Adventures Driving in Boston

I don’t drive very much anymore, and that’s fine with me. In fact, I kind of hate driving. Well, “hate” is a strong word, but given a choice between being a driver and a passenger, I always choose passenger. (Please don’t read any deep meaning into that statement. My life is not a Volkswagen commercial.) I get nervous easily, as I’ve discussed before, and since I started driving ten years ago, I’ve been a nervous driver. But the last time I drove a car on a daily basis for more than a few months was my senior year of high school. In college, I couldn’t have a car on campus, and I could get pretty much anywhere I wanted to go on the T. After college, I deliberately chose apartments and jobs that had T access, and thus began my love-hate relationship with the T.

Not having a car means that I have to rely on rental cars when I do need to drive, and driving cars that don’t belong to me make me even more nervous. I joined Zipcar, but rarely used it, and after a bad experience with them, I quit rather than renewing my membership. I nearly had a nervous breakdown when I had to rent a car during a business trip to Georgia (and, for the first time in my life, got pulled over, due to a taillight that was out).

And then this past Thursday, I needed to rent a car again, this time to drive a longer distance than I’d ever driven before, and by myself at that. One of the authors I work with was having local sales reps, along with my boss and me, to lunch at his beach house in Narragansett, which is way the hell at the bottom of Rhode Island. About an hour-and-forty-five-minute drive. Eighty miles, according to Google maps.

I was scared to death.

I know it doesn’t sound like a long way or a difficult thing to do, especially for someone who’s been driving for ten years. Most people would just get up and drive there without a second thought. But although I don’t understand why some people are afraid of spiders, I know that it’s a very real fear. Be assured, so was this one. In fact, I spent the whole week worrying about it. What if I got into an accident? What if I hit a pedestrian or cyclist? What if the car broke down? What if the tire blew out? What if I got lost and completely missed the lunch?

The car I rented was also in a busy area of Boston, an area in which I’d never driven. After an initial bit of panicking in the parking garage I was leaving from (OMG it’s raining and the windshield wipers don’t work! Oh…yeah, they do.), I was off. I found the highway I needed to get on with no problem.

And then I got in the wrong lane.

I think I spent literally an hour trying to get back to where I was supposed to be. In the process, I drove over most of the city, on several highways. I went through a toll booth, something I’d specifically tried to avoid when I printed out the Mapquest directions. I swore out loud at people doing dumb or inconsiderate things. I paused at the end of a street, trying to figure out where I was, only to be impatiently honked at. Ah, road rage, I thought, feeling a flash of anger rise within me. This is where it comes from.

Finally, I got back on the highway. While driving around Boston, I’d been on the verge of tears, wondering if I should just call and say I’d miss the lunch and unsure if I’d ever get there. But once I got on the highway and realized I could get to where I was going, I started to relax. The whole driving around Boston situation started to seem funny. I even started singing in the car, the way I do when I’m driving around my hometown. When I finally got there, I was a bit late, but not late enough that I missed the lobster and clam chowder we were having.

It seems really easy to boil this whole experience down to some kind of platitude or cliché like, “Keep a sense of humor,” or “You have to face your fears,” but it’s not that simple. The thing is, you always know things like that in the back of your mind, but you’re so scared or upset that they never quite make it up to the front. There’s a great line in the book Empire Falls by Richard Russo that’s even a car analogy: “Not giving a shit, she’s realized, is like the defrost option on a car’s heater that miraculously unfogs the windshield, allowing you to see where you’re headed.” And what is fear if not giving too much of a shit?

I’m glad I had this experience and that I made it to Narragansett and back unscathed. I think I may re-join Zipcar. A car of my own is not an option now for financial reasons, but when I finally get one, I’ll already have the worst of driving in Boston behind me.

But for the record, every stereotype you’ve heard about Boston drivers is true.

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