Learning to Drive.

I used to love Japanese cars because they had all of these neat gizmos attached to them, and they ran for years and years without complaint, but I have since come to realize that I sacrificed so much to have the technology and the reliability. I sacrificed control, I sacrificed self-confidence and freedom, but worst of all, I’ve now proven to myself that James May was right. To paraphrase, he said that Japanese cars, while extremely technically advanced are completely soulless. I never understood that phrase until now. You see, I’ve never before owned a car with a soul.

I love this car because she has a soul. There is a life to Viola that makes her unique from every other MINI, and now that I’ve driven more than one MINI, I can safely tell you that there is no other car that is quite like her. The other MINI I drove was the same model, same year, everything was the same about the car, except the color and the leatherette seats… and I emphatically hated driving that car. That car, while still doing what I expected a MINI to do, was not Viola. It had a personality that did not mesh with mine. It was like the kid that you tolerated because you had to sit next to him in class, but otherwise, never would have said a word to. So, obviously, I take it personally when someone cuts in front of me on the freeway, or honks their horn because they want me to do something that puts Viola in danger simply because they are in a hurry. Thankfully, Viola and I have a rapport and I know what her limits are so that when push comes to shove, I can steer her out of danger.

Tight steering is a beautiful thing when you experience it for the first time, and when it comes to tight steering, Viola is both relentless and unforgiving. I can actually turn my vehicle into the lane I am turning from–this is a completely new experience for me, since the Toyota Corolla has a turning radius that roughly approximates that of your average household vacuum cleaner. Because the steering is so tight, driving the MINI requires concentration and thought on my part. I have to interact with it, and be a part of the process. I am no longer just a variable in the equation. This should mean lots of good things, but it also means some bad things too because now that I am paying more attention, I notice what other drivers are doing more and it scares me.

Most people seem to wander aimlessly behind the wheel of their cars. They operate them as if they had the auto-pilot switch flipped on. They’re checking their lip gloss in the rear view. They’re on their cell phones talking to their wives. They’re flipping switches, pushing buttons and turning dials. I’ve seen more than one person reading a newspaper and drinking their coffee while having one index finger on the steering wheel. All of these extra-curricular activities behind the wheel are inherently dangerous. Any time you are doing something behind the wheel of a car that is other than being behind the wheel of a car, your awareness of your surroundings is cut in half.

I thank God every day that Viola handles as well as she does, because I have been in more near misses since purchasing this car, and I believe now that half of the problem is that I am noticing how people behave when they drive. The other half of it, is that people really just don’t care about other drivers when they are behind the wheel. I humbly submit my experience from today as proof.

While driving down the road with my daughter and a friend of hers in the car, a blue Lincoln was heading the opposite direction down Mission street. In the middle of the road, this driver decided suddenly that he had gone the wrong way. Rather than pull up to the intersection and make a legal U turn, this man decided it was in his best interests to flip a three point turn in the middle of the street and proceeded to do so. In the process of doing this, without signaling, without caring, the man backed his car into the lane that I was driving in. If I hadn’t jogged to the right, my car would have been totaled and I imagine that I and both children would have been seriously injured in the accident, even at 30 miles per hour. This man did not know, or care or even remotely consider that I might have children in the car. He was too busy being self-absorbed. He was too focused on the fact that he was lost and had gone the wrong direction and his need to get where he was going superseded my safety and the safety of the children in the car with me.

What’s really shocking is that I see this sort of behavior on the road every single day. Every time I see someone take one of these risks that puts me, or another driver in danger, I just want to shake them and say, “One of these days, the other driver will not be a better driver than you, will not have a better reaction time than you do, will not be a safer, more aware driver than you. That other driver will be talking on their cell phone, or checking their lip gloss when you decide to do the wrong thing because you make a snap decision that the risk is worth it to you. What if it’s not worth it… to them? What if they have a brand new baby at home that needs a father? What if they have a pregnant wife in the car that is heading to the hospital to deliver their child? What if there are children in the car that would have otherwise lived long and normal lives, if not for you and the decision you made behind the wheel of the car that day?”

The solution to this, of course, is that none of us should ever have to think about those things because we should choose to be safe motorists. We should consider the needs of others, before we consider our own needs, and not even at a level of who gets into the wal-mart parking lot first, but out of a certain respect for something much more basic.


Suppose that you chose to be aware and involved in the process of driving your car. Suppose that you stopped merely operating a motor vehicle and became a driver. Whose life would you save by lane changing one afternoon? Which kids would get to smile as their dad walked in the door because you made the right decision and chose to pay attention?

I don’t imagine that the guy in that Lincoln cared about any of those things today, but some day, he might. He might choose to wake up and stop putting himself before others. Someday that guy might wake up and decide to become a hero. Some day, he might read this blog and know exactly who is speaking to him and realize that the crazy redhead behind the wheel of the silver MINI Cooper spared him from injury and spared his car from damage today by knowing that she could trust her car to move as fast as she turned the wheel.

Driving a car that makes you get involved in the process really is a completely different universe that is something entirely other than simply sitting in the cockpit of a corolla. The stress that has come from my noticing and becoming more aware of other drivers has been enough to make me want to take up drinking, but I know that I will grow accustomed to it in time.

It’s just that I’m really not sure that I should ever accept it.