This past summer I drove across the country several times: Minnesota to California, California down south through to Florida, Florida to New York, and finally California to Minnesota.
At first I thought I would loathe the long hours, sometime driving for up to fourteen hours a day, and worry when the next remote gas station would pop up in rural western Texas.
Quite surprisingly, I loved all of my treks. And perhaps even more surprisingly, the road trip that I made alone was my favorite of all.
When I first got my written driving permit, I didn’t actually drive for three months.
I was terrified, but of course would never admit that to anybody. I simply told my mom that I didn’t mind being dropped off and picked up; maybe I wouldn’t even take my driving test on my birthday.
I also insisted that our ancient gold minivan was unsafe; turns out the transmission broke before I ever had to drive it.
Finally my mom had enough of it, and on my first day driving with her, she had me merge onto a six-lane freeway where people routinely drive a minimum of 80mph.
My mother is a fan of the “push you off the diving board and hope you swim” form of parenting. I was terrified.
My palms sweated and I insisted we turn around. But the light flashed green and there was no option but to join the herd.
I did, without incident, and since that moment have fallen in love with driving.
More than anything, I love the freedom driving has granted me. I adore knowing that I can get up and leave whenever I want to.
I hate routines, and driving gives me a way to get anywhere I want to go and explore. I can cross the country if I decide to. I have that control to do exactly what I want when I want to do it.
Driving gives you control over what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.
It’s that sense of control that puts me at ease. Though I can never fully trust the drivers around me, I can trust myself to be responsible.
In this way, I almost feel, naïvely, in charge of my own fate. The reason I hate flying on airplanes is because this lack of control; my life is in the hands of a pilot I’ve never met.
But with a car, I’m able to put faith in myself to get me where I’m going.
Another reason I love cars is that they’re the perfect place to be alone.
You can blast the radio as loud as you want without anybody calling an RA.
You can keep trash and trinkets in the trunk without your roommates worrying if everything is exactly in place.
And more than anything, you can just sit there and think. All of my best ideas and observations come to me when I’m driving. I get lost in my own thoughts most of all when I’m in a car.
I grew up with a twin sister, and often times in my last few years of high school the car was the only place I could take a breather and have time alone.
If I ever have a bad day at Carleton, my car is where I take my lone retreat and re-energize.
I think that’s why, above all, I loved my road trips alone the best. I listened to corny books on tape as I passed through the towering, magnificent Rocky Mountains and made my transition. I didn’t have to worry about anybody else’s emotions or food preferences or music choices.
I could do whatever the hell I wanted when I wanted.
It’s so rare in life that we simply get to make our own choices based on exactly what we want to do.
I am so grateful and privileged to have a license and the car for the very simple reason that driving gives me the freedom and independence I rarely get to enjoy on a daily basis at Carleton.