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Rachel Dashow ’25

Woman with big sunglasses, red lipstick, and car keys.

Baby, I Can Drive My Car

When I turned sixteen, it seemed everyone else my age was obsessed with getting their driver’s license. I, on the other hand, had been dreading the thought of driving. I did not have any trauma associated with driving, it’s just that the responsibility of operating a vehicle seemed too overwhelming for me. I was terrified of getting into a car accident, damaging a car, or being responsible for causing an injury, God forbid, to another person and I was afraid of becoming lost somewhere in a strange part of town and not being able to find my way home. Since I lived in a suburban area with very limited public transportation, I knew that I would eventually have to get my license because I could not always depend on other people to drive me places for the rest of my life. Eventually the time came when I had to face my fears, so I enrolled in a set of private driving classes with a professional driving instructor.

On that Saturday morning, the day of my first lesson, I was not sure what to expect when the instructor pulled into the driveway in his black Toyota SUV.

“Good luck!” said my mom, Marjorie, waving at me as I slowly walked out of the house.

I felt like a five-year-old who was sent to her first day of kindergarten.

The instructor got out of the car, “Hi Rachel, I’m Norman, and today we will go easy.” and he opened the passenger side door of his car for me.

Norman was very tall, had bulging eyes, and wore a large red sports ring on his thumb.

Norman explained to me that for the first few lessons, I was going to learn how to drive in my empty elementary school parking lot, to get the feel of the car and the road.

When I got into the car, I remember being struck by an overwhelming mint scent, and then observed an abundance of mint Lifesavers in the cup-holder. I also noticed that he was a big Jets fan because he had a Jets head rest, fuzzy Jets dice, and there was a Jets winter hat on the floor. The car was as messy as a teenager’s bedroom. There were crumbs on the seat and on the floor, as well as candy wrappers, and newspapers.

The elementary school is only two miles from my house, but the ride there was very anxiety provoking. I spent the ride nervously tapping my foot. The apprehension made my Tourette’s kick in and I started slightly jerking my head. The anxiety also started to make me too warm, my hands, feet, and head were all hot.

How can he trust me to drive? What if I damage his car? How will Norman or my parents react? How much money would it cost to fix the damage?

Once Norman pulled into the empty elementary school parking lot, he parked and turned off the car.

“Come switch sides with me.” Norman said enthusiastically.

As I got out of the car, I felt so scared.

This is it; I am facing my fears. I am accepting responsibility. I will be operating a vehicle.

I somehow mustered the courage to get into the driver’s seat and I immediately put on my seat belt before I even closed the door. I looked at the dashboard in front of me. The car had so many buttons and gadgets I believed I was going to be controlling a spaceship.

Norman started to speak, “Before you drive, you have to remember that cars are a killing machine; you have to be careful. Now, we are going to drive around the parking lot. To start the car, you put your foot on the brake, which is on the left side. Then put your car in drive and gently put your foot on the gas and go up to twenty miles per hour.”

However, I did not press that gently, instead of slowly accelerating, I felt the car lurch forward. Shortly after, I made a very hard stop and we both lurched forward again, this time even harder than the first time. Norman pretended to hit his head on the dashboard, I did not find it funny. I was too frustrated with myself. Whenever I would make a turn, I turned the wrong blinker on and was confused as to which way to turn the wheel. While making a turn, I drove over the curb. I felt part of the wheel on the curb and then a loud thump as the car went back on the road.

I was driving as gently as I could! I don’t know what else to do! This is impossible! I am not looking forward to next week’s lesson.

One year later, and with many more hours of driving lessons under my belt, I was able to pass the seven-minute road test. However, once I became a licensed driver, I still was too afraid to drive by myself, even if it was just up the street. This too, was a driving challenge I had to face.

That fall, when I was eighteen, I set a goal for myself, and was determined to drive by myself to high school. To prepare for my challenge, I practiced driving on the weekends to my high school, with one of my parents in the car. A day did come when I felt I was ready to drive by myself to school. I woke up early so I made sure I wouldn’t have to rush. When it was time for me to leave, I took my car keys and backpack, and climbed into my white Mazda. I decided to turn off the music in the car so that I would be sure to focus while I drove.

“Please, don’t damage the car.” I repeated to myself as I was backing the car out of my garage.

With no one accompanying me, the car started to feel a little bit like a spaceship again. I could not believe I was driving alone. When I turned on the first main road, I felt like operating this vehicle was more second nature and not foreign like a spaceship anymore. I was still feeling anxious, but I was also beginning to feel impressed with myself. I was so proud that I wanted everyone in my grade to see that I drove to school. I felt like such a mature and skilled woman. Once I got out of the parked car, I had immense pride in my accomplishment and felt I had just made a giant step towards adulthood.

Another year has passed and now I am in my freshman year of college. I drive to school almost every day, and I always listen to music. I am still cautious of the roads, but I feel much more relaxed and in control. The drive to school wakes me up and gets me ready for the day because the road keeps me alert and the leather seats are always cold. I know the right amount of pressure to put on the gas pedal when driving up a hill or on a flat surface. I know to drive very slowly on the bumpy pothole filled SUNY Purchase parking lot. I am so proud of my journey, and I have set new challenges for myself, like taking longer trips, and driving on the highway. As an independent driver, I have a newfound confidence and sense of independence, and I feel proud every time I drive my car.

Rachel Dashow