Drive through Boston/Cambridge
Learning to take the wheel
“I don’t know when to turn,” I said, vaguely panicked. My partner responded with something reassuring. He was buckled into the passenger seat beside me, and I envied his comfort. Through the windows, I could see cars all around us, zipping by in front or at rest across the street, waiting to rush forward.
I was stopped at that tricky Mass. Ave. and Memorial Drive intersection. Usually, I’m a pedestrian on the sidewalk nearby, impatiently waiting to cross the road on foot. On that day, though, I was trapped in a rented metal-box-of-death which the rest of you might call a car. We were headed to a concert in Portland, Maine because it was the summer before my senior year, and in summer, I’m allowed to drive away from TFP and pretend I’ll never be sleep-deprived again, pretend I’ll never have to crank out another paper or pset at 3 a.m. as my vision goes blurry. That trip was my first time driving in Cambridge.
Yet, I didn’t want my foot on the gas pedal. I didn’t want the wheel in my hands.
In many ways, driving is all about trust. Everyone on the road operates their own box-of-death, and the only way we can all feel safe as we hurtle forth together is to believe that we’re all on the same page. We’ll all follow the rules and maneuver our death-boxes carefully. I’m great at this, great at trusting others on the road, but I don’t trust myself. That’s my issue — driving requires confidence in your decisions and in the way you execute those choices.
I’m the driver who can’t decide what to do at a yellow light, slows down without stopping, realizes the light will turn red before she can reach the other side, alternates between braking and inching forward, and ultimately faces the wrathful beeping of oncoming traffic. I’m the driver who waits for a road to empty completely before turning onto it, to avoid any miscalculations. As that driver, I can work with wide, low-traffic roads back home, but I am not compatible with Boston’s streets.
At that Mass. Ave. intersection, as I waited for a green light, I wondered how I would manage the rest of the drive. I watched pedestrians pass in front of my rented death-box and wished we could trade places. I imagined myself crossing the street with them, as I had done so many times before, with the river glittering on one side, car bumpers gleaming on the other. And as I imagined this walk, I had a sudden realization: my view from inside the car was different from my view as a pedestrian.
You might think this epiphany obvious, inane, not worth noting, but please bear with me. If, like me, walking is your main way of getting around campus, you’ve seen every building, every shrub, from your position on the sidewalk. In my rented death-box, I saw campus from the middle of the street, through a windshield. This may not seem so different — the buildings, the shrubs remain the same — but driving, not walking, down Mass. Ave. for the first time was like wearing an old sweater that had shrunk a little in the wash. The experience of wearing it is essentially the same, but everything is somehow off.
I had never seen a view of the river from inside a car, facing Harvard Bridge. I realized it was the perspective of an outsider, of someone passing through. I saw that one day, I will be that someone, just passing through — I will graduate, and I’ll stop traversing these sidewalks which have grown so comfortable. Instead, I might drive down Mass. Ave. to the real-person job which awaits me, to a new home, a new life, devoid of psets and college friends, and I might see this campus most frequently through the view in my windshield.
That view told me: you won’t be in college forever. When you hit the road with your degree, the wheel will be in your hands and no one else’s.
The intersection light turned green. I still didn’t trust myself, but I’d have to learn to do so. I made the turn, and I drove all the way to Maine.
This article is part of the “101 Things To Do Before You Graduate” column, a series inspired by the titular list given to incoming freshmen. If you are interested in contributing to this column, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.