By Sarah Feng
CO EDITOR IN CHIEF
The beast purred to life beneath me. Its sagittal crest glittered in the darkness of my garage; its baleen pulsed with long plumes of smoke and oil.
Then the illusion was shattered: in the passenger seat, my driving coach snapped––with a mix of gentleness and impatience––“What are you doing? Get moving!” As I shakily pulled into the road, my eyes flicking in nervousness to the rear view and side mirrors, I stared at my car’s wheels wobbling over the dotted yellow lines. Being able to drive was––is––a terrifying amount of control, like being charged with the strength to lift up pianos and dissect their insides with the flick of a finger.
In the spring of my junior year, I decided I wanted to start driving. Unable to transport myself from place to place, I chafed at the need to rely on my friends and parents to drive me from place to place. The lack of motile independence yoked my feet with the heavy anchor of walking distances and hammered me into my house, where I stewed in my lighthearted mournfulness for several weeks.
Psychologically, having just turned 16, I craved autonomy more and more: driving was not only the key to more efficient transportation, but the portal to the independent ‘me.’ With the alive, pulsating readiness of the car at my disposal, I’d be free to dash down the hundreds of winding roads in the Bay Area. I’d passionately explore each quaint, nestled shop and park. I’d blast intense, swelling music through open windows, able to choose, control, accelerate, and reverse my own direction in life.
To receive the learner’s permit, the first step in the process, I would need to pass a written test about the rules and regulations of the roads in California. Busy with schoolwork and creative writing, I rapidly clicked through the online learning platform and received my certificate, but on the morning of, I realized it may not be ideal that I hadn’t read any of the information. Standing in line for 20 minutes, I quickly flipped through the handbook, took the test, and somehow passed. In retrospect, this was likely dangerous, but I was relying on the expertise of my driving coach––and indeed, he fulfilled my expectations. A middle-aged man, he approached my highly shaky hands, and “poor form” with unrestrained vigor. I appreciated his unbridled honesty: it was true. The frequent twitches of my knuckles would send ripples of sinusoidal motion into the car’s wheels, and I many a time met the frightened gaze of the driver coming from the opposite side of the road.
When I received my license after a nerve-wracking driver’s test––in which I was lucky enough to be right behind another student on the same route as me––I took a deep breath behind the wheel, stared at myself in the rearview mirror, and told myself, Don’t mess this up. Driving home that day, I was filled with the bubbly knowledge that I could easily double back to my job if I had forgotten something or drop by a friend’s house to deliver a gift, instead of filing a semi-formal request with my mom.
When I finally reached a state of cruising smoothly along the road, I realized I’d achieved it: the sensation of being able to control one’s own direction. Gliding along the Californian coast with my parents, with the crows spiraling above head and brine tossing the ocean, I felt the stiff leather under my fingertips and knew I had shaken off the solenoid of dependence. What the gas pedal had given me was far more than the ability to round a curve at a green light: it was the feeling of driving into my own future.