Like many 16 year olds, I was at the DMV the morning of my birthday, aced the test, and had my learner’s permit burning a hole in my pocket by noon, when I unwrapped a tiny box, a gift from my mother. It was a key chain with a little red convertible with real functioning head lights on one hand, and a key dangling off the other. “Don’t get too excited,” said my mother, but I knew. I knew it was a key to the family Ford Aerostar, a hideous forest-green hulking rust monster, but I loved it all the same.
But that key never got put into an ignition. Not for days and weeks and months. I was the oldest and my mother was having none of that. Teach a teenager to drive? No thank you. So the task would fall to my crazy abusive father, right in the throes of their dirty, nasty divorce. So after my first lesson with him left me shaking and hurting on the side of the road, I chose not to repeat. I’d saved up babysitting money (two dollars and 50 gruelling cents an hour, thankyouvermuch) to go to driver’s ed, and so twice a week my grandmother would drive wayyyy out to my country-bumpkin school, pick me up, give me lemonade in a mayonnaise jar and cookies in an old pharmacy bag, and drive me very very slowly into the city for my lessons.
What I learned first and foremost was that driving instructors are sexist. But when my lessons ended, so did my driving. Mom still wasn’t having it and dad was a lost cause. So I was a non-driving spaz, until suddenly the expiry date was upon and if I let it lapse, I’d not only have to start over, I’d have to repay as well, which you might be noticing was not really an option for me at the time. So what I did was: I broke the law. My great friend Anna took me out in her parents’ van and let me practice once or twice. A learner’s permit means you can only drive with a licensed, adult driver, but what choice did I have? So I went to get my G-2 having only ever driven a couple of times, and almost never in the car I was testing in. I told almost no one, certain I would fail, but of course Anna had blabbed to my whole history class in my absence and it was goddamn good thing that I passed when my teacher put me on the spot.
And then I didn’t drive again for a decade. I moved away to a big city for University. I didn’t have a car, couldn’t have afforded to even park a car. A few years later the third installment of the graduated licensing testing came up and I couldn’t even afford that. So I let it lapse. The truth was, it wasn’t just the money. It was also the fear. I’d taken all the anxiety of driving with my father and blamed cars instead of him. I believed that I “couldn’t” drive, that I was worthless, and I was stuck. I moved to an even bigger city and wouldn’t have had a car no matter what. It was pedestrian-friendly, which I love, and transit-supporting, which I navigated well.
But then I moved back here to Ottawa and got a reality check in the form of a bus driver strike. I was surprised to have my independence taken away so easily, and as the strike went on, week after week, in the frigid Canadian winter, I was also in danger of losing my livelihood. Cabs were impossible to get. The city was being held hostage. I thankfully had a good-hearted boyfriend who threw kinks into his own schedule in order to negotiate mine. But I made a new year’s resolution to learn to drive, and then hyperventilated for months at the mere thought of it. But then I signed up for a couple of lessons and went for my test and: passed. Of course I’m leaving out the copious vomiting and panic attacks. Assume lots of both. Imagine the puddles I left in parking lots across the city! To celebrate, I went out two days later and bought myself a little bug. I still had anxiety, and nearly getting killed when someone ran a red light didn’t help. But I’ve had three bugs in a row (Gloria, Emma, Ruby), cute, zippy little cars, and you know what I drive today? A little red convertible. Life is like that.
Of course, the movie Learning To Drive neglects to mention any of my fraught personal experience with driving. But it is about Patricia Clarkson, who needs to learn to drive particularly after her husband leaving her means not just curbing her independence but the shrinkage of her world. Luckily Ben Kingsley aggressively offers her driving lessons, whether she’s ready for them or not. His arranged marriage really calls her own feelings about marriage into question. The plot, if you can call it that, is a bit predictable. But it’s also languid and full-bodied. It’s not a dazzler but Clarkson and Kingsley would make almost anything worthwhile. This is a film for adults, and Christ, I guess that means I am one. Goes down well with a bottle of wine.
Sidebar: one of my favourite bits of the movie is when Patricia Clarkson can’t quite see herself in a red car. “What would it say about me?” she asks, and Ben Kingsley whispers in her ear “Don’t fuck with me.” Her smirk says she’s sold. So what does the colour of your car say about you?
Gold: Warm, intelligent, glamorous
Dark green: Well-Balanced, trustworthy, traditional
Light green: Organic, no-fuss, understated
Yellow: Joyful, sense of humor, sunny disposition, risk-taker
Brown: Powerful, unique, no-nonsense
Beige: Natural, down-to-earth
Orange: Artistic, individual, complex, charming
Light-mid blue: Calm, faithful, true, stable
Dark blue: Confident, credible, authoritative, dependable
Gray: Neutral, sober, practical
Red: Sensual, dynamic, outgoing (vibrant red = bold personality, a go-getter & confident; maroon or wine colour = more subtle)
Silver: Futuristic, prestigious, elegant, maybe a little pretentious
Pearl: Glamorous, exciting, sophisticated
White: Pure, pristine, direct; fresh, young & modern
Black: Powerful, classic, elegant