It’s January and the only real sign of winter here in San Diego is frost on the lawn and the rooftops. We aren’t even getting much rain this year. It’s been unseasonably warm, and we chuckle that this is why we pay the big bucks to live here. According to CNN, much of the country is freezing cold. Born and raised in NY, I spent 21 years in a four-season climate. For reasons that I now recognize as lack of confidence and low self-esteem, I didn’t get my driver’s license in high school. I took drivers’ education but never took the test. This was no small inconvenience in my early twenties, but back in the day, I was a hitchhiker, as they say, through the galaxy of my early adventures cross-country in the US, Canada and in Hawaii. I also managed on the “loser cruiser” the bus. It didn’t seem to hold me back a great deal, but those alternative modes of transportation required the tolerance of youth.
In the late 1970’s when I was about 28, due to some boyfriend crisis, I went back to Lynchburg, Virginia where my parents were living in their first retirement. I had matured enough or somehow the planets aligned so that I took a driving school class and actually got my license. Virginia does get some snow and I do recall my several-months-long visit was during the winter, but the weather there is much more moderate than the northeast. So I got a pass on learning this advanced driving skill, and went back to Hawaii, where I lived until 1982.
Watching CNN this morning, Martin Luther King Day 2006, where the temperature is hovering at 0 degrees in NY, I try to imagine myself handling a regular life in that sort of climate. After ten years in Hawaii and almost 24 years in San Diego, despite developing personal strengths in various ways, I am admittedly a wuss in the weather department. I find myself reordering my schedule here when it rains! Partly that is because people in Southern California, just like me, don’t now how to drive even in the rain, and there are hundreds of accidents.
Seems like driving on ice is a metaphor for life, sitting behind the wheel with white knuckles, moving forward fast and feeling out of control. I find driving is a sort of a laboratory for other emotional states - it is a real opportunity to learn detachment, and not to take things personally. I constantly remind myself that other drivers aren’t doing things “to me”. Even on a good day, hard to come by, even in sunny Southern California, driving is another less than welcome opportunity to develop patience.
As I get older, I find myself “tsk-tsk-ing” at the kids today. Many of the younger drivers seem so rude and aggressive and clearly possess the youthful feeling that they are indestructible. Not to mention the all important cell phone conversations that hold their attention, rather than the road. I’m glad I was not self-centered and irresponsible in my youth!
Since I live in a 55+ senior community, I also see a number of elders who should no longer be on the road. For this population, driving equals living independently, which understandably, they cling to fiercely.
At 56, my biggest fear of death is around car accidents. I don’t obsess over it, but it is much higher on my “worry list” than getting sick. I guess I feel I have some control over my health because I live a health conscious lifestyle. I’m a careful driver, not a perfect one, but I don’t drink and drive, I am cautious about night driving, since it has been compromised after LASIK eye surgery. I use candy, gum and music as distractions in traffic, not my cell phone. I try not to drive when I’m very tired although this is increasingly an issue with me, as middle-aged insomnia has become normal.
Instead of driving in snow, I will get in the car this morning, and drive through a massive road improvement project in my area. This is a three-year much hated disruption. The freeway here in suburban, cookie cutter San Diego looks like the Bronx or a war zone. There is heavy equipment all along the shoulders, or what used to be the shoulder. Now the borders of the freeway and ramps are temporary concrete and orange plastic barricades that seem to shift overnight into new configurations. So much for control. The population explosion here over the last few years I can’t control either, making me take a hard look into moving somewhere else. Which brings me back to the topic of weather. Life in the Sunbelt seems to attract us like moths to the flame. So I’m driving in snow now metaphorically, moving fast and feeling out of control, into the unknown future.