Saturday, May 19, 2012

Faults in the system

My dad has been dwelling on one topic for the past few weeks. It's practically all he talks about, maybe even all he thinks about (it's really not, but sometimes it seems that way). When I call him up, as I do a few times a day, he'll often bring it up assuming I'm curious. But have I ever really cared about cars? Other than my childhood pink Barbie convertible, the answer is decidedly "no."

This summer, I'll be driving to and from an internship in Los Angeles at least twice a week. I am inheriting my dad's old car, a silver Toyota that I am now affectionately referring to as "The Doctor." And he can't seem to think of anything else. For the week before purchasing his new car, my dad (whom I love) stayed on the phone with me to ramble through his financing options. Obviously, I owe him my attention (at the very least) should he want to talk about something car-related. It's because of his willingness to give me his old car that I will be able to work this summer.

But I also have no patience for two things: financial discussions and talking about cars. Mostly the latter.

I am inheriting "The Doctor" purely out of necessity. Not once since I have been of the legal age to drive have I cared for an instant about actually using my state-given right.

Once, I was sitting next to my sister in her deep emerald green Toyota Echo, drowning in the zebra-print passenger seat cover and talking to her about driving. "When you turn 16, you're going to want to drive," she said. "No, I doubt it," I replied. I was 13. And I was right. Though she protested, saying my feelings would change, a few years down the line I proved that I was not susceptible to the sweet sixteen driving craze. In fact, I wanted nothing to do with it.

When I was a junior in high school, all of my friends started getting licenses. If I ever wanted a ride, I would awkwardly ask them and then remember the rule about 16-year-old drivers not being able to escort anyone under 18 for one year unless an adult was present. But even then I refused to get my own license.

Often, I'd sit in the backseat with my friends as we went to Disneyland with one of their mothers driving. Their whole conversation revolved around sideview mirrors, turn signals, switching lanes, freeways, etc. And I would sit in silence. "I'll never need a car," I thought to myself. When I'm old enough to commute to work I'll be living in New York or London. Yo ho, yo ho...a public transportation user's life for me.

In my first year of college, though, I got my kick in the head. As I began applying to jobs and internships for Summer 2011, I realized I couldn't honestly answer one question on the apps:

"Do you have access to transportation to and from work?" I thought, "Sure, my dad can drive me." But was I really being serious? A 20-minute commute for him to and from Disneyland twice a day just so I could make minimum wage?

This would not work.

I didn't end up getting any work between freshman and sophomore year, but before I found that out I realized I needed to make necessary preparations in case I did. During winter break of freshman year, I began studying for my permit test. While the kids I knew who'd gotten their licenses before me had taken courses, I just spent 24 hours reading through the California Driver's Manual. And I passed on the first try having only missed one question. Clearly, they make this test passable for anyone with half a brain who can read English.

For my actual license, I put in an equal amount of effort. As in - about 24 hours worth. My dad and I did "behind the wheel" training in the parking lot of my high school's West Campus. We took it to the next level on a residential street where I practiced stopping at stop signs. After a bit of practice on streets with stoplights, I took my driving test.

And it lasted all of five minutes.

When I got into the car, the proctor immediately marked me down for getting flustered about locating my defroster. When I was on the street, I forgot I could turn right on red and when I finally came to my senses, he had me turn around and go back to the DMV.

Though I managed to get my license on the second try - albeit with a few mistakes and a different proctor - in some ways I am still conflicted over whether or not I'm happy to be behind the wheel and to have gotten myself there the way I did.

This summer, I"m going to be downtown. I'll be driving on freeways, through busy intersections and probably unsafe areas. And while driving is a nice luxury to have, it still scares me. And sometimes I"m still the 13-year-old who doubts she'll ever really care at all about having a license. Because even though I do now, I still don't really care. But you know who should care? You. Because you're the one who'll be out on the road with me this summer - the girl who learned how to drive from a book and in a parking lot. Better watch out.

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