As it happens, I went driving today.
I don't normally go driving, but we're having guests over for dinner tomorrow evening and so needed to do an unusually large grocery run to pick up milk and such things. Also, I had some awkwardly sized computer bits that I needed to drop off to a friend. So we decided to hire a Zipcar and hit the open road. Well, the narrow streets as it turned out, but my heart soared like an eagle over the terrace houses nevertheless.
It's the first time I've driven in London without a driving instructor or examiner sitting beside me. After the long hours of practice and repeated tests, I became accustomed to having someone in the passenger seat, clenching its fabric in reflexive fear, telling me which turns to take in voices pulled taut with the effort of forced calm. I was almost worried whether I'd be able to manage it without them. Happily, I had Joliette. From the word go, her nervous laughter and uneasy smiles had me feeling right at home.
And so away we went. Our first mission was to head back to our flat to pick up the awkward computer bits mentioned earlier. A simple enough task, and I like to think that after I found reverse that it went rather splendidly. One normally doesn't need four or five attempts to parallel park, but it was my first time since I got my license two or three years ago.
From there, we went to the Kensington Tesco. There would be almost nothing of note here, save that Jolie in her practical, conventionalist way insists on assigning 'left' and 'right' their traditional meanings, rather than joining me in the avant garde and daring to challenge the strictures of our age. As it was, it took slightly longer than expected to get there.
Once there, we dropped Jolie off to purchase tomorrow's victuals and I drove down Earl's Court Road to Chelsea. It felt empowering to be at the steering wheel of a car going down a street that I'd taken a bus down so many times before. As I pushed down the pedal and accelerated to a dizzying fifteen miles per hour, I could almost feel the wind of freedom blowing in my hair.
Eventually I reached the King's Road and started looking for a park. I turned up a promising looking side street. It was narrow and lined with cars on either side, mostly BMWs and Mercedes, but the occasional Porsche or Bentley. I was serenity personified. I got to the end of the street having learned first that there were no free spots, and second that it was a dead end street. It was left to me to do a nine point turn, just like my driving instructor taught me, careful not to damage the Porsche or the mind-bogglingly expensive real estate. Fifteen minutes later, I was my way. I found a spot that I actually neatly reverse parked into first time without trying. Almost true story.
After disposing of the awkward computer bits and heading off in the VW again, I called Jolie (on speaker phone!) to see how she was doing.
"I'm almost done. Where are you now?"
"Well, I'm not sure exactly. Somewhere in Chelsea."
"I'm not lost. I know where I am, and I know how to get where you are, I just have no idea where I'm going."
"That sounds like lost to me."
"Oh, it looks like I'm going to Battersea. If I don't return, think kindly of me."
Shortly after we said our farewells, I was rescued by a blessed left turn that would let me avoid Battersea and return to the King's Road, heading the correct direction this time.
When you learn to drive as I have, in London and far from any familial support, you are almost forbidden to drive for a full year after you get your license. None of your friends have cars, and no one will rent you car during the first twelve months. You're on your own. During this time, it's easy to forget things. Things like how mini-roundabouts work, or how to turn right at a multi-lane intersection. Despite these handicaps, I soldiered on. From the looks of my fellow travellers on the road, well, I don't want to brag, but they looked pretty well gobsmacked.
I made it to Tesco only a half hour late. After trying and failing to park in a car wash, I found a spot, and re-united with Jolie, who was some overcome with relief at my escape from Battersea that she felt faint, and had to let me carry the eighteen bags of groceries to the car.
As we followed the line of traffic into the sunset, I glanced toward her and smiled. Today had been a busy day, full of obstacles and opposition, but there was one thing that she knew and I knew that made all of those petty difficulties fade away into irrelevance.
We forgot the milk.