Driving — a teen’s most exciting dream and a parent’s most terrifying nightmare. When I was younger and pictured myself driving, I always imagined my mother having me engulfed in knee and elbow pads. I also pictured my mother with a helmet on and a pillow taped to her front and back, saying “Okay let’s do this!” Even though the thought is quite comical, it sure would have come in handy for my first driving experience.
My first time driving was in May of last year. I was doing perfectly in my mind but my mother was a nervous wreck (she said that day was enough to make her want to start smoking). I drove all around Conyers, and as I pulled into our driveway I was already aware that I didn’t have the best wheel control. I freaked out thinking I was going to hit our mailbox so I pressed what I thought was the brake — which ended up being the gas. I hit the mailbox, then hit our tree and its surrounding bricks. The car jumped up high almost flipping us over and I got stuck on my neighbor’s tree. The damage included a half torn-off bumper, three hub caps that rolled off, and a front right tire that popped off. I was in shock. My mother actually got out the car and scooped me out the front seat where I was curled up in the fetal position.
It was so bad that I was afraid to drive for one whole year. A few weeks back my cousin Toreanna, was driving Papa’s (grandfather’s) car. She stopped the car in our neighborhood and said, “Okay Liz you’re gonna drive.” I was mortified. Didn’t she know she was signing their life away with me behind the wheel?
I got in the driver’s seat reluctantly and started driving, and goodness gracious, I did pretty darn good, if I do say so myself! It took us 10 minutes to get to my grandmother’s house which was only 200 feet away, because I didn’t go more than 7 miles per hour. I didn’t care though because I was actually driving!
As I look back on my driving experience with my mother, I see that her being nervous the entire time made my emotions mirror her. My cousin believed in me and was confident in my ability so my emotions mirrored hers as well and so I was more successful. My cousin gave me a valuable pointer when I first got in the car with her. She told me to actually take my shoes off. Surprisingly I was able to feel the gas so much better. I was more aware of the car and myself “becoming as one.” This tactic, finding a way to become more comfortable, is actually not unusual. My boyfriend Lorenzo, strokes his goatee the entire time he drives. My friend Alexus, opens her mouth the entire time she drives. (Her mother said she once told Alexus to close her mouth, and when she did she started driving terribly). My Papa even drives with two feet — one on the gas pedal and one on the brake pedal. It’s odd, sure, but he is comfortable doing such. It’s all about finding your calm in driving because for an inexperienced driver it can be entirely nerve wracking.
I started driving with my Papa a few weeks back after my breakthrough with my cousin. He made me face all my fears in one day. I was deathly afraid of left turns at the red light because I thought I would somehow get out of my lane and run into a pole. My Papa knew I was afraid of left turns and actually informed me that many adults take routes just to avoid left turns. That surprised me but also comforted me that I wasn’t alone in my worries. I did my first left turn with him and I aced it, taking my time on my turn and while going 10 miles per hour. The next day, we headed out to go on some serious main roads like S. Hairston, Panola and Covington. I went the appropriate speed; I was focused and I was doing great. The deal with my Papa’s car is that it’s old and complicated. When we’re parking on a hill, I have to use the emergency brake because the parking shift stopped working. To secure the car, we still put a brick behind the front tires. At long red lights, I have to turn the car off completely because he says we can’t waste gas. One day, we literally drove three hours on two dollars worth of gas; I mean the fuel gauge and the empty symbol were basically high fiving each other!
All in all, my driving experience is one that has had ups and downs but has taught me that as a teenager now driving, the goal is simply to get from point A to point B. You must always be focused and look out for your safety because not every driver has that in mind.
Elizabeth Leary is a rising junior at Salem High School and hopes to get her driver’s license in July.