Daring to drive toward independence

Off the Beat

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My first memory of driving takes place in Fresno, California. I must have been four or five years old at the time, and my little toddler legs were too short to climb into the back seat of the truck by myself — my grandfather had to help me. We were on our way to the zoo.

Other than serving as the location for my first car-related memory, Fresno is also home to the memories I have of my paternal grandparents. When I was younger, they had two vehicles, one of which was that truck. It was a red 2000 Dodge Dakota, and it was a giant compared to me. Maybe its larger-than-life size only emphasized how cool driving was in my mind. It symbolized something greater than myself that I could only envision once I hopped in the backseat.

Fast-forward 10 years, and I was terrified of driving — not so much the act in general, but the idea of me doing it. When my grandfather died, my dad took the truck back to our home in Southern California, and it became a part of our normal family routine. The novelty of independent transportation wore off as my parents constantly drove me to school, church, volleyball practices and Girl Scout meetings.

The first experience I had behind the wheel involved me backing up into a blueberry bush, which of course was caught on camera by my relatives. Before, I thought of driving as fun and exciting, but now all I felt was pressure and embarrassment. I instantly became insecure whenever someone asked me if I was getting my license soon. I was afraid of change, of independence. I didn’t want to grow up.

After talking with friends and family my age, I’ve noticed that this isn’t an uncommon feeling. Sure, there’s a part of us that will always want more — more money, more belongings, more love. Our society usually associates these things with growing up — starting a full-time job, buying a house and getting married, for example. Even so, some people want to stay exactly where they are. High school seniors dread the college application process, and college upperclassmen dread looking for a job. And I think this shows that I’m not alone in my fear of starting something new.

Starting something new, at least to my 16-year-old self, also meant starting over. I had little driving experience (other than the blueberry bush incident) when I started taking lessons, and as someone who likes to be in control, that freaked me out. I didn’t like not knowing how to control the windshield wipers or how to safely make unprotected left turns. I was afraid of having to change lanes on a busy freeway, and I was even more afraid of the inevitable process of growing up. Ultimately, I put off my driving test until the last month possible, and I left the DMV with an official license and the realization that I was one step closer to the adulthood I feared.

All of a sudden, though, the fear went away. The independence I wanted to avoid became very normal very quickly. I had my own mode of transportation, and I had to pay for gas. Really, not much had changed at all. Was I still dependent on my parents? Yes. And I took that for granted. As I began to drive my grandfather’s old truck, I became dependent on the emotional security of knowing that I could theoretically go wherever I wanted without actually being an adult.

I don’t have a car anymore. Like most freshman, walking and the 51B bus line have become integral to my daily travel. But the crazy part is, I actually miss driving. Changing my transportation from the steering wheel to my feet only amplifies how I feel about other life changes. Unlike the shift I experienced while learning to drive, huge aspects of my life have changed. I’m in a completely different city, three hours away from my closest family member, separated from my old friend group and completely unsure of where I’m headed academically. Also, the Mexican food here isn’t as good as in SoCal.

Even though I’m in the middle of change, reflecting on my past driving anxieties allows me to be a little more objective about now. Change is rough, and it’s really scary. Regardless of whether or not that change is good or bad, it’s still difficult to manage simply because it’s not what’s normal. And it’s OK to be fearful, but you shouldn’t let that fear hold you back from taking risks. Try things out, see what works, and keep moving forward, even if you feel like you have no idea what’s going on around you.

My dad has always told me growing up, “Only worry about what you can control.” I don’t have a car to control anymore. And I sure can’t control the world around me right now. All I can control is myself.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.