When I was 17 years old, I had a lot of feelings.
I was also fortunate enough to be in the possession of a newly minted driving license and semi-regular use of my dads bottle-green Vauxhall Corsa. When anxiety crept through my veins, cruel words skittered around my brain or sadness started seeping through my thin skin; I had a solution. I would get in my car armed with a teetering tower of cassette tapes. I would drive, and I would drive, and I would drive. As I travelled further from my stifling attic bedroom and out into the wider world, I wouldn’t stop until I had put enough distance between myself and whatever had got me tied in knots.
I only had a car for two sweet years of spontaneous 2am trips to service stations, daring the boys at college to ‘race’ (cheers Ryan Gosling) ordering a hundred McDonalds Apple Pies through the drive-through window and the myriad of novelty car-uses you can find in the heady days before full-time employment and any sort of responsibility. Then I moved away for university and my name was removed from the insurance policy, never to return.
Since then I’ve never lived anywhere that would warrant having a car. Cut to… actually let’s not count the years as there are many; I have settled in a city that is defined by just that. Whilst it’s an urban myth that it’s ‘impossible’ to live in Los Angeles without car, it certainly makes it easier to navigate the 503 square miles of city. After not driving for so long, I had to start the process pretty much from scratch. Muscle memory isn’t too reliable when you learnt using manual gears, and driving on the opposite side of the road. It’s like viewing everything in a mirror and my first year here has been dominated by sweaty palms and second guessing if I’m really on the right (wrong) side of the road or not. I also had to take a test to legally drive with a state issued driving license. 17 is the perfect age to revise road theory and take long Sunday lessons with patient parents. 32, plunged into a foreign country with a full-time job, is not the perfect age to revise road theory that refers to the British ‘pavement’, as sidewalk and the British ‘road’ as… pavement. Confused? Welcome to my world. It’s also not the perfect age to practise driving on your precious weekends when you could be at the beach or the mountains or doing something that doesn’t fill you with the sinking suspicion that everyone is trying to kill you.
But, as I ticked over into my thirteenth month here I took my practical test and passed. Highlights included my examiner asking me to point out where the window defroster was (there is no frost in LA, ever) and the part where practically the whole test route was dug up for roadworks and the nice chap barely seemed to know where he was going, let alone how to instruct me. Oh and I got tooted three times by drivers who didn’t appreciate my ‘actual stop’ at the red diamond signs, far preferring the iconic ‘California roll.’
On Friday night, I was home alone. Nick was out of town. I was battling the germs that come along with the first rain of the year, because I am a soft Angeleno these days. I was feeling gloomy. And then I was in the driving seat before I knew it. And I drove, and I drove, and I drove. The sky above me was water colour blooms of burnt, bronze and blush. Neon signs, twinkling headlights and sparkles in the sky that could be stars or planes or something else entirely. Silhouettes of birds, and the metro rumbling over head. It’s truly impossible to feel lonely when you’re in LA traffic. The comfort of person after person making their own way in the world, but on the same stretch of road as you.
I may have switched skylines from the mill chimneys of Bradford to the palm trees of California… but I’m so happy to have rediscovered the peace that can be found in a dusky drive to nowhere, anywhere and everywhere.