I’m a terrible driver, which is unfortunate because I hail from Southern California — the land of a million cars. Being able to drive there is a basic necessity, and having a two-plus hour commute every day is a classic SoCal experience, just like trying to get into acting and never shutting up about your two-hour commute.
Learning how to drive is treated like some coming-of-age moment. And as with all other symbolic markers of adulthood, I was dragged into it kicking and screaming.
Now that I can drive, I have an immense amount of power. Who the hell decided it was a good idea to let me have a license? You hit the wrong button and boom! You plow right into the side of a school bus full of orphaned puppies and we’re all dead.
Weird how piloting a giant metal cube hurtling through streets at up to 65 miles per hour, using only a wheel and two foot buttons, makes me a little nervous.
It wasn’t just the fact that I could die in a horrific, fiery wreck. I mean, we can all die at any given moment because of reasons totally out of our control. The truly terrifying realization was that it all depended on my ability to be a competent driver.
Getting yelled at for being hit in the back of the head with a piece of plywood after braking too hard because my dad insisted I practice driving while the car was full of construction supplies was the exact moment I decided that I needed to move somewhere where I didn’t need to drive.
Thankfully, Berkeley has an actual public transportation infrastructure — there are more than two bus lines, and each line has more than three stops. I’m amazed that there are actual bike lanes, and not just a couple of signs begging cars not to drive cyclists off the roads and into ditches. I haven’t lived in the Bay long enough to stop getting a little excited when I take BART somewhere. I even joined a public transit meme page (shout out to my fellow New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teens members).
Sure, having a license comes with its perks. There’s a lot of freedom and independence with being able to drive your own 1-ton death machine wherever and whenever you want. No longer did I have to depend on my parents to shuttle me to places — now I had the freedom to go to the mall, or get McDonald’s or… that’s about it, actually.
The power I gained was tempered by the fact that I was still living at home and being supported by my parents. Technically, I could drive wherever I wanted, but I still had to pick up my little brother from school, and my dad was making dinner so I kind of needed to be home by 6.
Living in Berkeley is the flip side of this situation. Yeah, my ability to get to places is constrained by whether or not the buses are running today. I have to plan things more strategically — I can’t just roll out of bed and decide to go grocery shopping right now because there’s no way in hell I’m dragging a big bag of rice all the way from Koreana Plaza on foot.
But there’s also the fact that I’m buying my own groceries — and paying my own bills and making my own meals and all the other big boy responsibilities now that I live on my own. I’m much more independent now than I was when I lived at home, but I’m still in this weird in-between area between adulthood and childhood.
College is an institution that stops me from becoming totally independent, since I still get some support from my parents and school programs. I have power over what I want to do with my life, but just as the bus schedule dictates when and how I do those things, the institution of school does too.
I know that nearly everyone struggles with “adulting” in college — I’ve seen enough memes about eating ramen out of a frisbee because you forgot to do dishes or buy real food. But for me, adjusting to using public transit was weirdly the biggest reminder that I had to be responsible for myself now.
Right now, I get some support from my parents, some from friends, some from school services. I have a big safety net and space to figure out how to take care of myself, but the net’s just long enough that I can still strangle myself with it by accident.
Nevertheless, I’m grateful for the support I have in my fumbling transition to a somewhat-adult who can feed and take care of themselves. Maybe most of all, I’m grateful for all of the accessible public transit options that make it plausible for me to not have to own a car in this god-awful city.