Me and driving
The legal age for driving in Japan is 18, so many young people in Japan get their driver’s license soon after graduating from high school or the first summer in college. There was a packaged express course in which they spent a couple of weeks in the training center in the countryside. They met strangers there, partied at night, and sometimes hooked up during the period. I spent most summers in college aimlessly and didn’t get around to driving lessons until the last year of college. Once I got the job offer in early summer, I figured I’d never drive if I missed this timing. I chose to commute to a nearby driving school. It would take a couple of months-long, costing me 300,000 yen (approx. $3,000). Stickshift license would have cost a few hundred dollars more, but why would I drive a stick if I didn’t have to?
To me, driving a car seemed like the most complicated skill to acquire on earth, and it was mindboggling that people did it so easily. They had their hands on the wheel and foot on the gas and the break, paid attention to the road and road signs, traffic lights, pedestrians, obstacles, other cars, and the speed all at the same time while talking, listening to the radio, dwelling on their thoughts, or even eating and drinking. There was no google map then, so they also had to read the paper map to grasp the roads to take to get to the destination. The more I thought about it, the less it made sense. Those people were not athletes or geniuses but people of various shapes and athletic and educational levels. People with disabilities drove with technical aids, too.
I could hardly believe I could operate this immense beast of steel when I sat behind the wheel for the first time. I was so tense that I couldn’t drive around a curve and hit the curbstone. The frightened elderly instructor, who must have seen all the crazy first-time drivers, quickly took my wheel to correct the course. I didn’t pass the class. I also failed the first attempt for the multiple-choice knowledge exam and passed the second with a scant margin.
I got the license with zero confidence to drive on the public road. But one thing I knew was everything required practice. I learned a foreign language through a rigorous practice regimen, so I applied the same determination to driving. I went home and borrowed my parents’ car. One thing I had forgotten, though, was that my father was a fear-inducing, overly critical instructor whose ski-coaching I rejected earlier in my life when I gave up racing. At the end of each driving, I had less confidence and more sense of incompetency. Just like when he told me I was bad at math because I was a girl, I ended up labeling myself as a bad driver.