For someone who used to hate driving, I sure do a lot of it. Living in Texas is partially to blame. If you want to get from one big city to another, get ready to drive for at least two hours.
Driving used to be a major source of anxiety for me. There was a time when I wouldn’t drive anywhere outside of a radius I was comfortable with. Any driving outside of my comfort zone would cause major stress and worry for me and I simply avoided it as much as possible. As recently as three years ago, I would even miss out on social opportunities because of my driving fears. By the way, “outside of my comfort zone” encapsulated everything, at one point – freeways, highways, bridges, driving at night, parking, driving downtown, driving in a big city, driving to a new place, rural roads, hills, toll roads, larger vehicles, heavy traffic, parking garages.
I’m fairly proud of the fact that I’ve conquered all the fears I listed above (except parking garages. I will never, ever like parking garages, and I’m okay with that). Driving somewhere rarely causes anxiety for me anymore, just because I do it all the time. And I have my job to thank for that, mostly, because I had no choice but to push myself out of my comfort zone. Don’t want to drive to a new place, or on a toll road, or in a big city like Houston? Too bad, because you have a field job that you requires you to do all three, so suck it up, Jenny!
And usually, once I drove to a place I had feared so much, I would think, “…why did I spend thirty minutes Google mapping this route obsessively? This was easy.”
But every once in awhile, I’ll have a driving day that reminds me of why I used to be so afraid of it. And today? Definitely one of those days.
Today I was driving an rented SUV. I’m not used to driving SUVs, so I found myself more nervous than usual about the trip. The trip should have been fairly easy; I had followed a coworker on the route before. It is tricky in one place because it required a toll road route that was so new, not even Google Maps had it on their route. I was a little anxious that I’d get lost.
Despite my initial worries, the trip started off well. I grew accustomed to the SUV and its blind spots and successfully merged on to a toll road I had once avoided for years. I was just settling into the trip when I drove into a heavy patch of fog. I’m talking the kind of fog where you only see feet in front of you. I felt like I was driving into a narrow, foggy tunnel.
Off to my right, the exit sign for the toll road interchange suddenly appeared out of the fog. I panicked. How was I going to see where I was going on the interchange? What about merging onto the new toll road? The speed limit on that road is ridiculously high; would anybody see me merge?
I panicked and pulled over, hoping the fog would lift as I watched several near-accidents unfold before my eyes as I witnessed drivers cutting each other off in the heavy fog.
The fog didn’t lift.
Fifteen minutes later, after a truck was started to edge onto the shoulder where I’d parked, I decided that the fog was not going to lift and I wasn’t doing myself any good by just sitting here. I made sure I merged back onto the highway carefully (why do so many people drive in the fog without lights?!) and took my exit.
The exit was not as bad as I’d thought; I was still able to see where I was going. But it was creepy to see the overpass support structures and shopping centers pop out nowhere as I drove through the fog. I merged on the next toll road and only felt comfortable driving at 50 miles per hour, which happens to be THIRTY MILES below the speed limit.
Everyone else around me zipped by me as I gripped my steering wheel and called them maniacs.
The fog did not lift for another hour and a half, by the way, so that was fun. I noted several cars pulled over, which made me feel better; the fog was scaring more people than just me.
The fun did not end there. Once I was on a smaller highway, construction stopped us and forced traffic down to one lane; i.e., one direction of traffic would have to stop and wait while the other direction of traffic was allowed to pass through that one lane.
I guess a traffic guard took his lunch break early, or something, because as I was driving (I was leading the other cars, by the way), I could see a whole line of cars driving head-on towards me IN MY LANE. Luckily they were not driving fast, but still. I pulled over and the others behind me followed suit. We waited about ten minutes for the opposite flow of traffic to pass. Once they’d passed, I was worried about going in case another stream of cars were coming. Cue a semi honking at me. After checking to make sure I was safe, I started driving.
And the fun doesn’t stop there!
The last straw occurred when a van towing a vehicle let the car in front of me pass. He moved over onto the shoulder and the car passed without a problem. Even though my instinct told me I should stay put, I thought, “Oh, he let that guy pass, he’ll let me pass too since I was right behind the other car.” Since the van didn’t immediately get back into the lane after letting the car pass, I decided that this was an invitation to let me pass, too.
I started passing, but for whatever reason, the van started encroaching back into the lane. I couldn’t slow down now. I quickly passed the van with my vehicle halfway in both lanes, my lane and the lane of oncoming traffic (which definitely had ONCOMING TRAFFIC in it). I pulled in front of the van; conveniently, I pulled in just as the traffic in front of me started slowing down, which meant I had to hit the brakes with the van closely behind me.
You can say that when I finally reached my destination, my nerves were certainly on edge.
Most of my trips, thankfully, haven’t been this action-packed. I am grateful that most are uneventful and that I complain later how boring they were. But I feel like some trips are designed to keep your driving skills in check and remind you not to take driving for granted, even when you do it all the time.