I have always been an awful driver. I don’t understand why society expects everyone to innately know how to park ginormous chunks of metal in between each other like some sick game of financially-high-stakes Jenga. Personally, I think cars should only be able to drive 10 miles per hour max so the streets can just be treated like a big bumper car stadium. Then, rather than being a “concerning display of my lack of awareness” and “massive increase in our insurance bill,” the two fender benders I got into in high school would’ve just been laughed off over a nice lemonade and funnel cake.
Because of my bad track record, I have always thought that any car related near-death experience I’m involved in would be my fault. My parents are of the same philosophy and consequently forbade me from driving on the highway until I am at least 21. I find this fascinating because there is absolutely nothing about turning 21 that makes a person better at driving. Honestly, not much changes at all about a person on their 21st birthday besides legally being able to drink. For obvious reasons this is not a pro, so it is perplexing to me that being of legal drinking age is arbitrarily my parent’s criteria for me to be able to make the jump from access roads to freeways.
My lack of highway driving abilities often leaves me immobile when I am home in Texas. San Antonio is a spider web of freeways, all of which I am banned from until I’m legally allowed to rent a uHaul (I guess I lied, being able to drink isn’t the only perk of turning 21). Access roads are generally my go-to when traveling somewhere that necessitates highway driving. Unfortunately, my friends don’t have as much patience as I do for dragging out ten-minute trips to the grocery store into hour-long road trips.
When it comes to toting me around, my friend Cayman is usually the one to take the responsibility. Two summers ago, I dragged her along to visit family with me in New Braunfels, Texas. In a historically German town, it is very difficult to find a place to eat dinner past 8 p.m. that isn’t a pub. At 17 we had never drank, much less attempted to enter an establishment dedicated to alcohol. If we were 21, we could have just eaten at the local pub and walked home (further proof that once you turn 21 the need to drive becomes increasingly irrelevant). Unfortunately for us, though, we were young and starving and had to drive out 30 minutes to find a place to eat that was legally allowed to let us in.
We rolled the windows down and put John Mayer’s New Light on the stereo (a light which physically appeared to us moments later when our lives flashed before our eyes). As we approached a stoplight, I felt Cayman’s tires rotate to the right—oddly, I thought—because the freeway perpendicular to us was a one-way street. However, as the less experienced driver in the vehicle I assumed I must be misunderstanding the rules of the road. Politely, I decided to keep my reservations of potential imminent death to myself.
Suddenly a white Mini Cooper, my dream car from ages 10 to 18, was rushing towards us. Before we even saw its headlights there was a symphony of panicked honks. For once in my life I was completely calm. As a gift I think my subconscious was letting me live the last few seconds of my life void of anxiety—a refreshing contrast to the past 19 years. I honestly felt worse for the people witnessing our situation than I felt for us. I can’t imagine how much witnessing a head-on collision on your way home from work would affect the rest of my day.
I turned to Cayman whose eyes were glued to the car quickly approaching us. “Oh my god” she said. “What do I do?”. You know it’s bad when someone has to ask me for driving advice. God, the ghost of Isaac Newton and Kris Kardashian’s DMs would have all been more credible sources to turn to at the moment. But you know those stories about mothers who momentarily gain superhuman strength to save their babies from danger? Suddenly Cayman was my baby and I had the emotional composure of a retiree living in Florida.
“It’s okay, sweetie, it’s going to be okay,” I cooed “Alright now let’s reverse, good jooob yes that’s it! Now let’s inch a bit—shh shh you’re alright you’re almost there”
It probably took two and a half minutes to reverse to the point where we started. Luckily the car headed towards us had enough time to stop despite how long we were taking. Every car on the freeway stood still as they watched us reverse for a quarter of a mile on the highway. As someone who has dabbled in theatre for most of my life, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the spotlight.
Appetites having been curbed; we drove home. There is something very surreal about escaping a near-death experience completely unscathed. I am thoroughly grateful we are safe, but I do have to admit I’m a bit butthurt that my two minor fender benders caused infinitely more concrete issues in my life than Cayman and I’s run in with a near head-on collision in her car.