Kate Robertson (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Week 5

Behind the wheel for the first time

Special to The Globe and Mail

About 10 minutes before my first in-car driving lesson yesterday, I had one of those weird moments where self-doubt surges and reason takes a nosedive. I thought to myself, "What if I just can't do this?"

But then Chris, my new in-car instructor and the owner of my driving school, came to pick me up, and I had no choice but to try. One lesson had just finished, and the young woman before me got out of the driver's seat and into the back. I went over to Chris in the passenger window and sort of hovered, thinking he was going to get out and let me sit in his spot. I thought he'd be driving us to some deserted parking lot somewhere where I could, oh I don't know, figure out which pedal does what.

"Sit over here," he said without looking up, gesturing toward the driver's side.

I got in, barely, because I'm six feet tall and I had to make some adjustments. Chris, after seeing that I was at an extremely basic level, showed me how to adjust the seat, steering wheel and mirrors. He got me to use the parking brake and signals, and showed me the park, drive and reverse functions on the lever. And with that, he simply said, "Okay, put your signal on, use your mirror, check your blind spot, and when it's safe, let's go."

There was a car coming, so I waited. And then I saw a cyclist coming down College Street, so I waited some more. But my teacher said I was being overly cautious, and I very slowly wobbled the car out into the street and started driving. Chris would reach over and grab the steering wheel ¯ "Don't be so stiff! I need to be able to adjust your steering!" ¯ every now and then, but I managed to get the car to Dufferin Street (which is less than two blocks from my house), and up Dufferin to an apartment complex across from the mall. We dropped the other student off, who was probably thinking that I'm a lost cause, and began driving through the residential streets in the neighbourhood.

I thought back to the few times I've driven with my parents, who I think like a lot of people's, were so anxious that it's impossible to unclench your teeth, let alone get comfortable driving a car. But Chris was so calm, checking his phone and asking me questions about myself while giving me suggestions ("Get closer to the yellow line. Get closer to the yellow line. The yellow line.") that I soon felt like driving is actually pretty fun. Even in stop-and-go Tuesday afternoon downtown Toronto traffic.

We drove along Bloor Street to St. George, went north for a bit, and then wound our way through those strange one-way streets of the Annex. We headed south down Bathurst Street to Dundas where I had to pull over for an ambulance ("Move over more. More. Move over more. More. More. Okay."), and then across Dundas, where I had to move the car out of a left-turning streetcar's way. I even got honked at by an impatient driver who I guess didn't see the giant yellow sign on the top of the car that indicates that I'm a student.

After years of not caring about driving, Kate Robertson has decided that it's time to learn how to drive

The hour went by so quickly. Before I knew it, we were driving to Parkdale to pick up Chris's next lesson. She took the driver's seat, and very slowly, very cautiously, edged us onto the street to drive me home. Well, sort of. We drove at about 20 km all the way back up Dufferin, with other cars whizzing past us, and Chris saying, "What's the speed limit here? Why are you going so slowly? Go faster. Faster. More gas. Faster. Okay."

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