Home truth: My father was forbidden from purchasing a car because my mother insisted it was a death trap. My family never owned a vehicle; honestly, I missed having one only during the monsoons and on festival days when we had to get to church in our best clothing seated in an auto rickshaw. It’s no fun trying to hail public transport in high heels.
Most of my friends got behind the wheel when they turned 18. Me, well, I only passed the test a few days ago. Seventeen years later. Ha, who’s counting!
Unlike my husband, I don’t really care much about my wheels, hence learning to drive was never on my list of things to do. I prefer being driven to my destination as opposed to keeping my eyes glued to the road. I never understood the joy my husband felt when we’d drive outside the city on vacations. I was only too happy to be his co-pilot and help with directions whenever needed. I’ve lived in Mumbai, Melbourne and Bangkok. All three cities have great public transport, so I never felt the pressing need to learn this life skill. When we bought our first car together (nearly a decade ago), I enrolled myself in a driving school. Each 30-minute class was pure torture, for both the instructor and me. Clutch, Brake. Accelerate. GET ME OUT! Arrgh. And take this stick shift with you. I hated those three words. Ultimately, I did get my driving permit, but getting one is no biggie back home. I never experienced the pure bliss of driving a car that I co-owned. I couldn’t. Driving made me anxious, and I didn’t need to feel like that when I could just get in a taxi or hop on a train to the office.
Fast forward to 06 December 2018.
I began reviewing the year gone by while simultaneously putting together a list of things I’d like to attempt the following year. Driving lessons made a sneaky entry and secured the top spot on that list. Finding a driving school with English speaking instructors in Bangkok is no easy task. So when I finally found one that teaches “farangs” (foreigners), I ignored the distance I had to travel in order to get there. Now here’s the thing, the driving school is on the frontage road, and my lady instructor soon informed me that on Day 3 I would be stepping out of the driving circuit and on to the main road. This “main road”, however, would be the motorway and not a regular arterial road.
My eyes grew large, and fear took over my body. I was quiet through our lesson. I hadn’t enrolled at a driving school to drive on an expressway! Not for a year at least.
During our second class, the truth slipped in, “I can’t do the motorway training?”
“Why kha?” she asked.
“I don’t want to …”
“You won’t die. I have an emergency brake.” She shared. “But if you drive too slow, you can meet your Maker too.” She continued.
Yea right. Like that’s supposed to make me feel more comfortable especially when I’m learning to drive in a country with the second highest road traffic fatality rate. My instructor wasn’t the least affected by my fear. She had a job to do, and she was going to complete it successfully even if that meant the person seated in the driver’s seat had a belly fluttering with butterflies and a hand as cold as ice. She was assertive and patient and didn’t breathe down my neck. I may have thrown me out of the car had I been in her shoes. Ultimately she won; she found a way to get that car on the motorway. And to my surprise, I was the one behind that wheel cruising along at 50km/hr. I felt like a Formula One star performer driving in the slow lane. Yup, you heard right. That is the appropriate comparison. I took a few extra classes with her (10 classes weren’t going to give me the confidence I need to have my daughter in the back seat) before the final test. I knew I’d pass the theory but what if I messed up the practical one. The morning of my test, my little girl was so excited that her mama who’s a grown-up was taking a test. She kissed me good luck and told me to do my best (she parrots my words).
And just like that, the pressure doubled. She was counting on me to pass it, and I didn’t want to let her down. I did as instructed, and a few hours later I received my clearance certificate which I will now take to the transport office to get my official license. This time as a certified driver, I can truly get into the driver’s seat and drive away.
Here’s the thing, this whole experience has been much more than just learning how to drive a car. It has taught me some serious life lessons. Firstly, there is no age limit to learning something new. Yes, you will have to deal with the additional baggage of fear or laziness, but once you get past that, it’s the same road for anyone who truly wants to learn a new skill. Next, trust your teacher. They’ve done this before and taught several students before you. Experience does count, so give them their due credit. Lastly, it taught me to be more patient. Motherhood was doing a fine job on the patience front, but driving has raised the bar even higher. When you live in cities like Mumbai or Bangkok, it’s best to put on the invisible patience hat even before you strap yourself in.
I am a proud certified driver today and even though it took me much longer than it should have I’m glad I kicked myself out of my comfort zone and experienced the magic of taking control of the wheel. If you’re still scratching your head and doubting yourself, I say hit the road. That’s the only way you’ll know if you’re ready.