Shut Up and Drive

I’m sitting on the beach with my mother’s cousin, Flora, and we’re watching the waves rush towards the shore; rush away from the shore; rush towards the shore; rush away from the shore. My toes are in the sand and I smell salt rising from the sea; sunscreen rising from my skin. It’s almost sunset, but the sky is still light and in the distance, a group of young men is fishing at the water’s edge. They cast their reels into the waves. They shake them in anticipation. They draw back empty hooks.

“You know,” says Flora. “Summer season will be over soon.”

“Yes,” I say.

“I’m going back to Rome this week. All the other tourists will be leaving, too.”

“I suppose they will.”

“This part of town will be empty and sad. You’re on the outskirts, you know. It’ll just get worse in the winter – gray and cold and isolated. Only the locals will be left, and they’ll all be in city centre. The centre is far from where you live.”

I fall silent and look out at the waves. We’ve had this discussion before. I don’t like this discussion. It’s a dose of reality that I’ve been avoiding, preferring to bury my feet in the sand and stare down at a public transportation schedule that shows three pick up times; make multiple trips on my bike to the supermarket; dig through websites to find the best way to get from this beach town to any of the larger ones in the region.

Small town life – I’d forgotten what it was like. Twelve years of living in huge cities has taught me to scrounge every penny but allowed me to luxuriate in the wonder, the glory that is car-free living.

“What will you do?” says Flora. “When I’m no longer here and you need to go to the store for something big. What about meeting people your own age?”

Ah, yes. That old chestnut, too. Act I of my new life in Terracina has been quiet, filled with interesting characters – 99% of whom are over 45 years old. Because it’s high tourist season, I meet only adolescents or people my parents’ age in town. But I know there are people my age. I see them in the Facebook group for this city. They’re here. Where are they? I’ve seen a couple – literally, a couple. But it’s a different thing, making friends when you’re at a certain age. When you’re a kid, all you need to have in common is the fact that you’re both alive. As an adult, you need a little more – you should be neighbors, coworkers, classmates. I work from home. But I need friends. What is life without friends? Nothing. I’ve got to find some.

Down the beach, one of the young men has caught a fish. A crowd gathers round and claps. He holds the reel up high – his good-size, silvery catch wiggles angrily. Flora looks on appreciatively. I stare down again at my feet; red-painted toes digging into the piles of small black pebbles.

She’s totally right, and I know it. If I’m going to live here indefinitely, I need a car. It’s silly to think otherwise – setting a ridiculous limit for myself. And what about the travel writing? I’ve got to travel to do that. I’m not in Osaka where I can just walk down to the train station and zoom anywhere in Japan. I’m not in New York where a subway will take me from Brooklyn to Queens and Manhattan and back in time for dinner. I’m not even in Dublin where I can get a quick bus to the airport. What am I going to do – pester the DiVecchios to drive me around? Nonsense. I need a car. I need to drive.

This is where I make a confession. THAT’S RIGHT, PEOPLE – IT’S CONFESSION TIME ON I EAT MY PIGEON!

I hate driving. I’ve always hated driving. Or, rather, I’m afraid of driving. How’s that? I’ll make three international moves, sky dive, eat poisonous globe fish, and deal with Japanese children, but drive? Dear god, no. Driving is my pathetic bugaboo – next to snakes. And mayonnaise. And Michael Douglas.

Sure, I drove when I was a teenager; had to as there was no public transportation in Bumblefork. And, yes, I enjoyed the freedom it gave me – WHO WANTS TO GO TO TACO BELL, BISHES?! – but the actual, physical act of driving? Hate it. Hate it. Nervous people like me don’t belong behind the wheel. Maybe my imagination is too vivid. I don’t know. When I moved to New York, I breathed a sigh of relief – no more parking, no more traffic, and no more visions of car crashes behind my eyes at night.

Okay. So just deal and get back behind the wheel because it’s necessary, right? Well, right. But there’s something else. Not only have I not driven in years, but back in 2004, I was involved in a terrible car wreck. I’ll spare you the disgusting details, but it was a very painful nine months before I could walk normally again. Wheelchair, walker, cane, physical therapy; the whole sad bit. Sure, I’m doing the cabbage patch in 5 inch heels now, but as a result of what happened – and what didn’t happen – I suffer from a little car-related PTSD. I haven’t dozed off inside a car in six years. Potholes make me get into prone position. What can I say? I’d like to be a bigger girl about this, but people heal the way they heal.

“Talk to your upstairs neighbors,” says Flora. “They’ll know where you can get a good deal on a used car.”

The very thought of sitting behind a wheel makes me breathe heavy, so I try instead to breathe in the salty sea air; deep calming breaths. She’s right and I know it. I have to drive again. Put on my big girl pants. Get back in the saddle. It’s the last step, really. After my car accident, I was afraid of walking down flights of stairs for a long time – I still don’t love it – but I do it. I used to be afraid of jogging on my steel-enforced leg but now I do that, too. I’ve done loads of things that scare me and I know by now that the only way to do it is to just do it. Go through the motions and go. Get a little Fiat 500. Be European. Put a scarf around my hair. Drive to the market. Drive to the capital. Find friends.

Everybody does it.

Why can’t I?

0 Replies to “Shut Up and Drive”

  1. You can do it! Of course you can do it. Just take it one step at a time. You’re in such a beautiful place, you might find that you even enjoy it after you’ve gotten over your nerves.

    And you can always get a cute little European car — that’s a perk. Right, right? Cute and European?

    I’m not helping, am I? 🙂

    1. Thanks, Zachary! I can do ANYTHING, even if I’m scared. Just one of those situations where I’m going to have to go into autopilot. After all, there’s a Sephora in the province’s capital and it’s calling my name.

  2. You’re very brave to be facing it, writing about it and just doing it. Many people never get anywhere near that far. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Margo! I’m planning on doing some driving practice at one of the driving schools in town to boost my confidence. We’ll see how brave I feel once I actually get behind the wheel 🙂

  3. One of your more powerful posts, Liv, great stuff.

    How about a Vespa, would that help as a kind of transition phase that avoids the hassle of parking and is also very Italian? Of course, I know what the objection will be…

    Either way, good luck – you can do it!

    1. Thanks, Nick! I *thought* about a Vespa, but I think they scare me even more than cars.

      … was that the objection you were thinking of? Am I missing something here?

      1. Yeah that was pretty much the objection – that mopeds are usually considered more dangerous than cars.

        Have you considered a tank? Or at least a military grade jeep?

        1. A tank! Now you’re talking. The license plate would say “Fresh” and there’d be dice in the mirror!

        2. Also, vespe are loud… I don’t like anything to drown out my in-transit singing.

      2. If not a Vespa, how about a Piaggio MP3?

        At least they can’t fall over 🙂

  4. Drown out in-transit singing? Hmmm, you might not… but others might!

    1. Impossible. I sing like an angel.

  5. You’ve taken the first step. I think driving lessons are a great idea. Keep us posted.

  6. Your writing sings. (I like the tune).

    But the topic? I’m the wrong person to ask. I don’t drive. I *can’t* drive. And I’ll do anything if it gets around the need to use a car. Especially if the alternative involves meeting (crazy) people.

    How far do you need to go? Is it cycleable? (Is that an option?)

    But if I’m reading things correctly here, you’re determined to leap on a car and make it yours. To tame it and tame that part of yourself.

    And I reckon just by discussing it like this, you’ve conquered it. Demons sent packing. Go you.

    Of course, there’s the little matter of proving it to everyone now…. 😉

    1. Thanks, Mike. I have a bike – I love riding bikes!! – but it isn’t convenient to ride to city centre, and it’s much too far to ride to the other end of town where, ostensibly, nightlife happens. Picture a long shore. I’m at one end; life is at the other. In between are houses. Also, I’m still fixing up an apartment; a bike basket makes it difficult to bring bigger things home. I’ve been trying to ignore reality for a month now but it keeps hitting me in the face. I’m not in Big City anymore, Toto. Alas.

      I have to head back to Dublin for a few weeks, but when I get back to Italy, it’ll be game on. And I’ll show you – ALL OF YOU! – that as it is written, it shall be done.

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