Windows Open: A Reflection

Driving about after passing the Big Test is something else.


Jessica Velcheck, Bear Hub Staff

The gas needle teetered over the edge, nearly tapping the emboldened “F” on its cap. Turning the key to ignition after filling a tank brought with it a fresh feeling of power rumbling through the car. Even if the gears and whirls and doo-dads were moving in the exact same way as they were on a quarter-tank, just the notion that there was new petroleum coursing and combusting inspired a kind of thrill. The wheel vibrated under my hands. One window down permitted cool air but two sent my hair flying all around the cabin, as I went tracing roads that I’d only traversed from the passenger’s seat.  I left the route to my dismal directional instinct and sniffed out different roads off the highway to loop back.

With the shiny-new card in my wallet, the only limit was an eleven-o’ clock curfew.

A license best kept hidden, for to show it off would come with both humiliation and a monetary charge. No, simply being on the road was prideful enough. With an ATM card that could draw money on command, it seemed as if I could do everything I wasn’t able to before, with limited money and my own two feet to carry me. Maybe my lack of stress on wheels came with the lack of participants on the road, quarantine’s grip loosening but still holding tight in August. There weren’t many thoughts bouncing around my skull then. No; room had to be made for blasting music over a $20 speaker and burning gas. It’d been encouraged for a bit, just so I could explore and get used to travelling casually in a car, so that maybe I’d feel less rushed to go places in the future. Certainly, it gave me a bit more feel for what’s where.

Perhaps, in my own individual experience, getting to drive carefree with my windows down was some sort of coming-of-age. A mark of another stage in life progressed. But the truth is, to have a car at seventeen is less of a common experience than the security of East Brunswick lets on. It’s a privilege, and many can go their entire adulthoods without even a license. Getting to drive alone is freeing but it requires a car, a commodity that many cannot have. To get to carelessly burn gas, until nine months later when it has to be budgeted out. It would be unfair to paint my experience as the American teen’s, or to base my worldview off of that expectation.

Though driving has settled into something where I have a set destination and less of a fun-times wasteful activity, that independence is a treasure. And whatever independence looks like to you, it’s something special indeed.