I got my first driving license at the age of 43.
I had put off learning for a couple of dozen years. But it was 2005. I was in my forties. I had run out of excuses.
Starting with: My family never had a car when I was growing up in Ireland. I never got the chance to learn.
Then: I can’t afford a car – why bother learning?
Later: I live in London – I just use public transport.
Finally: I live in Manhattan; nobody needs a car in the city.
And the always reliable: I’m a drunk. I’ll kill someone if I start driving.
All that lame rationale went down the drain when we bought the country house in Ancramdale – a 120-mile hike from New York city. Stacey lost patience with my uselessness. She had done all our driving for a decade.
Stacey gave me my first couple of lessons upstate. This was not the greatest idea we ever shared. That initial approach ended when I crashed the passenger side of our little red Mitsubishi Lancer into a gas pump, in a filling station just outside Red Hook.
“Jesus Christ,” Stacey said.
“Fuck Me,” I said.
We jumped out, switched passenger to driver, and did a Bonnie & Clyde out of there. We drove sheepishly back past the gas station half an hour later to ensure the place was not burning and there were no cop cars. It was not in flames. I was not arrested.
That accident cost me $3k. Our first car, my first repair bill, not my last
My punishment was swift. Wifey signed me up for ten professional driving lessons in Manhattan. I was to have my trial by fire in New York City. For my first lesson I was picked up by a south American lad, with meagre English, in a brown coupe with the passenger side mangled.
“What happened? I asked.
“Was hit by bus. 14th street,” he responded. “Very bad. Not my fault. Bus no good.”
This was all very ominous as the instructor had just picked me up on the very same 14th street, right by our apartment. There were a lot of buses around. I didn’t feel confident about this endeavor.
The first lesson I learned that day was to never display a learner sign in Manhattan. I was honked at, fingered at, cut off, tortured by yellow cabs. My big L was a beacon for traffic abuse.
But, I earned my driving stripes the hard way, navigating the big smoke. I got my first license a few weeks later, on August 16th, my actual 43rd birthday. The driving school had me drive out to a desolate neighborhood in Staten Island for my test. It’s the easiest place to pass in the State. Figures.
I have had a litany of accidents since originally crashing into that gas pump. I’ve taken out several smaller animals and one large one. I ripped the bumper off my Volvo convertible reversing out my garage door. I ran over my BBQ grill in my driveway – it came speeding out of nowhere. I have also crashed into Stacey’s Escalade in our front yard.
When I hit the deer in my Infiniti convertible, here on Route 82, I had the hood down. A mess of legs and antlers flew over my head. That dozy doe died in the ditch. My blood and fur front covered grill looked like a poster for CSI Ancramdale. It was around then Ms. Geary advised me to lose the mid-life crises. From then on my cars had solid roofs.
Anyway, these days I still feel like a teen with his first license. It’s part of the reason I drove 11,000 miles across the country in 2018. The origin of this blog.
All this was my long and winding road to tonight’s recommendations.
In Drive, Ryan Gosling, all kinds of cool, plays a highly skilled Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver. He is icy, distant and dedicated to his craft. But as in all Noir, he falls hard for a dame and as we know, no good deed goes unpunished. This is a tightly wound ride with bursts of extreme violence. And I mean extreme. Dig that pulsing Tick of The Clock score opening scene. It was my movie of the year in 2011.
When I decided to take my cross-country sabbatical in 2018, my friend Zac recommended the non-fiction book Blue Highways (1982). The first-time author, William Least Heat-Moon, lost his job and his wife, took the few dollars he had and drove the back roads of the USA for months in his van. This meandering tale is warm and life affirming. A remarkably beautiful first time work. If your feeling a little housebound this might give you wheels.
My friends Kieran and Ken both started their recommendations for the F1: Drive to Survive (Netflix) the same way.
“I have no interest in Formula One. I don’t know anything about the sport. I’ve never watched a Formula One race but….”
But…. F1: Drive to Survive it is a totally absorbing documentary series. I have watched the first of two seasons and it is dramatic, riveting and exciting. The race footage is intense and remarkable; the in car cameras put you front and center of the action. You will get caught up in the characters fight for position and their back stories. The first season follows the 2018 F1 season across the globe. The 10 episodes are each short, hovering around 30 minutes. The bigger your screen and louder your speakers the better.
My niece Aisling turned 16 today. She is back home in Headford, Co. Galway. Aisling is the best. She is an excellent athlete and an ace student. Aisling made the Under 16 County Team this year. We are all very proud of her.
Aisling knows the way to Uncle Karl’s heart. She laughs at my jokes. Happy Birthday Aisling!