This is a picture of my very first driver's license at age sixteen. I saved it all these years because it means that much to me. It is symbolic of my first taste of freedom; of independence; of adulthood.
Getting my driver’s license was the connecting factor to attaining my dreams. Once I was old enough to drive, I could get a job and start paying for the singing lessons I always wanted and I could go to the mall and visit my friends at the drop of a hat and I could ditch fourth period and head to the beach...you know, all the important things that my teenaged-valley-girl self would ponder. Getting my license was, like (insert valley-girl accent) THE biggest deal, okay? I mean, my entire tenth grade class could tell you exactly how many days were left until I turned SIXTEEN...because I told them…like, everyday...like, all the time!
So, moving to New York from Los Angeles, a truly car-centric city, was a big adjustment. I remember selling my Black Volkswagen Jetta and thinking: Who am I without my car?
Cut to ten years living as a New Yorker and I got no problem leaving that car behind. I love (dare I say it?) taking the the subway! I love not having to worry about parking and tune-ups and smog checks and gas and insurance and paying attention to the “other drivers” and all that talk about “traffic.” Turns out, I love being taken places. My time on the subway is actually fun. I read; listen to music; talk to strangers; meet new people and generally, get to where I need to go at a reasonable and decent amount of time.
So, when the opportunity arose for me to visit Vermont (a place I’ve never been) to attend a yoga retreat center, I immediately said, “YES!” and then tried to figure out how to get there. I researched taking a train or flying or a bus...anything other than driving myself. Because...I have never driven in NYC. I repeat, NEVER. I only drive on occasion when visiting LA. On occasion!! So, that’s TEN YEARS of not driving. And people are crazy drivers here in New York. And now I am presented with the invitation of driving to Vermont which takes approximately six hours!!! Are you kidding? There’s got to be another way.
But, well, you know...this challenge is called “40 Fearless Acts” not “40 I’m-cool-wit-it Acts.” So, I chose to rent a car and drive myself.
Back in the day when I was a car-owner, there were no iPhones, no apps, no google, no nothing. If you had to drive long distance somewhere, you had to research how to get to where you were going. You had to buy a map or print out directions. You had to have a plan.
My “plan” was to download the app “WAZE”, plug my handy iPhone in the car charger, and TRUST that I would get there. What a difference ten years makes.
I sat in my rented purple Hyundai Elantra for a few minutes before I went on my adventure. I wanted to make sure I knew where everything was....or rather, re-program all good radio stations to the console. I couldn’t drive six hours without good tunes.
So, off I went...with my good buddy, Waze leading the way. “I can do this,” I repeated to myself, backing out of the driveway of the Holiday Inn (don’t ask, it was a “cheap” car rental spot).
The first hour I sat with my eyes and ears on high alert. I had the radio turned off, as I was trying to focus solely on whatever Waze told me. She directed me when to veer left or stay right or head on this highway or that one. But, what she didn’t tell me was how long 900 meters was in, you know, real people talk. Like, 10 minutes? Or, 30? C'mon, Waze, just talk to me like you’re my friend...HOW LONG TILL I CAN TUNE OUT AND JAM TO SOME MUSIC?
“You will be on this road for two hours…” she said. Finally. I can turn on some music and check out the beautiful scenery. And it was beautiful. I’m zipping down 1-95 highway without a care in the world. Until...first Toll...Waze never told me about the Tolls. But you know what she did tell me about? Large puddles or cars that were veered off to the shoulder or, that cop car in about 20 feet (ugh, how far is that?) Luckily, one of my students told me to take cash for the tolls, so I was prepared.
I got to Stowe Mountain Yoga Center in record time: five hours and some change. I felt relieved.
On my drove home, I trusted Waze completely. Things started coming back to me like I was a teenager again. I’m singing all the words to “I Miss You” by Klymaxx loud and proud (very proud, as I couldn’t believe I remembered all the words). I’ve got one hand on the steering wheel and one hand “scanning” through radio stations (why are they all on commercial breaks at the same time!) Or, I’m having full-on imaginary conversations with myself. Or with people I want to meet. You know, cause that’s what you do when you’re driving solo...riiiight?
But, the skies were getting murky. The clouds were coming in. And Waze didn’t warn me about... The weather! It started to rain on my ride back. Ugh, I hate driving in rain, I murmured to...no one? Waze also didn’t inform me of the big trucks that were driving irrationally fast on the opposite side of the highway and who would perpetually speed by and splash huge amounts water all over my purple Elantra. Ugh, the nerve!
So, I’m already a bit grouchy...Waze and I were not on the best of terms and well, I sorta passed by a Toll without paying?? I’m not sure how that happened but when I arrived at another Toll, the “officer” asked for my ticket, and I said, what ticket, officer, I mean, Mr. Toll-booth-man? He said I should have gotten one at the last station-thingy. I explained that this was my first time driving to New York from Vermont and I have no idea what he’s talking about. And then I tried to blame it all on Waze and apparently it worked because he let me pass...with paying of course.
Then, I went through another two Tolls and on the last one, I only had $5 and the Toll was $8...and they only take cash. Oh no! (Waze and I still weren’t speaking). I explained to this officer, I mean Toll-booth-man that I had no more cash and could I charge it? He smiled and took my five bucks and let me pass! Phfffew. Relieved.
I made it back to the Empire State and thought to myself, hmmm...perhaps I should make a stop to IKEA or Target since I have this car and could potentially buy really big, heavy items and drive them back to my place. OMG!! How EXCITING!!! Or I could drive things for other people? Or maybe I can become an Uber driver for the next hour or so?! The possibilities were endless.
But, I just wasn’t in the mood. So, off I went to return my purple Elantra.
One Holiday Inn shuttle back to La Guardia Airport to pick up the M60 bus back to Astoria Blvd to then head back on the N Train to the city just in time to teach my 7:30 class…and I was beat.
I started thinking about the days when I drove everywhere and how different my life was then. . And how much my car was attached to my identity…my “ticket” to freedom. It’s funny how I own less stuff now than I did back then and yet, I feel more free. Because there’s nothing in my way anymore. Not age. Not status. Not toll booths. And certainly, not Fear.
Last night, as I was walked from the East Village to the subway, I spotted a young girl sitting underneath the street light with ragged hair and a cardboard sign that said, "Sometimes You Just Need A Little Help." I glanced at her for a moment and then continued walking, as I normally do. But something told me to turn around...so I did.
Her paper cup was empty. She was sitting on bags, dressed in layers of brown and her hair looked like it hadn't been brushed in months. "Excuse me," I approached. "Are you hungry?" (She nodded). "Let me buy you slice of pizza." (I gestured to the pizza place across the street). She stood up right away, "I would love that! Thank you!"
"I'm Charlene..." as I held out my hand to shake hers. "I'm Mary," She replied. "Nice to meet you, Mary." Somehow I didn't believe that was her real name.
She added, "I saw you walk by before, and I thought you looked like my Mom's friend." I had two thoughts: one, I was old enough to be her Mom and two, she saw me walk past the first time.
As we walked across the street for pizza, I asked her how long she'd been on the streets. She told me she's been traveling for months...trying to get back to Texas. She also said she had a boyfriend and they were both sleeping at a friends house in the Bronx. I was relieved to know she had somewhere to sleep at night.
I bought her two slices; one for her and her boyfriend. She was polite, and gracious and sweet. I asked if she wanted to sit down and eat and she politely declined, explaining that she should get back to her spot as her boyfriend would be wondering where she was.
"I don't really like to do this," she revealed. "You know, sit out here and beg. People can be so mean...they spit in our cup and tell us to go get a job...which we're trying to do and will do once we get back to Texas." I just continued to listen.
"Thank you so much...I had been sitting here wishing for a slice of pizza." I replied, "Well, I must have heard you." She smiled. "Stay safe," I said, as I wished her well and waved goodbye.
As I waked away, I realized in the ten years I've lived here, I had never done that before. I had never bought a stranger dinner. I had never engaged in a real conversation with someone who was a "beggar." I was either too busy, too grossed-out by their appearance or frankly, just too disheartened to bother.
I know, especially as New Yorkers, we are constantly bombarded with all kinds of stories of people down on their luck. And it's easy to clump them all in the same category and look the other way.
But I made a promise to myself last night. Even if I can't always give money or buy someone dinner, I can always acknowledge them. Because everybody deserves to be seen. And sometimes, people just need a extra little help.
These blog posts are part of my #40daysoffearlessacts Challenge. When I turned Forty on June 6th of this year, I decided to STEP-UP my life and created a "40 Days of Fearless Acts" challenge. Follow along as I step out of my comfort zone, do things that scare me, that I've never done before and/or are just plain silly and make me laugh!