People are often surprised when I tell them that I didn't have a driver's license until I was 33. Sometimes people are quite shocked as being able to drive is a fairly basic skill in North America, and adults who don't drive are pretty rare. In my own defense my parents never encouraged driving or driving lessons when I was a teenager. In my mother's case it was because she worried about my safety. In my father's case I suspect he worried about the safety of his car. I took Driver's Education in high school but found it anxiety-producing, so never did try for my license.
For most of my adult life I lived in major Canadian cities, where having a car was unnecessary or even an inconvenience. I took buses, subways, and streetcars to the places I wanted to go. Not having a license was actually a badge of honour in these places - I was an environmentalist by default! I married a man who could drive (and enjoyed doing so) and thus happily assumed the role of passenger. It wasn't until I was 33, pregnant, and living in a remote northern Ontario town that I realized that my inability to drive had become a liability. The town in which we resided was a 15-minute drive from another town that housed all the local services - doctors, dentists, grocery stores. I realized that when my daughter was born I would need to be able to drive her to appointments, and couldn't rely on my husband who, after all, had a job to go to support our family. So, with a deep breath, I signed up for Driver's Education.
My Driver's Education instructor was someone my husband knew from work. He did the Driver's Ed for the local high school kids, and he told me that he felt I should do the actual course. So, there I was - 33 and pregnant, in a classroom with 25 15-year old kids. At first the kids were baffled that I didn't have a license. They avoided me initially, but after they discovered that I knew the answers to all the quizzes they began to fight to sit next to me. We did the entire course together, wrote our exam for our learner's licenses together, and most of us even got our actual licenses on the same day. I was proud of them, oddly enough, and they seemed downright pleased for me. Thus began my driving career.
Driving to me was very much utilitarian. I drove the ubiquitous minivan, a hunter green Dodge Caravan. It was a tool, nothing more or less, and one that I never really enjoyed using. Eventually the Caravan was replaced by a silver Dodge Neon, but that car was also just utilitarian. I didn't enjoy driving - I just did it because I needed to get from point A to point B, usually with a toddler in tow.
In time the Neon was replaced by another Caravan, this time a red one, and I drove it for several years. It was definitely a shuttle vehicle - skating, swimming, appointments, school drop-offs and pick-ups. It's name should have been "The Bus". Driving it was like a visit to the dental hygienist - necessary, but hardly enjoyable.
A year ago, though, I went on a short vacation with my sisters. When I returned home I discovered that my husband had sold my van and purchased a Ford Escape to drive himself to work (until then he had driven a company truck). I was bewildered when he picked me up at the airport and led me to the Escape - what was I going to drive? And then he handed me the keys to his beloved hunter green BMW 328XI, a car he had customized and ordered two years before. In an act of great trust and generosity he was essentially giving me his baby to drive, a baby that until then had spent most days safely ensconced in our garage, coming out only for special occasions.
At first I was leery. I was terrified of scratching it, or worse, getting into an accident. It seemed so low to the ground, and so very fast compared to my clunky old van. I drove it cautiously at first, but slowly, ever so slowly, driving stopped being utilitarian. Driving became marvelling at how it handled on turns, and how I had to be uber-cautious not to speed as it was so easy to go far faster than I intended. Driving became being amused at how I could beat baby-faced, ball-cap-wearing, pick-up-truck-driving twenty-year-olds off the line at red lights. Driving became plugging in my iPod and listening to all my favourite tunes loudly. Driving became fun.
Over the last year I've come to love this car. I love it when people, usually men, ask how I enjoy driving it (although I glaze over a bit when they talk about the engine - I still don't care about that stuff!). I love how it shines when it just comes out of the car wash. I love how it makes me feel to get into it in the morning, and I love that driving it has awakened me to the joy of driving. A skill that had seemed utlitarian is now a skill that I delight in. Who knew what a difference a car could make?
My husband is a bit saddened that his beloved car is now driven mostly by me. I am encouraging him to think about customizing and buying another BMW for himself in the future. This car and I have bonded now, and I don't think I'd ever be able to give her up. I've never loved a car before, and never believed I could. I guess that cars are like men - you don't think you'll ever love one, until the right one comes along. How fortunate that I've found both the right man - and the right car.