MUSINGS: Navigating in cars … and life

By Jennifer Hearn
The Scene staff

I have a confession: I don’t know how to drive.

I just turned 29, and I still don’t have a driver’s license. When people find this out, they make all kinds of guesses about why it is so.

A couple years ago, after a night of clubbing, my friends and I went to IHOP, our favorite post-party spot. We were joined by a young man my friend had met at the bar. Driving came up in conversation, and I mentioned that I didn’t have a driver’s license.

“Too many DUIs?” the man asked.

“Umm … No. I just never learned to drive,” I replied.

Looking back, I can’t help but laugh at that moment. It was 2 a.m., and this young man had just watched me consume quite a bit of liquor. It was easy for him to draw the conclusion that I had lost my driver’s license.

The truth is, not only do I not know how to drive, I have little knowledge of cars or how they work. My boyfriend always has to explain to me on cold mornings that he just can’t start the car and turn on the heat. The car has to “warm up” first.

Cars are part a big part of life, whether or not you drive.

If I am not riding the bus somewhere, I am catching a ride with someone. We live in an urban area full of streets and highways, so cars are everywhere. And car commercials are very popular and entertaining.

I am not completely familiar with the internal-combustion engine, but I do know some parts of a car are more important than others. It strikes me that a few parallels can be drawn between cars and humans.

I ask myself, “What drives me? If my life or body were a car, how would it function? What condition would it be in?”

One vital part of a car is a set of tires. You can have fresh oil and a full tank of gas, but without tires, you aren’t going anywhere.

Almost as important is tire condition. It can affect the way a car drives and the safety of its passengers.

One aspect of condition is traction. It essentially is what moves a car from Point A to Point B. It helps tires grip the road, keeping the wheels from spinning around and around.

Tread allows cars to drive over all kinds of things without stopping or without the driver losing control. If tires have no tread, they are considered “bald,” and that is very dangerous. A car is more likely to hydroplane or even have a blowout.

I don’t want to suffer a blowout at an inconvenient time, so I try to keep my feelings in check. I breathe through minor annoyances and try to resolve big issues as they arise instead of letting them build up and wear me down.

Navigation isn’t essential to car function, but it is essential to getting where you need to go in a timely manner and without frustration. The three main navigational tools for people are GPS devices, paper maps and verbal directions.

What are you using to navigate life?

If you are using a GPS, then you know about possible obstacles ahead. You are able to “reroute” your plans and find alternate routes to achieve your goals.

A paper map doesn’t get updated once it is printed. If this is what you’re using, you may be following a route that is no longer the quickest to reach your destination. A road you may have traveled for years might be closed, and you will have no idea until you get there.

Relying on people to give you directions is not always a good idea, either. It can be a crapshoot. A person could be really good at pointing out landmarks and turns, or he could have only a vague idea of what he’s doing.

It’s OK to listen to someone else’s suggestions, but it is best to be prepared and to follow your own plan.

We all know fuel is important to car function. Some would say it’s the most important factor. Even with brand-new tires and exact directions, your car simply won’t move without gas.

It’s also important for human beings to have the fuel they need to keep going.

Some people always keep their tanks full. They get enough sleep, eat the right foods and know when to give themselves a little TLC.

Others run on half a tank. They burn the midnight oil a few nights a week and stop at drive-thrus when there’s no time for healthy meals. They stretch themselves too thin by saying “yes” to too many requests.

The key here is stopping to refuel to avoid getting caught on “E.”

Then there are the people who always drive on empty tanks. They stretch every gallon of gas they can. Even when their warning lights come on, they push to go one more place.

In other words, they’re “running on fumes.”

You know the type. He hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep all week. He opts for an energy drink instead of breakfast. He works, goes to school and does projects nonstop without caring for himself. It’s only a matter of time before he sputters out.

If I were a car, I am not sure what kind of car I would be. I would want to be in good enough condition to navigate the twists and turns of life. What’s under the hood is more important that a few scratches or rust spots.

The fact is, I’ve seen plenty of cars with fresh paint jobs on chrome wheels stalled out at the side of the road.