When I was thirteen years old, our family moved out to a brand new suburb in Edmonton. It was so new that a real road had not even been built. Everyday, always a bit behind schedule, we would fly down that bumpy dirt road in our big green station wagon.
My dad was a good driver (he never once got into an accident) and he drove fast. I loved it. I was waiting impatiently for the day I turned fourteen, so I could get my learner’s license. When I think back to that time, my dad and I were in a volatile relationship and always at odds, so it surprises me that we both had tolerance for his driving lessons. The day I turned fourteen, I got my learner’s and the day I turned sixteen, I got my driver’s license. It was all about freedom, the main theme of my life.
I got into sales at nineteen and began a life on the road. I was partnered with a lazy girl who always wanted to sleep and she taught me how to drive a stick so I could chauffeur her all over Alberta.
When I was hired at a Top-500-in-Canada company and my territory was northern B.C. and Alberta, it never once occurred to me to cancel my monthly trek if the weather was bad. I remember driving through three-foot snowdrifts on the highway to Fort St. John in the middle of many a blizzard.
I learned how to do all kinds of things in a car without getting into an accident.
One month before my wedding I drove back home from Peace River in an August thunderstorm that was a deluge. I was thrilled with my sparkling new, upgraded company car. It was red wine burgundy with a rich interior of burgundy, the color of the day. The conditions were wicked and I refused to go over 100 kilometers/hour, and so with a line up behind me, I took the shoulder to let impatient drivers pass. A beaver damn had burst and I hit a massive tree on the flooded road at full speed. In slow-mo circles I landed nose down in a swamp in a billow of steam. Because of the movies, I thought the car was going to explode and I hoofed it out of there–tout de suite–knee deep in mucky water in high heels and a pretty pink dress. My magnificent car was a putrid write-off.
Now that I’ve taken a second part-time gig, I’m driving 10 hours each day from Crossfield to Okotoks and everything in between. In a congested city, that’s a lot of driving. I observe all types of drivers and maybe it’s my Saskatchewan roots paired with my dad’s defensive driver role modeling, but I have a low threshold for chicken shit driving. “Grab a pair!” frequently comes to mind.
Indulge me in a digression about the culturally accepted term of “having balls” as meaning toughness and fearlessness. Men frequently call each other “pussies” to insinuate weakness. And they would have us all believe that, but let’s be honest: testicles need plastic cans for protection in sports. If they get overheated, they malfunction. They turn blue and painful if they get overly excited. Squeezed too tightly they can release a deadly amount of adrenaline. A man’s bollocks are actually fragile little globes. The corresponding female body part is far, far more resilient. It withstands regular thrashings year after year (so to speak), can accommodate various sizes of appendages, and can stretch to an unimaginable size to accommodate birth and then bounce back (I’ve seen it firsthand and it’s incredible). That’s tough. So if I could use the female simile and have it understood, I certainly would.
In my observations of drivers, I wonder if driving is a metaphor for life. When I yell out one too many expletives as I drive around the city, I know it’s not really about the traffic. It has more to do with my frustration and impatience with what’s going on or not going on in my life. People’s road rage is never about the road. When I’m in my car singing joyfully at the top of my lungs, I know I’m having an on-track day. If I see someone else doing the same, I know they’re on their game. The moments I observe a driver owning the road with gusto and confidence, I give them a secret high five. I’ve noticed that a lot of traffic congestion is caused by people pulling a ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ instead of just going with the flow. The same thing happens in our lives when we put the brakes on instead of going for it, whatever that it may be.
But I especially wonder if the fear of driving is a metaphor for the fear of living. If you’re afraid of driving, what else are you afraid of?
I’ve watched people …
Afraid to merge (great way to cause an accident)
Afraid of the Deerfoot freeway (the signs say 100 kms/hour not 70)
Afraid to drive the speed limit
Afraid to turn a corner without slowing to 10 kms an hour (great way to get rear-ended)
Afraid to parallel park
Afraid to drive in the dark
Afraid of getting lost
Afraid to pass
Afraid of traffic on road trips
Afraid of weather conditions (we live in Alberta, people–snow happens)
Freak out when a car turns right into a lane next to them
For some reason I feel particularly bad for older men who’ve become fearful of driving. I imagine them once fearless and brave and now depleted of testosterone, succumbed to a sedate life, the Castrati. Maybe I feel that way because my dad stopped driving very young and I noticed a distinct decline in his spontaneity and boldness.
Last summer I was invited to a friend’s neighbor’s house in Peachland. She took us on a tour of her cozy cottage style home. One room was especially bright and cheery and on the wall was a photo of a lovely older woman smartly and contemporarily dressed. It was her mother at 94 years old! She looked no more than 70. She said her mom drove a yellow convertible and frequently traveled the highway from Alberta to see her. I asked about her personality and she said she’s always been a fearless type, full of vim and vitality.
I think once you lose your balls, it’s a slippery slope downward. Observe your driving style. If you quit taking the freeway (or whatever else you see on that list) because of fear, ask yourself honestly, what else have I eliminated from my life due to fear?
Like driving, life can be unpredictable. Sometimes you have to make sudden detours and find a way around unexpected obstacles. When you see a mess of congestion, you’ve just gotta have guts and merge. At times you have to find your way in the dark with only a little light to lead the way and trust you’ll make it.
One thing I know for sure is that I never want to become afraid of the staples of freedom: driving and flying. If I stop doing either, I may as well lay me down to sleep–permanently. If I live that long, I plan to express even more of my inner Mario Andretti as I age (the way I see it, cops may get a kick out of it). I intend to drive the hell out of a hot little convertible, like the neighbor’s 94-year-old mom.
Practice fearlessness–not recklessness, but ‘balls’–in your driving and see if you feel a bit more daring about life. Grab a pair and go forth wild, free, and brave!
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