For years, I was terrified of driving on highways. I’d twist my whole life into a pretzel in the service of highway avoidance — which isn’t easy if you live in the state of New Jersey. If one of my children got an invitation to Chuck E. Cheese, it would throw me into frenzy. Could I manage to get into a birthday party carpool without offering to drive either way?
It was even worse when I started freelancing for The New York Times. Fear of driving was just out of the question while working for an organization that sent reporters to war zones. I was mortified that one of my editors would find out.
I remember one assignment, a story I’d always wanted to do, visiting the test kitchens of Manischewitz in Jersey City. It was winter, a snowstorm was expected, and the directions involved The New Jersey Turnpike. My husband, also a reporter, was out of town covering the Dole campaign. I remember spending hours with a map laid out on my bed, agonizing over routes, and consulting with my husband on the campaign trail. In the end, I wimped out altogether and found a way to take a train.
That was 14 years ago. Today, I drive on highways. But my new book, “Cars from a Marriage,” draws from those days. The book begins:
I’ve always thought of cars as places to die. That’s what high school driver’s ed did to me. Sure, there was also the practical stuff: how close to follow, laws regarding school buses, what to do in a skid (the most terrifying, anti-intuitive lesson of all). But that’s not what stuck. What stuck were the flickering black-and-white filmstrips narrated by dead drivers, forever regretting that one second they took their eyes off the road. Driver’s ed ghost stories. They grabbed my throat like a garrote – sudden, violent, remorseless – convincing me that driving and death were not only interrelated but inevitable.
In the last few days, the news has been full of headlines about runaway Priuses accelerating without warning. In my more neurotic days, I always said, “Who needs roller coasters when I can just get on the highway.” For the nervous, every day is like an extreme sport.
“Cars from a Marriage” is about wife who hates driving and a husband who drives too fast. It’s funny and serious and, for the vehicularly-challenged, a bit of a thriller too. It comes out April 27.