Saturday, June 9, 2012

Call me commuter girl

In a matter of minutes I've gone from sitting in my room to roaming the streets in some giant steel encasement. It's not very safe in here and I can't seem to comprehend the size of my surroundings. How is it that I can hit something without being able to reach it at arm's length?

But this is my car. "The Doctor" is his formal name. And he's going to be responsible for taking me near and far far far away for the next few months.

Flashback. Several months ago. I'm a new driver and I don't enjoy going at speeds over 40 miles per hour. I'm driving back home from Target and I decide it might be a good idea to try taking the fast track home. By fast track I mean freeway, bear with me.

As soon as I get onto the freeway, I can sense I'm not in my element. I am preparing to merge into the next lane over. Sideview mirrors, check. Rearview mirror, check. Look behind shoulder, check. Time to move.


A car came zooming past me at a speed of at least 75 mph. I was going around 55 or 60 at most. I panicked and flew back into my lane, lucky to not fly off into the railing and heaving like I'd just entered a room full of non-hypoallergenic cat fur.

For the next mile, I sat in the driver's seat hyperventilating. I'd managed to make it into the next lane, but not without enough trauma to keep me from ever riding on a freeway again. If I ever have to go into the city to work, I'll use surface streets. That's the answer. That's the only option, actually. C'est tout.

Then it's the winter before summer 2012.

I'm looking at my internship options. I can apply to work in Costa Mesa or Santa Ana, nearby cities where there are a few options but not many. Or I could apply to Los Angeles, Hollywood, the San Fernando Valley. What do I choose?

Well I have to maximize my options right? So I did.

And I ended up far away from home.

My commute this summer will, on a good day, last around an hour and a half. The mere thought of this brought a chill to my spine for the last few months of my spring quarter at school. The longest commute I've ever had to a job has been the distance from my dorm to the University Library. And that I travel by foot.

Now I will be expected not only to go several dozen miles a day in either direction, but I will have to do so by freeway - the one automobile adversary that I've never been able to come to terms with.

So I got in a car today and I battled my fiercest foe: the California freeway.

Since I got my license about a year and a half ago, the idea that so many people before me have achieved the same success with half as much heartache has disturbed me to no end. Is this just a talent that I don't possess? Or is there something so wrong about the automotive licensing industry that millions of unqualified individuals have managed to get permission to drive over the past several decades?

I think it's a little bit of both. Naturally, because I have no hand-eye coordination, driving is not my forté. But even beyond that, I believe there is something inherently awful about how drivers drive.

Driving on the freeway today, I felt it was my constant duty to be watching other people to make sure they didn't do anything stupid. I got cut off by at least a half a dozen drivers, I witnessed countless pick-up trucks carrying untethered loads that could easily have flown off and into the streets and I saw people going at speeds that a hundred years ago might have been chalked up to witchcraft.

Maybe it's just a California thing, but I could barely wrap my head around the fact that by driving, I was not responsible just for my own car, but I was responsible for making sure other people weren't injured if I were to unsuspectingly get in the way of their own faux pas.

And thinking back on that first venture onto the freeway, I have to say it was this problem that was the root of all evil.

It wasn't that I was being a bad driver. As I said, I checked every mirror and around every shoulder that was necessary to make for a safe move. But someone came speeding down the freeway at a rate of miles per hour that seemed inhumanly possible.

All day today I had to remind my dad that he needn't sit on the edge of his passenger seat while I drove him from Orange County to Los Angeles and back again. "I'm a pretty good driver," I kept telling him.

But in some way, he was right to clutch the handle above the door for dear life. It may not be his daughter who is not a conscientious driver, but it could very well be the hundreds of other drivers she will encounter in one day of commuting that prove the Achilles' heel to an otherwise perfectly safe drive.

Today, though, gave me the confidence to go out in these next few weeks and be one of the many morning and evening commuters on the LA roads. And though I may still hesitate to switch lanes for fear of that one person driving 20 miles per hour faster than I am, at least I'm now aware they exist and I'm subsequently ready to avoid them. Such is life and such is driving.

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