Monday, January 13, 2014

152. Being Okay with Going the Speed Limit

The first time that I got behind the driver's seat of a car after hiking the Appalachian Trail, I was utterly terrified. This wasn't because I hadn't driven a car for 6 months. It was because I hadn't driven a car in 5 years. I hadn't had any reason to own or drive a car living in New York City, and before that, I had only driven for a total of 18 months. I got my driver's license when I was 21 years old, had an old stick-shift Geo Prism with 280,000 miles on it until I was 22, and then I moved to New York City. I called the car "Scamp" because it was like a mangy old dog that you can't help but love, and also because it smelled vaguely of noodles. Like, all the time.

After the trail, I knew I was going to have to bite the bullet and learn how to drive again. As awesome as it is to live on the coast in New England, it is severely lacking in the "All-Encompassing-Underground-Subway-Railroad" department. Which is probably good because it absolutely would be destroyed by frost heave. If you live in one of those states full of people who like sunshine and perpetual summer, it's possible you don't know what frost heave is. Take off your sunglasses and stop smearing that sunscreen on your nose for a second, because some knowledge is about to, as they say, be dropped.

Frost heave is when water seeps down underneath roads in the fall, freezes and expands in the winter pushing the road up, then melts away in the spring, leaving giant feet-wide empty bubbles of asphalt in the street that explode and disintegrate magnificently when driven over, summarily ruining the car's suspension. There are so many people in New England that have accidentally fallen into The Land of the Lost that there's whole support groups for it. I can't imagine what that would do to underground tunnels. Thus: no subways. After that completely unnecessary tangent that I could possibly delete but I won't because INTEGRITY, I will move on. So I guess I shouldn't complain about a lack of a subway, because it would just be full of lobsters anyway.

I was quite nervous when I got into the driver's seat of our "new" car (read: 210,000 mile Subaru Outback, the State Car of Maine). I was completely convinced that there was now an invisible ticker floating above my head, just waiting to count off the thousands of mailboxes and trash cans I was going to run over and send flying into the sky, their contents exploding out into the open air like so much confetti.

I did fine re-learning how to drive this past Fall of 2013, and the only victim of my Return to Adulthood was an empty plastic water bottle that had blown into the street. I accidentally ran it over, and then hit my head on the ceiling of the car because I was so terrified of the sound of the EXPLODING BOTTLE that I rocketed upward out of my seat.

The thing that I have found to be so incredible is the speed. Before I hiked the trail, even when I was a passenger in a car, I never really understood how fast we were moving. I would expect that, in general, people would drive at least 5 to 9 miles over the speed limit at any given point and that was normal. Obeying a 25 mph speed limit felt like trying to do The Worm in a shallow kiddie pool full of snot. So slow. So painfully slow. Also, gross, somehow? I don't know. R.I.P. That Metaphor.

But I noticed something almost immediately when I began driving again. I was going 15 mph through a zone, and I glanced to my right. I couldn't help imagining that I wasn't driving, but hiking. As soon as I attempted to picture a person propelling themselves forward at the speed of the car, I was almost sick with how fast that would be. That would be a 4 minute mile, which some people are capable of, but is RIDICULOUSLY FAST.

I only looked to my right for a fraction of a second before I looked forward again, but that fraction of a second was enough to remind me that I used to only be able to get from one place to another by the propulsion of my feet. I was reminded that cars are miraculous, magic-machines that get us from one place to another at an insane wizard-speed. And with that, I have never been in a rush to get anywhere anymore. Don't get me wrong, I don't hold up traffic. But if I'm stuck behind someone going slow, I know that it just doesn't matter. I'll get to the grocery store eventually. My friends will forgive me if I'm a few minutes late. I'll get to work on time because I left on time. For the first time in my life, I am okay with going the speed limit.

Clever Girl


  1. Awesome post!
    There used to be a semi-pro basketball team named the "Vermont Frost Heaves"
    They were perhaps the only professional sports team with an image of a road on their logo. Their team motto: "The Frost Heaves...we're a noun AND a verb phrase"
    Love, Mom and Dad