The Art of Driving


Miles Clark, Contributor

I sat in the parking lot of the Corte Madera DMV on a Saturday morning, car idling. My heart was beating rapidly, and I could feel my hands shaking as I clutched the steering wheel with ghostly white knuckles. It didn’t help my anxiety to peer out at the rest of the cars dotted across the parking lot, symbols of success and fearlessness. At some point in time, they had found themselves in the same situation as I was in now, and came out unscathed. Although I had spent countless hours preparing for this very moment, I still felt ill-prepared. Soon enough, a short man with a clipboard emerged from the side of the building and entered my car.

As a child, I always wanted to go fast. Throughout my entire elementary school years, I was the fastest kid in my grade. My sister and I would race down our hill on Razor scooters, no regards for personal health as we barreled down perpetually on the verge of toppling over. However, this incessant need to be faster than everyone stopped with driving. My parents described my driving during my first time go-karting as “painfully slow.” I would get shaky and nervous, afraid of putting the pedal to the metal. It felt like an entirely new obstacle, in which any failure would lead to serious bodily harm.

When I turned fifteen and a half, I procrastinated for months and months before getting my permit. Driving felt like such an old person thing to do, like playing bingo or using an AARP card, and I didn’t feel that old quite yet. But I soon was tired of having to ask my dad for rides, and I wanted the freedom to go through a drive through on my own on a whim. So I sat down, took the test, and passed with only three wrong answers.

My parents started me off slowly, in an empty parking lot behind the Civic Center. My mom pulled into one of the hundreds of empty spaces and turned off the car. She made me get out of the passenger seat and I begrudgingly walked over to the driver’s side, sat down, and turned on the car. I had put on a brave face up until then, but the roar of the engine ignited my fears once again. The car trembled slightly, and I followed suit.

I crept forwards at a snail’s pace, with the voice of my mom faintly faintly telling me to speed up. My right foot avoided the gas pedal like it was the plague as I rode the brakes through the parking lot, afraid of hitting something that wasn’t there. After about 15 minutes I attempted to pull back into a parking space and put the car in park sitting on the top of a solid white line. I had faced my fear and won, at least for now. However, I couldn’t even imagine being prepared enough for the driver’s test, anxiously binge-watching videos of people failing as an ineffective form of therapy.

The first time I used the gas pedal was on my fourth time driving, and even the lightest tap made my heart race. It took me a long time to make my first turn onto an empty street and I would always bail before I could even reach the intersection. However, I slowly worked my way to a stage where I wouldn’t freak out anytime my parents forced me to drive anywhere. I could merge onto the freeway without obscene amounts of sweating. I finally understood that once I had my license, I would be free. Like all freedom, it came with risks, but I was prepared to make that sacrifice. All that stood between me and freedom was my mortal enemy: the driver’s test.

And the driver’s test is a testament to this idea. 84% of Americans are licensed drivers, many of whom have gone through the same anxiety-fused process that I have as a part of growing up. If I couldn’t pass the test, did that make me lesser than all of those people? Would I not be able to graduate from adolescence to adulthood? These thoughts crammed into my brain as I sat nervously awaiting the sign from the clipboard man to start driving. Men holding clipboards have been proven to raise anxiety levels by over 1000% in student drivers named Miles Clark, and I fit that description to a T.

But I couldn’t stall any longer. It was time to go, and I would either pass or fail and take the test another time. While failing is far from the end of the world, at the time it felt like my life depended on passing this test. It was my turn to brave this trial by fire, and I slowly made my way out of the parking lot.

Although the driver’s test was the root of my anxiety for months, I would not have been able to feel confident driving without it. As if it was some sort of comic book villain, it made me train for hours and hours, perfecting my parking, turn-signaling, and smooth braking until I could finally win. And when I returned back to the parking lot, once again parking over a solid white line, I was rewarded with my license. I had finally received this symbol of adulthood, and overcome my fear in order to achieve the freedom that comes along with it. And, for the first time ever, I turned on the ignition with no anxiety whatsoever.