Things I’ve Learned After Driving For The First Time in Three Years

I moved to New York City two weeks after graduating high school and adjusted to life without a car very easily. So easily, in fact, that I don’t ever see the need to drive myself anywhere when I fly back to Michigan to visit. I have valid excuses – trips home are either to go to our cabin up north (Michiganders call it “up north” – never “upstate”) where I have no reason to drive around, some are only a day or two like for Thanksgiving (someone else can drive to the mall on Black Friday…I’ll be too tired) and others are in the winter around Christmas and I don’t want to begin driving again when there’s dangerous ice on the road…no thank you!

Anyway, my excuses and fear got me to three years without being behind a wheel. A real car wheel, that is, because I’ve obviously been behind a fake car wheel playing Outrunners at Barcade in Brooklyn. But during my most recent trip, my sister convinced me to get in the driver’s seat again. So, now that I’ve been back on the road, there are a few significant things I’ve remembered or learned:

Radios are the best and the worst things ever. Why are there so many obnoxious commercials on the radio? I’m not just talking about repetitive or long ones, but I’m talking about ones that absolutely drive you crazy – like the one where a high-pitched child is singing about how smoking is dangerous in the squeakiest way you could ever imagine. Great message, but after hearing it more than six times in an hour, I have to put in a CD instead! And when it comes to the songs that are played, okay, I get it – as listeners, you hear the same tune over and over and over practically all day every day and that can get annoying. But I’ll just say this: I didn’t even like Katy Perry’s ‘Wide Awake’ before driving. I didn’t grasp the “amazingness” of it until it played over five times while I was in the car and I discovered that it is the very best song to blast loud and sing your heart out to. Plus, it makes you feel like an extra good driver – “I’m wide awake! I’m wide awake!” Bonus if you just started sipping on a Starbucks drink you picked up at the drive-thru window. Just gave you your next TV commercial idea, Starbucks – you’re welcome.

So many buttons get confusing! It’s been around 100 degrees outside, which has made me SO thankful for air conditioning in my family’s cars. However, at times, the temperature can go from hotter than a plugged-in flat iron to colder than Betty Draper’s stare in Mad Men. Not only did I press about six buttons with symbols that I thought resembled AC icons without anything happening, but the AC never stopped going full blast, causing the unfortunately super-long hair on my arms to stand straight up. Plus, I never figured out what the other buttons I pressed were for (oops!).

Sunlight is not always a good thing! Where are the signs on the road that tell you to avoid certain streets when the sun is DIRECTLY in your eyes?! That’s what I would call safety. I drove home taking one straight back road (hey, I never pretended I could handle the expressway!) and it just so happened that the sun was having none of it and decided to be right in my way. I pulled out my sunglasses, pulled down the visor at an awkward angle and sat up very straight to be able to find the perfect combination of in-car shade. Since I was huddling under the visor, I had to take brave breaks to check my rear-view mirror to make sure no one was RIGHT behind me since that happened every now and then – speed limit anyone? (I’ll admit…I was taking it a little slow…Defensive driving!)

My deathly fear of someone hiding in back of my car has returned. I still have to walk around the vehicle before getting in when it’s been sitting in a parking lot, and check to see if anyone’s in the back. And when I’m belting out Katy Perry at the top of my lungs, I suddenly feel like I’m being watched or like someone is secretly behind me and plotting their next move (also might have something to do with the caffeine courtesy of Starbucks like I spoke of earlier – I get pretty jumpy!). That is not a fun feeling. I’ve gotten used to hopping on a subway train and being able to immediately determine whether or not any of the other passengers seem threatening in any way. I’m no detective (I decided I wouldn’t get past the day of training where they put pepper spray in your eyes), but it comforts me to know I’m able to see the potential criminal since they’re not hiding away. But the criminals in cars are sneaky little guys. And they totally exist. At least in my nightmares.

I like being able to sing to songs as loud as I want with no one able to hear me (at least when I remember to roll up the windows), and I like to be in charge of where I’m going to go and make stops wherever I want along the way. I like how calming it is to be behind a wheel and take on the open road. But I think my diva side likes to have a “driver” pick me up and take me places (AKA the NYC subways), and if I’m ever late for anything? Blame the train schedule! New York has my kind of transportation style. And I’ll admit it – the way the headlights and bumpers of cars seem to make smiley faces kind of freak me out. I’ll stick to trains and walking :).

You can read more from Kelsey Hanlon on her blog and Tumblr.

(Image via Shutterstock).