DRIVEN: Lesson 1, in which I get back behind the wheel

Loving this cheerful tome.
Loving this cheery tome.

NOTE: With this post, I’m kicking off a new series – DRIVEN – that details how I’m going about the business of re-learning how to drive. I’ve blogged previously about my FOD (Fear Of Driving), and how that mini-phobia has slowly segued from a minor inconvenience to something bigger, something I definitely don’t want in my life anymore. I hope, in re-counting my journey, I can help other fearful drivers gain the confidence they need to get back out there. Vroom vroom…

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I don’t know what it says about my husband and daughter – and their deepest, darkest feelings about me – that they can chat up some random dude in the parking lot of our local Modell’s Sporting Goods and collectively decide that, “Hey, Mr. Perfect Stranger, you should re-teach Momover Lady how to drive!”

But that, my friends and faithful Momoverettes, is how I came to meet Driving Instructor Danny, a pint-sized (I’m not kidding; he’s no taller than I am, and I’m Olsen Twin-tiny) bundle of energy who I have zero doubt is about to become pivotal in my life.

I’ve been talking smack about re-learning to drive now for, I don’t know, two solid years? At least. It could be closer to five years, which is when we moved across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Then my FOD, my reluctance, and my basically very dodgy driving really came to light.

We’d always had a car when we lived in Gotham, but only ever used it to scoot out to the Hamptons or Connecticut, occasionally, to play golf. In Joisy, however, we used the car a lot more. So much so that we quickly swapped-out Hubby’s pre-me Volvo for an SUV.

And as soon as she could string little baby phrases together, the Wee Lass christened the SUV “the big strong car.”

That, for me, was / is one of the problems: I’d rather drive a teensy weensy number than that big ol’ thang. Even though I know, rationally, that the big ol’ thang affords me much more protection on the road than a teensy weensy number.

“I want a Mini Cooper,” I said one afternoon. “You know – a car that’s one step above a golf cart.”

“Please,” said Hubby, rolling his eyes. “One hit in one of those things and it’ll crumple like a Diet Coke can.” Grrr…

Briefly, here’s my history with driving: I got my license in Rhode Island at age 17, but didn’t have  a car of my own and only drove very sporadically until I moved to New York at 19 to go to college. Once there, in the city of my dreams, I proceeded to not drive at all for decades. Decades, my friend.

During those twenty-something Manhattan years, I – like a complete, utter idiot – let my Rhode Island driver’s license lapse and had to do the entire kit and caboodle all over again. That was tons of fun. Not.

Some day I’ll tell you all about the joy I had in retaking the road test after I stupidly, like a complete, utter idiot, let my RI license lapse. But since I promised myself that DRIVEN will be helpful (and not just the story of my own personal driving life, as fascinating as that is), here are my takeaways from a lot of reading I’ve been doing lately, as well as Lesson 1 with Driving Instructor Danny, which I had last Friday.

Be forewarned: Some of these factoids / takeaways are incredibly – jaw-droppingly – basic. I just have to not mortified about that, and get on with it already.

1. Even if you have a license, as I do, it never – ever – hurts to take a few lessons to brush up on your skills. If you haven’t driven in a long time, it’s a whole new ball o’ wax. Why? Because distracted driving is epidemic, and you need to be about a gazillion times more alert to avoid all the texting, cell-phone chatting menaces to society.

2. If you need glasses to pass the vision test at the DMV, but your eyes are good enough that you don’t wear them for everyday life, don’t suddenly plop ’em on just for driving. This is the case for me. Literally the only time I wear glasses is to read that dastardly eye chart. Otherwise, they just disorient me. Happily, Driving Instructor Danny said I could safely skip them for our lessons. Yay! My first win. CAVEAT: In no way am I suggesting forgoing glasses if you really need them. But if you don’t, and never wear them, donning them just for driving may make you feel less confident. You don’t want that.

3. Side and rear mirrors are not superfluous bullshit. Moronically, I used to think that. Driving Instructor Danny is teaching me Mirror 101 from the ground up, and I’m grateful for that. In fact, I intend to become an obsessive mirror-checker. They aren’t a substitute for a quick, over-the-shoulder scan when you’re changing lanes, but they’re crucial for just about everything else.

4. There are many great books, and other learning tools, for scaredy-cat drivers. Right now I’m reading Crashproof Your Kids, which is excellent. And I have more books, as well as a driving-phobia hypnosis CD, on deck to dive into. I’ll be sharing pointers from all of these in tools in upcoming posts.