“White Knuckling It”

“White Knuckling It”


Before my senior year of high school, I wasn’t much of a driver. I only drove when my parents pressured me. “You’ve got to get more road experience,” they warned. Whatever. My fifteen-year-old self was convinced that I would drive when I felt “ready.”  Well, I never felt “ready” until I turned 16 and it was, per social constructs, the age that I had to obtain my license or run the risk of looking emotionally stunted in front of my peers. So I guess when I say I “wasn’t much of a driver” I mean that I refused to drive at all until about 3 months before I took the test.

I passed my driver’s test by—well, I think I scared the man at the DMV. Something to do with the fact that I looked over my left shoulder when I backed out of parking spaces and braked on the freeway. I remember the bewildered look on the man’s face when I attempted to merge. “Land sakes, lady! Don’t brake!” He gripped the door handle like he was trapped on The Tower of Terror against his will instead of the passenger seat of my parents’ ‘99 Ford Taurus. He may have peed his pants. I was too nervous to notice. Anyway, the man passed me. For what reason beyond rattled nerves, I have no idea.

After passing the test, I still avoided driving most of the time. But when I enrolled in college…It kind of came with the package. I would have to take a math class and I would have to drive. College students drove unsupervised. They even drove their friends places. I couldn’t very well have my parents drive me to my classes. I’d seen enough John Hughes movies to know that wasn’t cool even in high school. It’d be social suicide in college. So I mapped out the easiest route to the downtown campus I could find; one that avoided left turns and highways. Highways had this way of triggering the brake pedal in my vehicle. My palms literally sweated when I had to merge. Merging was the worst.

The first few times I drove to campus it was terrifying. But each time I did it, I felt a little better. You know that adrenaline rush you get after riding a rollercoaster? I totally got that after the first several trips. By the time I finished grad school, the entire downtown college campus area was muscle memory. I could drive it half asleep. I probably did a few times during grad school.

Six years later, I decided to date this guy named Nick who happened to live an hour away from me. The only way I could visit him was by taking I-95. Oh, Nick. The loveable ukulele-player with a heart of gold. For this guy I would climb mountains, I’d undergo root canals…Mainly I just merged onto I-95 every other weekend to see his cute face. Look, you do a lot of extreme and dangerous things for Love. It took months, but I eventually came to view I-95 as a necessary evil.

But San Antonio highways? Those are a different animal. They all intersect at 80mph. I don’t know about you, but it kind of scares me to careen down a highway at 80mph when have I no idea where I’m going. Of course Siri tells me where to go. Sort of. Actually, Siri has this funny way of announcing “Take THE EXIT ON THE RIGHT” 5 seconds after insisting that I “KEEP LEFT. FOR TWO MILES KEEP LEFT.” Siri’s a fickle creature. I try to appease her but there’s usually a wall of F250s and Silverados standing between me and the “EXIT ON THE RIGHT.” One trick I’ve learned: you can ignore her for about for about 3 exits. Siri will reroute you eventually once she’s realized that she’s not going to get her way. Or, as punishment, she might take you past the same turn-around like 4 times before directing you to the right street. She likes to play games.

Since I work across town from where I live, I’ve had to get used to this driving situation real quick. I still use Siri (flaws and all) to get to work because I haven’t memorized the route. I just set the destination and “white knuckle it” the whole way. Last week I was feeling adventurous, though. I decided to explore The Alamo Heights neighborhood before going to a meeting. A Bird Bakery craving was worth the detour. When I took the detour down the Broadway Street exit, something clicked. I had by bearings. I knew how to get to downtown without even using Siri. Later during the weekend, Nick and I took his sister to Alamo Heights for dinner. Nick went to set the route to get home, but I stopped him. Because I already knew the way. And that felt amazing.

This weekend I realized how you get over your fears. You just face them. You drive to college. You take I-95 to your boyfriend’s house. You merge onto 410 without the GPS. You “white knuckle it” until you aren’t scared anymore. Until it feels familiar. Until you don’t leave sweat prints on the steering wheel. In the case of driving in San Antonio, specifically: You drive. You don’t die. You repeat.


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