Learning to drive: the ultimate step into adulthood. Well for this ex-boozer it is. For years I never thought about it, and almost wore it as a badge of honour. It was simply something I’d given up on 17 years ago when I’d decided I was a non-driver. I didn’t have a great desire to drive and was quite happy for other people to chauffeur me around. It was Driving Miss Daisy except Miss Daisy was on the sauce, and by the end of a night she might only manage a slurred ‘schanks’ in your general direction. However, since I quit drinking I began to realise how handy it would be to have a license, how much more freedom it would give me, how I could be the, ahem, designated driver.
When I was 17 my parents paid for me to have driving lessons. At the time I was what one might call a ‘pothead’ so my ambivalence towards the whole situation was through the roof. I only wanted to get high, eat tasty food, and watch murder mystery series like Murder She Wrote (I was an old person in a young stoner’s body). How would I find out who the killer was if I wasn’t home to watch the delightful Jessica Fletcher solve the crime? No, driving lessons were definitely a huge imposition. Regardless, I soldiered on, and my parents kept paying the bills, so we were probably both doing something neither of us really wanted to.
One saving grace was my driving instructor, who I thought was hilarious. Oh how we laughed. It was certainly helpful he had pedals on his side. Sometimes we would be chatting and I would start laughing so hard he would need to administer the brake. Laughter aside, I never felt confident driving. It always seemed like something I wasn’t going to be any good at so I guess I didn’t really try. Being a pothead didn’t help. Finally, after 6 months of lessons we did a practice test. I failed before we even left the transport department carpark. Turned out nearly running over someone on a motorbike is not ideal, even frowned upon. That day my driving instructor turned to me and said: ‘you drive like you are in a bubble and in front of you are rainbows and sunshine, and behind are fire and mass destruction’. He laughed, I laughed, and I decided to give up for keeps. No more lessons for me. I guess you could say I kind of had the last laugh in that situation.
For years it was a non-issue. It was not something I lamented or caused me distress; it was simply how it was. And it probably would have stayed that way until the day my smouldering ashes were thrown into the sea but two important things happened: 1. I quit booze and became a halfway respectable member of society, and 2. my encouraging partner (with nerves of steel) suggested I get my learners and he would teach me the lay of the lanes. The thought of being a responsible adult and driving on the road made my palms leak a little; what if I finally ran over that man on the motorbike? However after much procrastination I got my learners again. Later that night we drove out to a seaside suburb for fish and chips and my partner asked if I wanted to have a lesson around a carpark in an industrial estate on the way home. ‘Sure’, I replied. I weaved around vacant buildings for half an hour before he said ‘do you want to take this journey to the roads’. ‘Sure’.
Next thing I knew I was driving on the streets in a car like a proper adult, and it didn’t feel that bad. In fact, it felt exhilarating. How had I gone so long without this freedom? If I had a license I could drive wherever I wanted to, whenever I wanted. I realise you a probably thinking, ‘um yes, this is generally how it works when you make the foray into personal automobile transportation’, but I didn’t know how it felt because I’d never experienced it as a fully functioning normal adult. It was definitely a eureka moment.
So I spent the next year slowly building my confidence, one road at a time. I didn’t obsess about it but it was always at the back of my mind, that promise of freedom. Some days I felt confident about it but others it felt like I would forever be the stoner who couldn’t navigate a carpark. The whole thing didn’t come easy to me. I’m a daydreamer with a mind that likes to run off like a kid in a shopping centre. Sometimes I just need someone to go to the front of the shop in my mind and call over the loudspeaker: Odette’s brain, we have your body waiting at register 3. However, I decided to not let it defeat me again. I needed to find my focus. My Mr Miyagi; the wax on, wax off of driving.
It didn’t happen overnight but gradually it seeped in without me noticing. Finally, a little over a year after the learner’s had been issued I was ready to take on the transport department: Odette v QLD transport. One day only. 57 bucks a pop. Eye of the Tiger on repeat. I planned it down to a T: mock test with my driving instructor Brian the day before, then plenty of time to fit in a zoom around the block the morning of the test, as well as to sit in silence and visualise my victory. I was prepared, I felt positive, I was going to get my license! But then I didn’t. I’d like to blame that pesky 30 zone and the ill-placed sign but it was my fault. I should have scoped the scene prior. Regardless of my acceptance of fault I still felt robbed. My electric scooter ride home from the train station was the saddest scooter ride known to woman.
However, I still didn’t give up. You can take my pride but you can’t take my resilience! The earliest slot for a re-test was a month away but I figured it would just give me more time to hone my sweet new skills. And it was worth the wait: one month later a jolly guy in a high-vis jacket said ‘we usually take people inside but I won’t bother. You passed’. I thanked him profusely, making sure to continue until he was completely out of the car. Didn’t want to give him the chance to change his mind at any point.
So here I am now, a human who drives. It might have taken me another whole mini lifetime to achieve it but I don’t think I would’ve done it at all if I had kept up the boozing. Something would’ve always got in the way: a bottle of wine that had to be drunk, or a party I had to attend and get completely pie-eyed to enjoy. Without any of those hard pressed commitments in my way I was finally free to step up and take some responsibility. But you know what? There must be a little bit of that teenage stoner still in me because my first call of duty was a drive to the shops for apple pie and ice cream.
A week on it continues to feel abnormal driving by myself on the open road. I keep looking behind me for the fuzz, as if I’m going to have to make a quick getaway. However, like sobriety, it might be a little overwhelming and uncomfortable to begin with but eventually I’m sure it will become my natural state. If I’ve learnt one lesson, as a person who morphed from stoner to boozer to now a sober driver, it’s that we are all highly adaptable beings.
Catch you in the 30 zone!
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