Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Facing My Fears: I Drove in Brooklyn!


Most of us have at least one fear, irrational or not. Some people are afraid of roaches; some people can’t handle the sight of clowns; and for other people the idea of mingling with strangers at a social event is enough to make them barf. I’ve struggled with all of those fears to some extent, roaches being the worst and social anxiety being the easiest (as long as there’s wine in sight), but the one unconquered fear that has the biggest effect on my life is my fear of driving in New York.

It’s not that I don’t know how to drive or don’t have much experience driving in a big city. I learned how to drive a stick shift when I was 17 on the winding, hilly roads of the small German town where we lived. When I was in college in Missouri, my parents bought me a car and I drove extensively through the state, as well as back and forth to Chicago several times. It was on one of those trips that I was in a pretty scary accident — no one was hurt, thank God — that shook me up enough that when I moved to Chicago a year later, I avoided the spot of the incident for a long, long time.

And maybe it was that accident — or the countless near-accidents I’ve been in in the years since or the crazy way people drive in New York City or the number of buses that hog up the roads or the millions of cyclists that zig in and out of traffic or all the speedy taxi cabs that leave me shakin’ in my boots at the thought of joining their ranks on the streets of NYC. Whatever it is, I’ve managed to live here for almost six years without ever getting behind the wheel. You can live in NYC forever and never need to drive — take Drew, for example, who at 43, still doesn’t have a driver’s license — but now that we have a child, it’s important to me that at least one of us is comfortable driving in our own town for the occasions when a car is just much more convenient than public transportation — occasions like weekend road trips upstate, visiting the cousins in New Jersey, or stalking Ryan Gosling. So, I’d been thinking about getting a Zipcar membership, which you may remember me mentioning a couple weeks ago.


Well, call it fate or whatever, but a few days after I mentioned it, reader Katie sent me a link to a Zipcar deal on Living Social, so I took it as a sign and bought an annual membership. And yesterday I took my first drive around Brooklyn. I chose Red Hook as our destination — a slow-paced, artsy neighborhood on the edge of the borough that’s difficult to get to via subway. Our friends recommended a seafood place called Brooklyn Crab, saying that eating there felt like visiting a small beach town miles and miles away from the city. That’s exactly what I wanted — to drive 15 minutes and feel like we were on vacation somewhere else.


Our friends, Steve and Mary, who live on our block, joined us, which made me feel a little safer. Like, if I happened to freak out on the road, unable to continue driving, either one of them would be happy to take over and get us home. Luckily, I did just fine. It was actually no big deal at all. I maneuvered the streets, parked, and even pumped gas without any fanfare, and while I didn’t tackle the freeway or go over any bridges or through any tunnels, and I didn’t even think about attempting Manhattan, this little drive 3.5 miles away and back was a great way to ease myself into the idea of all those challenges.

Plus, we got to sit right on the water and spend an afternoon eating crab legs and watching the boats pull in and out of the harbor, with a clear view of The Statue of Liberty on the horizon. Jackson was psyched to be in a new environment where he got to try corn on the cob for the first time. And proving that he really is my mother’s grandson, he attacked those ears of corn like he hadn’t eaten in days, much the same way the rest of us attacked our crab. A great time was had by all, and I feel really good that I’ve taken the first steps toward conquering my driving-in-New York fear. Next up: a clown party.

* If you’re interested in joining Zipcar, too, follow this link for a $25 rental credit.

49 comments… add one
  • iwannatalktosampson June 10, 2013, 12:15 pm

    Yay! I get really excited everytime you share personal stories, because I’m creepy like that. Jackson is seriously the cutest kid ever.

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  • Addie Pray June 10, 2013, 12:15 pm

    Well done, Wendy! After college I drove through NYC – and Manhattan – and it was awesome! I liked the rush. But I did not like the $100,000 in tollways and parking fees.

    Jackson is so cute – that face just screams “AP, come kiss my cheeks off!”

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  • Fabelle June 10, 2013, 12:19 pm

    Yay Wendy, you did it! You look great behind the wheel 🙂 (& Jackson is adorable as always!)

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    • Fabelle June 10, 2013, 12:20 pm

      Oh, & good job on the pumping gas thing. I know it’s no big deal, but that is something I’m afraid to do!

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      • rachel June 10, 2013, 12:49 pm

        New Jersey does silly things to people.

      • Addie Pray June 10, 2013, 2:17 pm

        Oh that’s right, I remember that now about New Jersey. On this road trip out east after college I also drove through NJ and tried to pump my own gas. The guy was adament that he do it and I was like “no, I don’t want to pay extra!”

      • Fabelle June 10, 2013, 2:17 pm

        I agree, haha. And @SpaceySteph that’s pretty funny to me, because everyone I know in NJ will fill up right before crossing state lines, they’re so aversive to pumping their own. When I went to VA last year, my guy friend had to pump my gas for me before I drove back home. I should really learn, though!

      • SpaceySteph June 10, 2013, 5:58 pm

        Yup I’m weird. I just didn’t know what to do. Are you supposed to tip them? What if you don’t have any small bills? What if you want a soda? Ahh can’t handle it!

      • GatorGirl June 11, 2013, 9:42 am

        From what I remember you’re not legally allowed to tip them. I have no idea how getting a soda works…I guess you have them pump then move the car to a parking spot?

      • Fabelle June 11, 2013, 9:45 am

        Oh yeah, definitely you do NOT have to tip them. And if I want to run into the store, sometimes I’ll go as my car is being filled up (usually only if I have somebody else waiting in the car, though) Or I’ll park afterwards & run in.

      • SpaceySteph June 11, 2013, 1:53 pm

        See I would totally have tried to tip them and looked awkward when they refused. I feel awkward not tipping people who do things for me. It was really awkward in Europe too- every meal was like a “do I? don’t I? Is this enough? Well maybe just a little more…” battle in my brain.

      • SpaceySteph June 10, 2013, 2:01 pm

        2 of my freshman year college roommates were from New Jersey. I actually taught one how to pump gas. This is mind boggling to me.
        Also I visited NJ once but flew into Philadelphia because it was cheaper. And I purposely waited until I got back to PA to fill up on gas because I was afraid of these full service pumps.

  • Lyra June 10, 2013, 12:22 pm

    My fear involves being at a social event where I don’t know anyone. I’m such a textbook introvert that being around a lot of people tends to make me close myself off. I really enjoy hanging out with groups of friends who I know really well, but I tend to be really really quiet if I don’t know anyone. And I sometimes get really nervous. And if I’m super nervous I start to stammer a bit. And that makes it worse. Ugh. I avoid big social gatherings like the plague.

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    • iwannatalktosampson June 10, 2013, 1:47 pm

      How did the wedding go this weekend?

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  • Jess June 10, 2013, 12:22 pm

    I literally faced a fear on Friday. And it shook me to the bone.

    I was walking to the subway from work and saw an ENORMOUS rat walking out of the entrance and onto the sidewalk in broad daylight. WTF? It was huge and sort of blondeish colored. I am so horrified. I am going to have PTSD about going to the subway now.

    Until now, I’d reasonably convinced myself that rats only existed in captivity. Like, you know –in movies and in science labs…

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    • honeybeenicki June 10, 2013, 2:20 pm

      Haha I have friends that refuse to go into my basement because I have rats. Not like running around the house eating electrical wire rats, but pet ones in a cage. And it didn’t help when her daughter decided that one of them was a vampire (because it jumped from the bottom of the cage up about 2 1/2 feet to the top of the cage).

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    • bethany June 11, 2013, 9:23 am

      You haven’t seen the rats in Rittenhouse before?! They’re HUGE.

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  • GatorGirl June 10, 2013, 12:23 pm

    How awesome Wendy!!

    I’ve driven my whole life (since like 15) but in recent years I’ve let GatorGuy do most of the driving. Like if we ever get in the car together, he drives. (It doesn’t matter who’s car, he is driving) Recently I had to drive home from leaving him at the airport during a morning rush hour and holy shit it was terrifying!! I drive to run simple errands, but highway rush hour driving was just too much for me.

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    • GatorGirl June 10, 2013, 12:42 pm

      Also I forgot to say, adorable Jackson is not helping to cool my baby fever. That little glance when you said his name was too cute!

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  • Christy June 10, 2013, 12:37 pm

    Awesome! So glad you tried it, Wendy!

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  • MaterialsGirl June 10, 2013, 12:40 pm

    dear god, wendy. Jackson is adorable and my ovaries are hurting again. damnit

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  • rachel June 10, 2013, 12:54 pm

    I would be pretty terrified to drive in NYC I think. I’m just not great at city driving – I’m too defensive of a driver, and I always am super paranoid about switching lanes in a lot of traffic because I think that I picture my car as bigger than it is. So good job!

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  • katie June 10, 2013, 12:56 pm

    yay im glad you bought it! i love when that happens- you need something and a groupon just pops right up. its like they know or something- its almost weird.

    i drove in NYC once. i was supposed to be flying home from college and my flight was canceled out of the tiny upstate airport and i wasnt going to be able to get out for like 3 days, or i could go to the city and get out the next day. i knew someone in the city and he let me stay at his place and so i went! the funny part was that i didnt have any cash to pay the tolls, so i had to mail in a bunch of missed toll paperwork while i was back home, haha.

    but, all in all, driving in downtown chicago vs nyc is comparable. and the bridges and tunnels are no biggie! youll do just fine im sure.

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  • FireStar June 10, 2013, 12:57 pm

    I’m with Jackson. Corn on the cob makes me smile too.
    And crab legs… And now I’m hungry.

    I only got my license two years ago so driving is new to me…Manhattan is terrifying to even think about. I was visiting my friend there and for the life of me I couldn’t see driving there ever! But like many things, driving is a skill, I’ve gotten more confident ever since I started commuting to an hour to work and I think your Zipcar membership is going to be great for your family and your little day trips! and just in time for summer! Fun!

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  • Classic June 10, 2013, 1:03 pm

    Yay for you, dear Wendy! Love seeing the video and the photos– Jackson is way too cute and getting so big!

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  • landygirl June 10, 2013, 1:23 pm

    That smile on Jackson’s face at the end of the video is adorable!!

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  • Miel June 10, 2013, 1:37 pm

    Yay, someone else that doesn’t have a drivers license !

    I’m 22, still never touched to a gas pedal in my life, consequently no license. Usually, when I say that to people they are like “WHAT ?!?!?! How do you even survive for one day !” Well… I live in a big city, no money for a car, nowhere to park, really nice public transportation…

    I plan on learning how to drive in… the next few years I guess. It just never was a priority. And people look at me like I’m an alien.

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  • Just Max June 10, 2013, 1:46 pm

    Awesome, Wendy! Happy and safe driving in NYC! 🙂

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  • mandalee June 10, 2013, 2:12 pm

    Congratulations on facing your fear Wendy! I went in and out of Manhattan a lot on commuter buses my first year of college so based on that experience alone, I actually feel safer when I’m the one behind the wheel in a city. I don’t think I’m that great of a driver, it’s just that bus driver traumatized the crap out of me. To this day, I still try to avoid buses at all cost.

    And Jackson is just stinkin cute! I can’t handle it!@ Between him and my neighbor’s chubby, hilarious toddler, I may be finally getting those ovary pangs I’ve been avoiding so far.

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  • Copa June 10, 2013, 2:17 pm

    City driving scares me! The only city I drive through regularly is Detroit, which is VERY different from what I imagine it’s like to drive in NYC; it’s cool in it’s own way, though! Some parts are like driving through a HUGE city with beautiful architecture (I swear!) that has been deserted, other parts are like getting all my street cred at once because they’re notoriously dangerous and people tend to just roll through red lights when they can to avoid anything that may happen when you come to a stop. But it’s not the same! I really wish I lived in an area with decent public transportation! When I was in middle/high school, my family lived in Japan and I took myself everywhere: by foot, bus, street car, local train, bullet train. It was AWESOME.

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  • Wendy June 10, 2013, 1:34 pm

    Thanks, everyone!

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  • SpaceySteph June 10, 2013, 2:04 pm

    I told my husband before we got married that I’m willing to live basically anywhere, but I HAVE to have a car. I never want to live somewhere where having a car is so expensive or impractical that we would decide not to have one.
    I mean how do you go grocery shopping? How do you go to Ikea? No. Uh uh. In college I went grocery shopping by city bus and on my way back into the bus the soda carton busts open and cans go rolling into the street. Never again. Car owner for life!

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    • rachel June 10, 2013, 2:32 pm

      Haha, I think I am an exact compromise between the two of you, Steph and Wendy. I grew up with a mom who never had a driver’s license, and had to rely on buses, taxis, and favors my entire life to get places. Once I got a car at 21, it was like a symbol of freedom. I will NEVER not have a car (barring a move to a different country maybe), because it freaks me out too much – like what if there was an emergency and I had to get somewhere quickly.

      However, I hate using a car every day for the reasons Wendy cited. I love my neighborhood now where I can walk to the grocery store and a ton of bars and restaurants, and bus to work/downtown/the airport. I maybe use my car once a week if I have to go buy dog food or something.

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      • SpaceySteph June 10, 2013, 2:51 pm

        I’ve never really lived anywhere with real public transportation. Where I grew up, the bus was considered dangerous- I would never have ridden it without a group of friends (preferably with a few buff men in the mix).
        Where I live now, there is no public transit. Like my city doesn’t have a city bus. And the grocery store is only 3/4 mile from my house, but there is no sidewalk between my house and the store, so I would have to walk along a major road.
        I wouldn’t mind living somewhere where public transit and walking were an option that I could use sometimes- it would definitely be cheaper to walk or bike sometimes, plus good exercise. But I would never want that as my only option.

      • Miel June 10, 2013, 5:40 pm

        I was stuck in a “no bus no sidewalk” city once, with no car of course. Luckily people were extremely polite and careful when I was biking and they were driving, because that was my only way to get out of the house. (Coming back from a brazilian wax on a bike : checked)

        This was such a depressing time. No sidewalks depresses me.

      • Daisy June 11, 2013, 3:10 am

        I haven’t had a car since moving to Israel 8 years ago, and one of the things that freaks me out about potentially moving back to America is that I’d most likely need to have a car. The actual driving part I miss and would be happy to do again, but I’ve never had my own car and wouldn’t even know how to deal with insurance and all that stuff — seems like such a hassle! I agree that taking groceries on the bus can be a big pain though, and I wouldn’t miss it! Also, I can’t buy ice cream in the summer because it melts by the time I walk home — so tragic!!

    • Wendy June 10, 2013, 2:23 pm

      See, I’m kind of the opposite. I would never want to live somewhere where a car was a necessity. I think they’re terrible for our environment, for one thing, and dangerous, and promote laziness. They’re also terribly expensive, regardless of where you live. That said, they can be very convenient, and are essential for certain kinds of activities and commutes. I just wish people car-pooled more often and walked and rode a bike or took public transportation more frequently. Even when I owned a car in Chicago, I car-pooled all the time and biked A LOT.

      Living in NYC, with about 10 grocery stores within a mile radius, it’s super easy to shop on a daily or near-daily basis. I walk to a farmers’ market about once a week for produce and eggs and stuff. I pick up a CSA delivery (more produce and eggs) once a week at a location about a block away. Once a week, I ride my bike — about 2.5 miles — to Trader Joe’s for other essentials. Drew stops at a fancy grocery store near his work about once a week for meat (I’m picky about where we buy our meat). I have cat food and litter delivered directly to our apartment via wag.com. And when we need milk or bread or what have you, I just hit one of our nearby stores. Really, just about everything we might need is either a quick walk away or a pretty easy subway commute (or can be delivered quite easily). Taking Jackson to his pediatrician, about two miles away, in inclement weather has proven to be the biggest challenge of not having a car, but even that is usually no big deal.

      I probably walk on average about 10-15 miles a week just running errands and strolling with Jackson, and I imagine that as long as I live here, that will be the norm, as it is for most new yorkers.

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      • SpaceySteph June 10, 2013, 3:00 pm

        So do you grocery shop several times a week rather than doing a big shop once, because its harder to carry all that or is that just your preferred shopping method?

        I usually go to the grocery store only once a week and buy everything we need for the week’s meals all in one go. Usually I fill up 4-5 of those reusable grocery bags with groceries (see I’m not always murdering the planet!) but then I don’t have to go back for a whole week!

        When my husband and I were dating, we lived separately and were grocery shopping 3-4 times a week rather than making coordinated meal plans. I hated that and felt like it wasted so much of my time having to constantly grocery shop.

      • Wendy June 10, 2013, 3:20 pm

        I guess it’s both — I shop almost every day because I can/ have to, but I also prefer shopping that way because I feel like I am less likely to waste food if I’m planning meals and shopping for, like, the next 2-3 days rather than the next 1-2 weeks. I know it must sound like I judge people who drive frequently, but realistically, I know that it’s much, much more convenient to forgo a car in a place like NYC than just about anywhere else in the U.S. (even in chicago, public transportation is pretty lacking). And it’s much easier for a stay-at-home mom — or anyone home during the day — to grocery shop 4-6 times a week than someone who works outside the home full-time. I do wish that people who live in areas where a car is a necessity, considered car-pooling even one day a week or taking a bus once in a while or committing to whatever small commuting sacrifice made sense for their lives/lifestyles.

      • SpaceySteph June 10, 2013, 6:00 pm

        My husband and I manage to carpool usually 2-3 times a week. Sometimes though, if I’m on console working the late shift, we can’t do it at all. I wish it was more often though. For the planet, for the wallet, and for the traffic.

      • Wendy June 10, 2013, 6:20 pm

        That’s great!

      • Addie Pray June 10, 2013, 4:59 pm

        I’m 100% with Wendy on this one! That said, I have a car. When I first moved to Chicago I get rid of my car. (Actually my mom liked mine better so we switched, then my brother’s spare car broke down so I gave him our moms – we play musical cars in my fam a lot.) Anyhoo – it was AWESOME without a car. The $$ for insurance, parking, and tickets (come on, they are inevitable) was out the roof. But I missed having a car because I tend to drive out of the city a lot – whether for day trips or trips home, plus I was looking for jobs in the ‘burbs and thought I should just go ahead and get one. But two of my good friends don’t have cars so I usually drive us all to Target and whatnot. But I tend to not take the car out during the week. I still hit up the grocery stores on food or in back as I come home from work. I’d like to say it’s because I want to save our environment but it’s mostly because parking is a bitch and I’m already out and about so I just pick up a bag of stuff while I’m out. I hate doing those “one trip to the store to buy 10 bags of stuff” trips b/c I have a walk-up and those fucking stairs are not doable with 10+ bags, and multip trips up and down the stairs is just not gonna happen.

        There. Now you know my car sitch. … Is it just me or are my stories becoming the most boring ever? Don’t answer, I’m sensitive today.

      • Addie Pray June 10, 2013, 5:01 pm

        *on foot (not food) or on bike (not back) …. Not only are my stories more boring than ever, I have more typos than ever, and it’s 100% my broken finger’s fault so e’erbody back off!

      • Addie Pray June 10, 2013, 5:05 pm

        Oh oh oh and I forgot the missing boring piece to my boring story: during the few years I had no car I used Zip cars a few times. Zzzzzzzz.

        That’s it, I’m done. No more DW for me b/c I’m ruining my image – which I’d like to think is one of cool, not-boring-at-all stories, with no typos ever. Bye!

  • Sunshine Brite June 10, 2013, 3:32 pm

    Yay Wendy! I’ve only lived where you HAVE to have a car. Some say Minneapolis is fine without one, but my friends without tend to bail regularly since it’s hard and I refuse to drive them all over the place since none but one have offered to reimburse me for my efforts.

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  • mylaray June 10, 2013, 4:38 pm

    This is great! I’ve somewhat considered going without my car and using Zipcar, but realistically, that’s not a great idea for me. I live in a city with horrible transportation and it’s not very walkable. But I hate being so reliable on cars all the time so I walk to work, walk to the grocery store once a day, and walk around my neighborhood. I feel like I’m able to be more part of my neighborhood by walking and seeing everything all the time, rather than being stuck in traffic. My friends think it’s crazy how I attempt to make our city walkable, but I love it, and I enjoy being outdoors. I grew up in very walkable and transportation-friendly cities and I wish more places were like that. Good for the environment, your health, and your morale.

    I lived in NYC for 2 years, but I only drove there when visiting last year, and I found it relatively easy, only because I knew where I was going. I think not knowing is what makes it so scary otherwise.

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  • Liz June 10, 2013, 5:36 pm

    I have lived in Queens all my life and still have not driven in Manhattan. Honestly, I didn’t even drive in busy parts of Brooklyn until a few years ago. My goal is to drive in the city in the near future, though it may the one time I wish I didn’t have a stick shift (I love it otherwise.) Anyway, congrats on getting out there!

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  • katieosaurus June 11, 2013, 3:26 am

    Jackson is too cute! And good for you for facing your fear!
    I am irrationally terrified of any kind of bug. Like I will start crying if there’s a moth between me as the door and I can’t get to the door without going under the moth. I even hate bees and flies and ants. But I also have a lot of anxiety about death of my loved ones lately. I’ve been that way ever since I got pregnant with my baby over a year ago. My husband sometimes likes to make jokes about being in an accident (he’s a logging truck driver) and I will literally start bawling. Ugh, I hate being a cryer. All of my emotions are connected straight to my tear ducts!

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  • bethany June 11, 2013, 9:13 am

    Yay! I’m glad you did it!!

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