Driving Habits Collide With Life Habits

Does your personality change when you get behind the wheel of a different car?

I am a terrible driver, just terrible. I seem to have no sense of spatial relations. I zone out quite a bit and “wake up” veering into the opposite lane. Sometimes, I stop at red lights and look both ways and continue if there are no cars coming. I have been known to stop in the middle of the road if I am suddenly unsure of where I am. I turn wide; I do the Philadelphia slide; I hesitate when I should accelerate. My driving sucks. When the Route 73 overpass was completed, doing away with the Marlton circle that used to leave me white-knuckled, I stood on the overpass and popped a bottle of champagne. (Well, not really, of course, but I played out the scene in my head.)

You should also know that I am afraid to drive in unknown territory. (See the sudden stopping reference.) GPS has been helpful, but I cannot find a voice that’s comforting enough, one that I truly believe.

So now that my father drove my car through a flooded street in Ocean City and swamped the engine, and until I can get money together for a new-to-me vehicle, I am driving my boyfriend’s red Ford F-150 off-road pickup. It has ladder racks and a super shiny tool box. He had the radio on WYSP, and I’ve left it there, instead of tuning in my far more mellow WXPN. Rocking out to Ozzy’s “Crazy Train” seems much more appropriate than singing along with Amos Lee. The whole experience is like driving a costume: I’m in disguise; I’m a whole other person; no one knows it’s me, and fortunately for us all, they get out of my way.

That is the good news.

The bad news: I can barely see over the steering wheel, and I can’t back up due to the ladder racks. So, I’ve got this whole driving forward thing going, i.e. I can only drive forward. I have to find pull-through spots in parking lots or street spaces on corners, so that I can just drive forward. My boyfriend backs the truck in the driveway each night (an enabler for sure, but it’s his truck) so that I can just pull out.

Besides parking where I can pull out, I’ve had to make some other changes as well. I have to be much more organized, because once I come back home and park in my driveway, I can’t leave the house again. (I live on a dead end, so there’s no driving around the block.) This has made me grateful that I live in Collingswood. In fact, later this afternoon I have to hop on my basket bike and go to the produce store for the mushrooms I forgot this morning. I’ve also learned to climb up and climb out of the cab in a skirt, and God knows that’s a life skill worth developing.

So. I’m hoping I get in better shape, and use this metaphor of forward-movement in other aspects of my life—no more regrets! In fact, as I consider what new-to-me vehicle to purchase, and since I know absolutely nothing about cars, I’m only considering whether the name is a positive metaphor. I’m torn between something jaunty, like a Cavalier, or reasonable, like a Pathfinder.

Kathleen Volk Miller is co-editor of Painted Bride Quarterly and an associate teaching professor at Drexel University. Don’t follow her on Twitter @kvm1303 because she hardly ever tweets. She hopes to have her own website one day, and also, no war.