The first time I had ever driven a car was in the beginning of my senior year of high school. I had no experience whatsoever and I had never even touched the driver’s handbook. I was with a couple of friends and we were about to go to out to eat. Paz, one of my closest friends at the time, told me to get in the driver’s seat. My worst fear was getting in a car accident, now I had to worry about crashing someone else’s car. All I had to do was drive down one street about 1000 feet up to a stop sign and make a right turn. I know I did terrible because I was going like 5 mph or less and when it came for me to turn, I turned without stopping at the stop sign first and I didn’t even look for any upcoming vehicles. There was a car coming from my left-hand side and no one pulled on the emergency brake, but instead Paz pulled the steering wheel to the right and we got out of the way before the car could hit us. That was just my first driving experience, and I didn’t learn anything. I started learning how to drive about a month after my 18th birthday. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. I remember sitting in the driver’s seat of my car thinking “I really don’t want to do this.” And although I knew the rules of driving on the road I knew nothing about controlling a vehicle. And the thought of learning how to do that was completely new and terrifying to me. My dad was the one teaching me how to drive and he made the whole experience a lot less nerve wracking because he was constantly making jokes.
My first two driving lessons consisted of me driving around a parking lot for a couple of hours. But before my dad had even allowed me to start the car he explained how to use the blinkers, the windshield wipers, and the emergency brake. I started the car and my dad said, “while pressing down on the brake pedal, put it in drive, then slowly take your foot off and gently press down on the gas.” I did what he said but when I pressed on the gas, my heart was beating so fast and I quickly slammed my foot on the brake. It made my dad laugh and for some reason that motivated me to do it better the second time. After a few minutes, I finally got the hang of controlling the movement of the car without making it jerk. After about a week driving around parking lots, I drove my dad and his girlfriend to the San Antonio Winery, which is in downtown LA. It was about an hour-long drive and helped me learn how to control my braking. I took advantage of that little driving experience because the thing that I was the worst at was knowing when to stop. I would get way too close to the cars and it took a while for me to get the hang of that.
I knew when I had done something wrong because of a driver’s reaction or expression. I always said that I was ‘too cautious’ of a driver, but my brothers would tease me and say that I just sucked at driving. My older brother, Anthony, helped taught me too always watch my surroundings. He always told me to exaggerate everything I did when taking my driving test. The day I took the behind the wheel test, I was more scared of feeling embarrassed for failing than failing. I made so many mistakes, but I passed. After my test, I drove my mom and I home and I was so excited I ran a red light on the way. I was lucky I didn’t do that during my test. I decided to go to my niece’s house which was about 45 minutes away from mine. So that meant that I had to drive on the freeway. (I had only driven on the freeway once and it was with my dad). When I got on the ramp to enter the freeway my hands were gripping the steering wheel so hard my palms were starting to sweat and my fingers were starting to feel sore; and that’s when I knew that terrifying feeling that I had the first day I was learning to drive was nothing compared to that moment when I was on the freeway. But in that moment, I could teach myself to stay calm and to be confident. After those 45 minutes, full of anxiety I felt like I was finally able to breathe.
After a couple months driving on my own I wasn’t as scared just to sit in the driver’s seat as I was in the beginning. I was and now can go on the freeway and I don’t feel anxious at all. I can get to where I need to go without any problem. I did notice that at one point I was becoming a real cocky driver. One night I was in the freeway on my way home; and a guy in a Chevy cut me off on the freeway. I thought that cutting him off would make me feel better… at the time. But now that I think back, I couldn’t believe how stupid I was. I cut him off and he did the same and without realizing it we were racing putting myself and whoever else was on the road in danger. I was so close to getting in an accident that by the time I got off the freeway and stopped at a red light, my hands were shaking and I was breathing fast. I knew I had to reteach myself the things that I learned when I was first learning how to drive.
Now, I can get to wherever I need to be and be safe at the same time. I learned the most from my dad teaching me and a few other things from my brother. But I also learned a lot by having to teach myself to be safe and not just driving dangerously thinking that there won’t be any consequences. I’ve been taught how to drive but like everything else, I’m still learning.