a.k.a. my parents). On the days that I needed to get to work early (I was young and a little nuts about my work), Dad got up at 3am or 4am in the morning to drive me, and didn’t complain once (to me) about having to do it. I didn’t (still don’t) like to inconvenience people, but as long as they were willing to drive me around, it gave me a good enough reason to avoid that responsibility myself.
You see, as a passenger I was ever the observer. I’ve seen and experienced enough things to make me NOT want to be the person driving. One of the things that happened most often was the threat of head-on collisions. My driver would start to overtake another vehicle, misjudge the speed and distance of an oncoming car, then had to either fall back or speed up in order to avoid an accident. It also happened at times that we were in the ‘oncoming car’. Those experiences were nerve-wrecking, but somehow the driver/s always seemed to make the right call, just. I’m sure there was some Heavenly Intervention on most, if not all, of those close calls! One learns to pray a lot, and with great sincerity, on the road.
Now, as I’m writing this, I can’t believe that I never spent a lot of thought on what it means when you get into a passenger seat. The main reason for doing so is to get where you’re going in the most convenient way available. But you are also entrusting the rest of your life to someone else. You rely on the person behind the wheel to have good reflexes, good driving skills, lots of common sense, and the ability to “out-think” other motorists! It’s scary how easy we find it to compromise on important things in the name of “convenience”.
There came a time for me when “convenience” wasn’t as convenient anymore. I had to get a license. I was scared witless. Whenever I had to go to the driving school to practice, I could barely keep quiet and giggled quite a lot – something that is totally out of character for me. It must have pained my instructor to see a grown woman turn into such an idiot! Months of blood, sweat (I refused to shed tears), hundreds of ZAR, two driving schools and two driving tests later, I finally had my license. What a relief! What a terrifying realization!
It’s only been a few years now, so my memories of those first few months, after becoming a legal motorist, are still in good shape. One memory that stand out for me is a drive I took with my brother, the passenger. He is younger than me, at that stage already a legal motorist for a few years, and like most guys he has a limited amount of patience. It was almost nightfall so I was cruising – literally – to point B, while he tried to convince me that I should put pedal to the metal.
All of a sudden he wound down the window, stuck his head out, popped it back in, stuck a wildly waving arm out instead and jabbered something along the lines of; “Hey, I can count the blades of grass! And do you see that hare? It’s definitely going faster than us. Helloo there, Hare! Don’t worry, you go on ahead, we’ll catch up with you one of these days!”. I so (did not) enjoyed his silliness while sweating it out behind the wheel! Those first few months were also sprinkled with advice from the “duty bound” backseat drivers – Dad and Bro. I’m afraid I wasn’t very appreciative of their good intentions. Who can concentrate on the road with all that advice zooming around your ears in the confined space of a car?
I’ve gotten more used to being the captain of four wheels, but there are still things, and places, which make me go all white-knuckled-death-grip on the steering wheel! I’ll probably never be completely comfortable in the driver’s seat but, at the same time, I’m also extremely reluctant to return to the passenger seat.