How I Learned to Drive at 37

1.18pm silverlake drive alex prager

I am a 37 year old woman who’s been driving for 2 weeks. Basically, it took me 20 years and three countries to finally decide to learn to drive. When I tell people here in L.A. that I’ve only been driving for two weeks, they think “two weeks in America” and assume I was driving for the past 20 years in Europe. When I explain that I haven’t and that I am indeed a brand new driver, I am met with an expression which can only be described as utter puzzlement. So I feel obligated to deliver them my life story in 2 min or less, something I’ve come to master since I arrived.

I guess today I will serve you the same life story as a little mise en bouche before the main event… As you know, I was born and raised in Paris, then moved to London where I spent 12 blissful years. I now live in Los Angeles. That doesn’t really explain much, does it? Let me sum this up for you: when I turned 18 in Paris, I didn’t ask my parents to pay for my driving licence because I wanted a laptop instead. I was perfectly happy using public transport, later followed by a Solex and later again by a cute little Vespa. Turns out, the laptop was a great idea as it opened me up to coding, writing more and photo editing… All things that essentially make me who I am now.

Then I moved to London (via Bristol). At first I thought “I am 25 now, perhaps I should learn to drive“. But I also thought “I don’t want to learn to drive on the wrong side of the road” also I never really had the kind of disposable income needed to pay for driving lessons while paying rent in London. Fast forward a few years and I finally had the disposable income but I’d also decided to move to the States. So I waited another 12 months. What’s 12 more months when you’ve already waited 20 years?

I arrived in Los Angeles on July 19th. I gave myself a few days to get over my jet-lag and then I researched driving schools in my area. I found Ford Driving School, which came highly rated and recommended… I gave them a call and booked my first lesson! I started on July 26th, less than a week after landing at LAX. I wasn’t sure at all what to expect, but I wasn’t nervous. If anything, after 20 years I was ready to give it a go.

When I sat in the car for my first lesson with Steve, I was besides myself with excitement. Seriously, it was all I could talk about for days afterwards. “I drove here” I would announce proudly to anyone who would listen. I guess when you wait that long to do something it is either going to be a revelation or a fairly stressful experience. It was definitely the former for me. I was so desperate to get to my second lesson! Being behind the wheel was like nothing I’d experienced before (apart from that time I drove a golf buggy and ran over a snake in Cascais).

I booked myself in for 6 hours and in between lessons I read the whole California Driving Handbook in one sitting, then went to the DMV and took the written test. I passed first time and booked myself in for 6 more hours of driving. I begged friends to let me drive with them once I had my permit, but nobody fancied getting their car smashed by a learner driver (what kind of friends are they?!) so I patiently waited for my time with Steve to get behind the wheel again.

Each lesson was based around a specific skill I needed to acquire, so each two-hour block was unique. Steve let me in on the lesson plan fairly early on in the process and I was happy with it. He took in my suggestions and requests and tried his best to accommodate them – for example, I wanted to try and drive on the freeway with him, and I also wanted to try some specific streets during our lessons. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better person to teach me: he was super chill and chatty, so any residual nervousness disappeared as soon as I stepped in the car.

After 12 hours of learning, I was finally ready to take my driving test. It was all scheduled by Ford Driving School and on August 22nd at 9am, Steve came to pick me up to take me to the DMV! I passed first time, less than a month after taking my first lesson EVER. I feel that in itself this is a testament to Steve’s skills as an instructor and Ford Driving School as a whole! The best thing about it is that it only cost me $500 in total.

The takeaway here for anyone who wants to learn to drive is: don’t think too much about it and just do it. There is no shame in learning as an adult, there is nothing to be afraid of. Just make sure you find the right instructor and once you do, make sure you communicate with them. If you don’t like something, let them know. If you would like to try something different, let them know as well. If you feel particularly daunted by a specific aspect of driving, talk about it. You can deal with it during your lessons and leave it behind before taking the test.

And now… In the past two weeks, I clocked over 200 miles on the road and loving every minute of my newfound freedom. I am making special playlists and finding excuses to go for a drive every day (going to get trousers tailored was my latest). There is nothing quite like cruising down Sunset Boulevard while listening to the Beach Boys…

If you live in Los Angeles, I cannot recommend Ford Driving School enough – make sure you ask for Steve too!

Photo credit: Alex Prager, 1:18pm, Silverlake Drive, 2012