I was a little late to get my driver’s license, waiting until the summer before college. A mean instructor the previous December had made me cry and I avoided driving lessons for months until I realized there wouldn’t really be a better time to do this. I had spent the last two years of high school taking the bus home from school and being driven around town by my friends.
I love the passenger seat of a car. All those used Honda Civics and Toyota RAV4s (and one 1992 BMW) blend together now, but I loved the sound of a car pulling into my parents drive way. I loved climbing into the passenger seat as my friend shoved all her bags and receipts and water bottles into the back to make room for me. I loved not worrying about whether we were taking the fastest route or whether there would be a good parking spot close to Panera.
Eventually I got my license and brought my grandfather’s old Chevy Prizm to college with me my sophomore year. Because I went to college in my hometown for a while and didn’t drink, I was the de facto driver for most of our grocery store and concert excursions. I didn’t mind; I liked the feeling of being needed, knowing that the trip probably wouldn’t happen without me. Even after I got in a fender bender in the rain after dropping my friends off at the comic book store, being the driver made me feel important and valued.
I felt like I had a debt to pay after those years of my friends driving me to basketball games and debate practice and graduation parties. When I went to a new college with a dearth of public transit options, I readily volunteered to drive people to the train station (while the school advertises it as being 30 minutes away, it is definitely closer to 45). People I was desperately trying to be friends with, people who happened to live on my floor. I helped friends move their belongings into a summer storage unit or drove groups to a pizza shop birthday party. I picked up long-distance boyfriends and dropped off friends of friends of friends at the bus station. My small car with squeaky brakes and an occasionally expired inspection sticker put on quite a few miles.
Now at home my sister is still learning to drive, getting ready for her driver’s test in a few weeks. When I am sick with an undiagnosed virus, I lie in the passenger seat of my car as she lurches us up and down Route 9 to make the 40 minute drive to the doctor’s office. A friend from high school stops by my house and I climb into her Jeep to run errands at the library. Every weekend I go grocery shopping with my dad, in control of the radio station as we zip around town.
I drive the carpool for my brother’s friends but never quite relaxing, brusquely telling my brother to remind me which backroad turn to take. My sister needs a ride to her job interview and is uneager to drive through the maze of one way streets. My dad has developed a desire to have someone else drive so that he can look out the window, commenting on every changing storefront or new for sale sign.
I think that those trips to the train station up and down 91 have paid off my driving debt. I love sharing my city with a friend, driving her up and down the side streets past the stores and schools I’ve loved. But I more appreciate every time I clamber into a Honda CRV or Hyundai Sonata, glad to be in the passenger seat of my friend’s car.