Watch an American movie about teens and you’re bound to see the rite of driving. It’s a coming-of-age event that generally happens during the third or fourth year of high school (16-17 respectively; the legal age to drive starts at age 16).
I never cared about driving, nor wanted to drive, while I was in high school. It wasn’t that I felt that it was an unnecessary skill, far from that. In the back of my mind I knew that obtaining that driver’s license was inevitable. Most likely, it was a form of passive peer pressure, a type of shame from being unable to do a large part of what makes a functional adult.
I guess it was also due to the fact that I didn’t have many friends. I never knew where to go or who to go with. There was simply no reason to drive because there was never any reason to leave home. So I pushed learning to operate an automobile off for about 3 years.
One of the goals for coming back to my hometown was actually to spend the arduous session at the DMV. Two appointments and 4 hours later (4 hours is fast for the DMV. Remember, make an appointment) I passed all necessary requirements to receive my license. One week after that and my card came in the mail, complete with an atrocious picture.
It felt wonderful.
No longer did I rely on a bike, public transportation, or (god forbid) my parents for transport. I am the one behind the wheel. I dictate where I go and how fast to get there. The appeal of driving became clear, as did why such a large number of teens fight for the qualification to drive. It felt oh-so American.
Freedom. That’s how I would describe it in one word. Go anywhere and see anything; pass what you want and stop where you’d like. This is nothing like riding the JR lines. Stations are set giving everyday a repetitious monotone feel. Everything you see out the windows of the train car, no matter how intriguing, passes just as soon as it appears. Soon, that too will fade from memory.
But oh, not with a car. This is why some people list “taking a drive” as a hobby. Driving is where the phrase “it’s the journey, not the destination” shines brightest. I haven’t driven down Route 66 yet, or cruised down a long stretch of unwavering highway, but I have ridden shotgun on all of these. I can imagine the thrill as driving has become just an extension of my body movements.
I’m willing to say that Japanese lifestyle lacks this emotional experience. At the very least, Tokyoites do. Crammed into sardine cans everyday, no wonder suicide rates are high. Freedom. Liberty. American ideals truly are something.
Next time I return, maybe I’ll take a long road trip with some friends in a mini-van. Who knows? Maybe I’ll finally meet one of my best friends, that moved to Idaho, again. All I can say for now: why didn’t I start driving earlier?