After two decades of fear and procrastination, a new-year goal finally gets ticked off.
On a steep backstreet in Manurewa almost 20 years ago, my heart raced as cars backed up behind me. My left hand shook as it gripped the gear stick, and my foot planted on the brake was almost cramping from fear and stress.
I was a learner driver attempting the dreaded hill start. Instead of a smooth take-off, I managed an impressive, though unintended, wheel spin and then bunny-hopped slowly around the corner.
But this wasn’t the end of the suffering for me or the drivers I was sharing the road with. I rolled up to a busy roundabout at about 30km/h, with clammy palms and sweat beading on my forehead, screeching to a stop before dutifully looking right and left about 50 times. An angry man behind me honked, hurrying me into the flow of traffic before I felt ready. As I fumbled through the gears, trying to indicate and steer at the same time, I spotted the angry man still waiting to enter the roundabout. I drove around it once more so I could look him in the eye and give him the finger.
It’s a miracle that I managed such multitasking while being such a poor driver. It’s a bigger miracle that I didn’t crash. My sister, known for her calm and patience, was my driving instructor that day. She laughed the whole way, but she also decided that my roundabout road rage was the last straw. The lesson ended and it would be years before I tried learning to drive again.
I somehow made it through university and the start of my working career with just a learner’s licence but the embarrassment of having to show it as a form of ID to club bouncers finally spurred me into getting behind the wheel again. This time the car had automatic transmission, and though the driving instructor said I drove perhaps a little too cautiously at times, I passed my restricted test on the first go.
This did nothing for my confidence though, and my dislike of driving, fear of failure and general habit of procrastination meant almost 10 years would slip by again before I’d work up the courage to take another driving test.
Over these years, I have avoided right turns at all costs. I will circle the block 10 times to avoid having to parallel park. And I will gladly add an extra 10 minutes to my journey if it means avoiding a busy intersection. I was happy to drive between the hours of 5am and 10pm forever. But this new year caused a rare flurry of inspiration to write out a to-do list of hopes and dreams.
In what seemed like apocalyptic times, as our sky turned orange while Australia burned, ticking off some very basic life goals provided a kind of soothing distraction and purpose. Stop drinking Coke, walk 10,000 steps a day, get fit, get my full licence. Only one of those things has been achieved. The driving instructor said I hesitated a little too long at the roundabout. But he gave me my full anyway.
This piece originally appeared in the March-April 2020 issue of Metro magazine, with the headline 'Drive, she said'.