How I Started Driving

As many of you already know, driving isn’t really my thing. This started when I turned sixteen and, instead of going out and getting my permit, I focused on math problems and ballet class. As I got older this trend continued. I learned how to take the bus and my friends got used to picking me up if we were going to do something (thanks, guys!). Which isn’t to say that I didn’t drive. I learned; I practiced. But I didn’t like it so I didn’t practice often.

What don’t I like about driving? After thinking about it for a long time, it comes down to two things: one, I don’t like going fast; two, I don’t like how big cars are. I guess both of those dislikes can be changed with more time on the road, but I never felt the desire to spend more time on the road. Getting good at driving is something that I recognized I’d have to do eventually, but I was content to stick with my trusty number 5 and number 7 buses and my own two legs.

Then I came to Yogya, where I have my very own motorcycle, and terrifying traffic to go with it.

I’ve spent most of my time here considering trying to ride the motorbike and then remembering all the times that I’ve crossed the road and nearly died because I misjudged the traffic pattern. So for a long time I didn’t do much with the bike. I learned the basics of shifting (it’s much easier than in a car) and even tooled around my neighborhood (where there isn’t any traffic), but the prospect of actually taking to the road when there were other cars around still seemed daunting.

And Yogya has a good bus system. On one bus route, you ride in air conditioning with staff who make sure you get off at the right place. That said, there are designated stops for this set of buses and sometimes they are few and far between. Or I may just be spoiled by the other set of buses where, for Rp 500 less, you ride without air conditioning but have the added bonus of being able to get on and off the bus wherever you want. Between these two bus lines, I’ve never had a problem getting where I wanted to go, even if sometimes it takes a while.

But, just in the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that I can actually cross the road without any problems. (Well, most of the time.) Somehow I’ve developed a feel for the traffic, at least when I’m wading across it. I’m not perfect, but I mess up a lot less than I used to.

With this confidence crossing the road has come a resolve to ride my bike. At the advice of one of my language teachers, I started riding on Sunday mornings because there’s less traffic. Then I started trying at other times of the day, always making a loop around my neighborhood and then a loop on slightly bigger roads near my house before I moved on to driving anywhere else.

And, slowly, I’ve started driving places. Not far, because I haven’t quashed my tendency to think too much, something that doesn’t work well when I’m driving at what I consider fast speeds and have a motorcycle passing on either side of me and a car behind me honking. But I have been going places, usually just to my office—which is easy—but also to my favorite vegan restaurant which happens to be located several big roads away.

Actually, to get to said vegan restaurant, I just followed my senior fellow as she drove, a feat that is much easier than driving on my own. The hardest part about driving, for me, is becoming part of a new traffic stream. It’s not too bad actually driving on big roads, but turning onto them is another story. If there’s someone in front of me who’s going the same way then it’s much easier; I can just go when they go.

I wouldn’t call myself a driver yet, but I will say that I enjoy driving a lot more on a motorcycle than in a car. And I know exactly why: I take up less space on the road. Judging by the honks, I’m still taking up too much space, but in many ways I feel more comfortable than I ever did in a car. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll actually abandon the bus in favor of driving myself places.

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