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Just drive

Just drive

car chase When you get your driver’s license and you go driving on your own for the first time, you’re three parts excited to one part scared. Everything is new, everything happens at once, you have to pay attention and you are doing an amazing thing, it’s an achievement, LOOK OUT! TREE! phew that was close. Where was I? Oh yes. It’s a wonderful sensation, a whole new universe you’re discovering, boundless and filled with joy.

Then, come Monday morning, you decide to drive to school (or work, as the situation may be). You sit in the traffic for an hour and you still do not mind, because it’s your first hour of traffic and you’re so absorbed by the fact that you remembered how to use the clutch pressed halfway just so, and never once stalled the engine that you fail to get irritated at all by the snail pace and the fumes and the noise. Indeed, you’re getting out of the car still smiling, like you used to smile after getting a good grade in physics class in your 7th grade, and you decide there and then to have a great day as well. Even if it still is a Monday.

This is how you start learning how to be a driver. Because you’re not a driver yet; you’ve only just learned to move a car from A to B without having bits of it fall off. In the next couple of months you will slowly become accustomed to "feeling" the car, the engine, knowing what shift you’re in (if you’re driving a shift) without looking down at the stick. You learn where your boundaries lay when you’re at the wheel, and your parallel parking improves. You begin to know where is your car in relationship with the road and the other cars. And you realize one simple truth: this driving thing is EASY, you were scared for naught, why did you put it of as long as you did is really beyond you. You discover that you enjoy driving; it’s fun, relaxing, and it gives you a simple sense of grown-up purpose and control that  few other things did until now.

As days and months go by, you’re becoming more and more confident in yourself and your abilities. You learn to know your car and its limits. You might even get a ticket or two, just because you got curious at the wrong place and the wrong time. But that’s normal, isn’t it? Everybody gets caught every once in a while, and you know you weren’t in any real danger, Officer, it’s just this stupid law, why, in Germany they don’t even have speed limits! Your car does everything you tell it to, it is now more than a car, it’s your personal space, you have your music, your pine-shaped air freshener, your lucky dice (or maybe a cute furry animal) keep you company on the dash. You’re a driver, hands down.

And this is your turning point.

It usually comes about 2-3 years after you got your license, for some sooner rather than later. If you’re lucky, it’s going to be just a small accident; nothing beyond a few scratches and a wounded ego. If you’re not so lucky… well, let’s not go there now, shall we?

For this to mean something, you have to be in that special state that the ancient Greeks called "hubris" – defiance of the gods. And that comes to us all after a while – especially to those who love driving. It’s a feeling of supreme confidence in your abilities. You think you can control your car in any circumstances; you notice (sometimes out loud) the people that make mistakes on the road; you can drive and talk on your mobile or drive and read a map or drive and eat a sandwich at the same time, because that’s how awesome you are. And one day you do something stupid and you don’t get away with it. You can’t believe your eyes; this is not happening, you are a really good driver, really, and maybe the other guy just hit the brakes too hard, and how could you have known that? There was rain that day, or you were tired, or the phone just rang – a million excuses come forth, ready to be used. And you should shun each and every one.

Every good driver I know has had an accident like this in his past. And what made him a good driver instead of a reckless and dangerous road menace was the fact that he assumed his mistake. He was able to tell himself: "I was really stupid that day. I should have kept my distance. I should have slowed down. I shouldn’t have assumed that the guy would stay in his lane." His lesson was hard, but fair, and once learned, was never forgotten again.

And the lesson was this. Just because you’re at the wheel doesn’t mean you’re in control. Life is full of surprises, some good, some bad, some downright ugly. There is no way you can predict and avoid each and every one of them. You make a mistake, you assume it, you learn from it and you move on. That’s the best thing you can do. Indeed, sometimes it’s the only thing you can do.

Just drive.