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.