In the Driver's Seat ...

by Michele Martinez

Now that we know each other better, I'm ready to confess my deepest, darkest secret. My father, god rest his soul, left me with an abiding fear of driving. He wasn't afraid of driving generally; he afraid of me driving. And this from a guy who was convinced I'd be the first female President of the United States. It must have been some variant on Latin machismo, some misplaced need to overprotect. . . .

Oh, hell, I'm not being entirely honest. My father had reason to be afraid. I first suspected this when, at sixteen, I took my driving test. I got a hundred on the written exam, but the driving portion did not go smoothly. The tester guy asked me to parallel park. I tried my best, and when it was over, he said he'd pass me on one condition -- that I promise to practice a lot and actually learn to drive. (True story!) Naturally I agreed, but given that we only had one car, and that my dad was afraid to let me use it, I never made good on the promise.

Years passed. Decades passed, in fact, in which not driving didn't pose much of a problem for me. I had a valid driver's license for identification purposes. I lived in urban areas with excellent public transportation such as the yellow cab. (Talk about people who can't drive!) And I lived with men --first my ex-boyfriend, later my husband -- who drove me places. Who insisted on driving me places so I wouldn't hurt the car, or myself, or anybody else. Yes, this was a dreadful betrayal of my feminist principles, but somehow I managed to rationalize it. I recall for a while relying on the excuse that Jackie Kennedy had said the man should always drive as if that made it okay, when of course it made it so much worse.

(By the way, I just asked my husband if he had any funny stories about me driving.

"I don't normally associate you driving with laughing," he said.

"C'mon, seriously."

"Let's see. There was the time you almost drove off the cliff near my parents' house. There was the time you called me from a parking lot because you couldn't figure out how to back up. No, none of that is funny.")

After a while, the Jackie rationalization stopped working, and the fact that I couldn't -- or as I prefer to say, didn't -- drive began to seem not amusing or eccentric but downright embarrassing. I remember trying to explain to an FBI agent I was working with that I couldn't drive to FCI-Fort Dix to interview a witness.

"You don't have a license?" he asked.

"I do have a license."

"You don't have a car?"

"I do have a car."

[Blank stare].

But then he just drove me there. All the agents drove me wherever I wanted to go. Enablers!

You've probably figured out that I wouldn't be telling you this if the story didn't have a happy ending. Yes, finally in my late 30s, I learned to drive. Why? I wanted to, that simple. A fast car, the open road -- I was tired of missing out on the quintessential American experience. Retail porn in the form of the "Build Your Own Porsche" website didn't hurt either. (Not that I own one, but is that gorgeous or what? ) Plus, I'd quit law, which meant I could take my kids to the beach on a hot summer day while poor hubby worked if only I could drive them there.

As to how I learned -- turns out that like Dorothy with her ruby slippers I'd known all along. I had a license. I had a car. I just drove.