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I am about to admit something pretty embarrassing. I am 40 years old and I do not have a drivers license. Yes I am aware that most 17 year olds have managed to accomplish the simple task of learning to drive, however I was not one of them. I tried, sort of. In my mid twenties, I got my permit, spent a month or two learning how to drive a car, failed the road test a few times, concluded that driving was not going to be my thing and quit.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I decided that it was finally time to try again. This time I signed up for lessons. My driving teacher is a middle aged guy named Mark from Queens, who speaks with a heavy accent and operates his small but very busy driving school mostly out of his car. In addition to the basics of Brooklyn driving (turn left, turn right, stop at the stop sign, stop at the red light, stop for the lady staring at her cellphone, stop for the biker staring at his cellphone) our lessons have included a stop at a gas station so he can fill up the tank, a stop at Bare Burger to order dinner for his ten year old son, and our regular Wednesday routine which involves picking up the girl who takes the lesson directly after mine and having her drive me home. He shares his office with a dentist so my five hour class (which thankfully only took 2.5 hours) was conducted in the waiting room alongside posters of smiling dental patients and brochures for teeth whitening. 

I really like the guy actually. On my very first lesson, during which, like all new drivers, I was positively terrified, he took me all over Williamsburg. There were no small deserted streets, we went right down Bedford Avenue. It was turn right here, turn left here, stop, go. He took multiple phone calls. Occasionally he would gently adjust the steering wheel for me. There was so much going on it was impossible to be nervous, which I am sure was exactly the point.

Since both Mark's schedule and mine are pretty complicated, we have only had time for one lesson per week. So on the other days I drive Matthew and Maya around. They are both incredibly supportive. Maya keeps up a steady stream of "You are doing GREAT mommy!" and Matthew manages to look completely relaxed and zen like while reminding me that I am a little close to that parked car on the right. 

Since most of you are already New York drivers, this next part will come as no surprise to you. Not everyone on the road here is a nice person. Some of them are. But a lot of them are like the lady on 4th avenue, who when she saw that I was trying to change lanes, honked loudly, sped up to like 50 miles per hour and tried to drive through my car. It was a green light and there were only two other drivers on the road at the time. In other words, her letting me into her lane meant absolutely no inconvenience whatsoever, except that she had to actually do something nice for someone else which clearly was not her thing. 

These people are all over the city. People who have no intention of sharing the road unless their own personal safety absolutely requires them to. Sometimes not even then. It is as if that 30 minutes in their car is the only moment of power they get in their entire life and they are going to milk it for all it is worth. Or maybe they are just really angry all the time. Sounds exhausting, all that anger. Maybe try yoga or something?

Listen, I know that I am a new driver. When I am driving in Mark's car, which has his driving school logo on the back, at least people can see this fact. But still, if you are stuck behind me it is probably a little annoying. I get that. I expect a bit of superiority, an "Oh look how cute Bob, a student driver" attitude.  What I don't really get is the disdain. Everyone, every single person on the road, was a new driver once. Even if it was 40 years ago, you were me once. 

It happens in the dojo too, this disdain for beginners. The student who gets annoyed when he has to help the newbie with the drill. The impatience when she doesn't get it fast enough. The eye roll exchange when the instructor has to stop to explain something twice. Thankfully, most senior students are not like this. They are happy to help a new guy out because they have a longer memory than those others. They remember being new themselves, or even if they don't, they understand that this scared, confused white belt is going to be them someday. Or at least he will be if his training partners treat him right. If they take care of him, protect him, make him feel welcome. If they don't run him off the road.

Its called empathy people. Learn it.

In my opinion, those humans who have no patience and compassion for beginners are kind of like grownups who hate children. Not the ones who just would prefer to not become parents. Those guys are fine. I am talking about the ones who cannot handle it when a small child sits next to them in a restaurant. Even if it is a quiet child. Dude, you WERE a child once. And when you are whiny and old and cannot remember where you put your glasses, that small annoying creature is going to be all grown up and ordering mimosas with brunch just like you are now. Also, you are going to die soon. And that child, she is taking your place in the world, on the mat, on the dojo floor, everywhere. And yes, that is terrifying. Deal with it.

Children are just small adults. Black belts are simply white belts who never quit. And new drivers are just experienced drivers in the making. 

So if you see me driving down 4th avenue, desperately trying to get to the left lane so I can turn, please just let me in. I know I am new and a little awkward but I will get better. And if you ever want to try jiu-jitsu, by all means come by the dojo. I promise not to choke you unconscious on your first day.

Well, maybe only once.


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