For those of you who do not know, before moving to New Jersey, I have never driven. Literally never. I may have started the car once or twice, but that’s about it. I have owned at least four student permits back in the Philippines, but none of it was put to good use. Think of it as my personal donation to the government agency each time I renew. And while I did vow to learn how to drive on my father’s deathbed, I never really got around it.
It’s not just because of lack of desire; it’s lack of motivation. If you Google right this very second the traffic situation in Manila, you would see why I didn’t bother to learn. There are too many cars in too little of a road. That, and the fact that my brothers take turns driving the one car we have for daily use. Even when one of them got married, my youngest brother took the opportunity to take me to places.
The dependence come with perks. For example, I never have to worry about drunk driving. My brother always picked me up. I never had to worry about parking. I never had to worry about tired legs in traffic (our car is a stick shift). And to be frank, I really appreciated the time my brothers took to take care of my needs.
But such is not the case in New Jersey.
While I was thoroughly amazed at NJ Transit’s bus and train schedules, which I utilized exclusively on my first year here, I was also made very aware of how dependent I was on other people, namely The Husband, my cousins, and even my father-in-law. Although they said they didn’t mind driving me around, I was very aware of the time and effort it took to take me to places on top of the places they had to get to. So I was left with no choice: I had to learn to drive.
Needless to say, The Husband taught me how and it was the most challenging month of our married life so far. My pride got in the way of his teaching, which to this day he won’t admit to not being his forte. A part of him is eager to make me independent; the other part is fully aware that my carelessness can potentially kill me in an instant. It wasn’t a healthy balance for us both, but we got through it, and after a month of driving through Route 22, Route 21, Garden State Parkway and NJ Turnpike, I was able to get my probationary license. A year later, the probation was taken off, and I am a full fledged driver.
Maybe the title is a lie; it has been more than a year since I started driving. But I have to say that it has only been a year since I was confidently driving. That to me makes all the difference. And that revealed to me the most valuable lessons (so far) I have learned on the road.
- Blinkers are a driver’s best friend.
The Husband was adamant in teaching me to drive defensively. He hammered in my head to always let the other drivers know where I am headed and for that, blinkers are my best friends. I truly loathed drivers that switched lanes so carelessly and without notice. I can no longer count the times I had to slam my brakes a little forcefully just because this a*hole decided to change his mind without letting everyone else know. Plus, not turning those blinkers on is an easy recipe for disaster. So, to quote this wonderful Twitter user:
- If a truck driver hates your driving, your driving most likely really sucks.
Okay, so they’re not all nice and they’re not all perfect. But you have to admit, getting a CDL license is much more difficult than getting a regular one. These men and women practically live on the road, so when they honked at me and The Husband was there, he was like “I told you so.” Our office is in an industrial complex where truck drivers train to get their licenses. They really put in the hours, so when you’re driving with or near a truck, respect their space and maybe they’ll respect yours too.
- You can master back up parking when you devote the time to learn it. The same goes for parallel parking.
I know this because I did this. The Husband was so confused why I was leaving the house so early for a 9am clock in at work. I wanted to come in to a slightly empty parking lot so I can practice my backup parking. And practice I did. I left the house at 7 in the morning, got to work at 7:30 and devoted a good 30 to 45 minutes just practicing backup parking. Then, when I get home, I practice parallel parking too. I practiced so much that I sometimes took up to 20 minutes and going around our block three or four times to get the parking right. Our neighbors were so supportive as well. When they would see me come up, they try to guide me as much as they can. Of course some were annoyed (yes lady in the office building that rolled her eyes at me because I couldn’t get my wheels straight), but most of them were encouraging. Three months later, I’d like to think I’m better at doing both.
- Officers on the road are capable of being empathetic human beings.
To this day, I have difficulties looking at the GPS and driving at the same time. I try to do the quick look and then drive technique, but I’m not as confident as I should be. So when I first started driving, I made sure my phone volume was all the way up and the phone was tucked away out of my line of sight. All I need is to hear the directions. Then, one hot afternoon, I hit a pothole that kicked my phone out of the cup holder to God knows where.For those of you who do not know, I have a very active and anxious imagination. When I couldn’t hear the directions, I knew I had to pull over and find the phone, not because I didn’t know how to get home, but because I have this overwhelming fear of getting into a car accident and not having my phone with me. They will have to take me to the hospital without my husband’s contact information and because The Husband can find my phone, he will be like, Oh no she’s at the impound. He will go to the impound and not at the hospital, where his medical decision is needed to save my life. It will take him way too long to get to the hospital and I would have died without my husband by my side. That’s where my imagination went as I was pulled over and searching where the f my phone went.
Not more than five minutes later, there was someone tapping my window, a state trooper. I rolled my window down and he asks, “Is there anything the matter, ma’am? You’re not supposed to pull over here.” Frantically, I replied, “I just need five minutes to get myself together, okay?!” I said it a little too loudly and I regretted it immediately, my voice breaking at the end of my sentence. He took one long look at me and said, “Ma’am, you take all the time you need.” He walked back to his car, and I took a moment to take a deep breath and look at myself in the mirror. I was sweaty, my eyes were tearing up and my hair disheveled. It took another five minutes until I was able to find my phone, which was wedged in that annoying space right under the driver’s seat, that black hole where no hand has ever fit until that moment. I looked at my rear view mirror, waved at the officer to let him know I was okay, and prepared to merge back in traffic. He made sure my merge was simple; he cleared a path for me and let me go my way.
I will never forget that day.
- Next to a drunk driver, the most dangerous driver is the one who is running late. Third on the list are potholes.
I say this because people who are running late only have one goal in mind: to get to Point B no matter the cost. They know the rules and they are purposely breaking them. They’re trying to beat the red light, switching lanes at the last minute, going 60mph at a residential zone. They’re aware that they’re not obeying rules… AND THEY’RE OKAY WITH IT SO LONG AS THEY GET TO THEIR DESTINATION. Heads up, it’s not the rest of us at fault that they woke up late or that they underestimated the travel time to their destination, yet they chose to put the rest of us at risk for their own convenience and lack of time management. I thoroughly hate it. I see them everyday, whether it’s a luxury sedan trying to cut the line at the EZ Pass on the way to the Holland Tunnel or an SUV riding the shoulder and then making a sharp merge to exit the Parkway. You are careless inconsiderate effers.
Potholes need no other explanation.
I’m sure to learn more as the years come, but looking back now, I think these five things are the ones that contributed to my driving behavior. Of course, The Husband only compliments my driving now; he’s a truly loving man in that manner. But I’m sure at the back of his head, he is noting the things I should improve on, like slowing down before a turn or being more mindful of my braking. There’s so much more room for me to improve, but with just a little over a year tucked under my belt, I’m confident I’m headed in the right direction.
What about you? What are the first lessons you learned when you first hit the road?