Living in New York, I can get by very easily without having to own a car, thanks to the MTA (despite its faults and fare hikes) and my trusty feet (despite their cuts and calluses). This doesn’t however mean that I don’t drive. I do whenever the need arises, and think I manage pretty well—once even maneuvering a 14-foot, windowless U-Haul truck down a Soho street to move myself from one apartment to the next. It’s been a while though, since that escapade—so long I can’t really remember the last time I took a seat behind the wheel on these mean streets. Well, that was until this past weekend, when my parents were in town.
My mother, a native New Yorker had an itinerary planned chock full of little adventures during their stay—a visit to this long lost relative or that old favorite place. Only instead of her or my dad doing the driving, like they did all on our of my childhood vacations in New York, it was my foot on the gas pedal. Their lives in my hands!
When I saw the car, (and once I regained my vision following a near-blindness set on by its neon blue exterior) I felt quite at ease, it being a Ford Explorer as opposed to anything in the 14-foot/windowless category. I climbed in, adjusted myself in the seat, acquainted myself with the dash and set us on our way. And then pulling out onto Second Avenue, suddenly (as my friend says), part of a massive school of fish rushing upstream (or uptown in our case), the nerves hit me. In this school there is no room for error; no guidance through your hesitation; and no allowance for quitting. It was me against the world– or at least me against the driving contingent of the upper east side on that particular Saturday. And in all truth, I was a minor basket case.
In the backseat, my mother toggled between her Tom Tom (which was clearly having issues, still stuck in Florida) and my blackberry, as I scolded her for rattling off too much at once: “One line at a time mom. I can’t memorize all of this. New York City driving is stressful, remember?!” In the front, my dad did his best at navigating us through the immediate—reading road signs, directing me in lane changes and so on. Poor man, if he even so much as replaced a windblown hair from out of his eyes I would yell at him: “No moving Daddy! You’re making me nervous.”
Over bridges, through tunnels, on parkways from one borough to the next…they we were, the brightest blue fish, keeping up with the rest of ’em.
I don’t really know how—perhaps it was the memories of family trips as a kid, or the stories my mother was telling that day—but somehow, soon enough, the knot in my stomach was gone and I was actually loving it, this crazy New York City driving thing. I thought of the million and one times we drove over bridges from my aunt’s house in Long Island to my uncle’s place in the Bronx and I remembered how funny I thought all the names sounded—the Triboro (before I realized what it meant) and the Throggs Neck (which of course I thought was Frog’s Neck). I remembered looking out the window as we would be approaching a bridge, hoping that there was really another side to it and that we wouldn’t end up in the water. I remembered the time I fell asleep in the back of the van next to my cousin Michael and how by some very bad stroke of luck my green Chewels gum ended up in his brown-black hair, and then my mother had to comb it out with peanut butter once we got to Uncle Dave’s.
Our minds collectively drifted in and out of memories and before long we arrived at City Island where my grandparents owned a neighborhood grocery store fifty something years ago. My mom reminisced about her days growing up in the Bronx– days at Orchard Beach and news stories of “mafia activity” in Pelham Bay Park. I imagined what it must have been like and thought how different from my New York life, but in some ways, how very much the same.
If I hadn’t actually had to pay attention through it, I could say it was a joyride. Definitely the best drive I’ve taken in a while. And despite how nerve-racking it can be, I actually think its something we non-driving New Yorkers (licensed of course) should force ourselves to do every now and then—to really feel the energy and craziness of this city that just isn’t the same on foot.