Old man's first drive

This weekend I took my first drive since getting my own license. I am a lifelong pedestrian, and have only learned to drive at the age of nearly 40. I record here the circumstances of the drive and particularly my sensations.

Like many New Yorkers, I am a dedicated and rapid walker, and very aggressive in getting through crowds and past those of you who move more slowly than I do. Learning to drive has been a strange adventure I only half believed I would ever undertake. But getting the license was nothing compared to the adventure of renting a car for the first time. Part of what has made it difficult has been controlling my barreling style of locomotion - I had never realized that you have to be a lot more careful in a car than on foot!

After doing extensive research about prices, on Friday I went in secret to a neighborhood Enterprise Rent-A-Car ("we have a store every two miles") and arranged to rent a Ford Focus for the weekend. The Focus is the car I learned to drive on, so I thought it best to stay with it for my first spin.

On Saturday morning I sneaked out, picked up the car, and parked it near our apartment building. I came back in time for breakfast, and afterwards my wife and I were going to go (she thought) by bus to a crafts fair in a neighboring town. We came down together in the elevator, but I told her I had left my sunglasses upstairs, and pretended to go back up to our floor. She watied for me in the lobby. But I didn't go upstairs - I went down to the parking lot and got the car, and drove it up almost into her face. No point in making a life change like learning to drive if you can't surprise your wife with it! She was a brave soul, and got gamely in.

We spent two intense days driving around between Bethesda and Baltimore, visiting places that have been hard to get to, doing some shopping and getting to a serious seafood restaurant. We had no accidents, although Baltimore did surprise me with an unmarked one-way street where I ran right into oncoming traffic. But God protects fools, and we were not hurt.


  • Driving is like floating. The sensation of effortless movement is somewhat addictive.
  • The act of driving makes me alert, and I only feel how tired I am after I stop.
  • Driving has an after-effect on my mind like playing video games. For many hours afterwards I have trouble concentrating on anything else, and when I interact with people and objects my instinct is to treat them like what I see from my windshield: drive past, squeeze through, change lanes, etc.
  • There really isn't anywhere we badly want to go by car. Maryland is just as boring by car as it is by bus and on foot. New York for us! Maybe a trip to Connecticut from New York will be more interesting.
  • We visited the leafy Baltimore neighborhood where I lived from age 7-9, and I was amazed at how small everything was - the street was only one lane! - and how little had changed from what I remembered. But probably I will never go back.
  • I have the impression that Maryland drivers are less skilled than New York City drivers, but also more tolerant of my mistakes.
  • We're agreed that owning a car would be a needless expense and hassle for us, and renting is something won't do often except for specific purposes.
  • After I returned the car and completed all the paperwork, the man at Enterprise asked me very seriously whether I was satisfied. I said I was. "Completely satisfied?" he wanted to know. I had had to wait quite a while because he was the only person in the store and every 15 seconds had to stop helping me and answer the phone. But what's the point in being nasty. "Yes, I'd say so". And he started clapping loudly and said in full voice "We have another completely satisfied Enterprise customer!" Since he was the only person on duty, the intended effect of round applause was not achieved. I felt stupid. This is almost enough to make me try a different rental company next time.
  • Unaccountably there was a small dent on one fender when I returned the car. I'm quite certain I neither hit nor scraped anything. I suppose it could have happened when I was parked somewhere. That was probably the most uneasy-making thing about the whole adventure. Anything could have happened to the car while I wasn't around it.
  • Subway for me, man.

last day-log entry: April 29, 2002