In harmony with the machine.

So this may come as a shock to many, but… I do not know how to drive yet. I know, usually folks learn to drive before they even come of age… and if they haven’t learned by then, they never do (with a few exceptions, I presume.)

In my case, I had some instruction around the age of seventeen, which essentially involved learning to operate a stick shift vehicle (start engine, begin moving forward, etcetera) in isolated roads -which motivated some (completely innocuous) police snooping, twice. Said instruction, aside from limited, was very short lived, and going forward I stayed away from the driver’s seat (or at least, as far away as the co-pilot seat is). Recently I was struck with the inspiration of asking to receive more driving instruction, and I’m glad I did.

Why did I not ask sooner? I don’t know for sure. I might have been nervous, or felt it was too late in life. Felt if I asked I’d be turned down (for valid reasons I shall not go into). My mind was occupied with work and other woes, maybe I even felt sort of unworthy. Whatever the underlying cause maybe, the fact is, I was struck with the idea and, unlike other times, it began to grow. It began to spin around my head and gain momentum, and even though I waited, expecting it to go away, it didn’t. It refused to disappear. So I took a deep breath, I asked, and I did receive. Furthermore, it was supposed to begin a few days later, but it actually began mere minutes later.

The stage chosen for my getting back on the proverbial saddle after roughly 15 years of riding no proverbial horse, was a street, with very little traffic, and it went about as well as one could expect after such a long time. The engine died on me a few times cause I just couldn’t get the clutch-to-gas ratio right, the car moved forward at little leaps, the works. It was very short, 10 minutes, maybe 20. But I loved it. I really did.

Later that day, I took to pondering why I had loved it so much. I definitely was not interested in playing Fast & Mexican, no. No burning rubber, dirt racing, stunt driving. To the contrary, I felt humbled with respect for the road, the people around, the cars that occasionally drove by, the rows of private property along the sidewalks. So, what was it that made me feel so good as I sat there, one hand on the steering wheel and the other one at the gear shift?

I reached two conclusions. One, I love learning new languages. I have communicated in Spanish, in English, in French (very limited), and in BBCode, HTML, C++ (also very limited). Get my meaning? I enjoy speaking not only to people, but also to things. Relay a thought or a command and have it carried out exactly as I wanted because I knew how to say it. I was talking to the car through the pedals, the stick and the wheel. Telling it which way to go, how fast (slow, in this case) to go, when to go, when to stop. And the car was, in turn, responding to me… clumsily, yes, but that’s because my communication was (still is) far from perfect. With machines, there is no such thing as misunderstandings. As long as you speak its language properly, a machine will give you exactly the response you’re going for (and if it isn’t then you can be sure something needs fixing).

The second conclusion I reached is, driving is pretty close to videogames. Now hold on there! I’m not saying real driving is about scoring fender benders, running from the police and doing underground racing. No, it is close in that videogames require you to learn a specific row of combinations of movements in order to achieve a result (like, say, a finishing move, a combo, and so on). Videogames require you to learn to respond to certain sort of situations in a specific way, they require you to observe your environment, and to keep your attention on several factors at a time. This particular point -awareness- is something I felt confirmed on my second day of practice (that’s right, two days in a row!)

For this one, we were fortunate enough to stumble upon a decently sized plot of undeveloped land. Kind of bumpy but not too much, with some trees, some large stones here and there. It was a godsend because, no people, no cars, no property, meant less anxiety (that’s always a bonus!). This time, my starting the engine and starting forward were much smoother, but that’s not all. As I drove around, making turns, changing gears, slowing and hitting the brakes and the gas when necessary and at proper intensities; I realized that, instead of keeping track of HP, mana, enemy range and HP, the spell it is casting, the ground I am standing on, and the health of my party members, I was paying attention to terrain, width of path, proximity to limits of lot (and therefore to actual street), location and depth of holes, distance between a tree and another… and I was also choosing which patch to follow, if out of the trees or between the trees, how close to get to the actual street at each round, when to accelerate, when to slow down, when to shift back and forth between gears…

… And I was doing it with a controller operated, not with my thumbs and index, but with my hands and feet. And this gargantuan controller was responding to me (almost) exactly as I wanted it to (again, deviations on response were due to my lack of driving mastery). It was going at the speed I wanted it to, on the path I had chosen for it, taking my input and responding appropriately to it. And that is why I loved it, why I love it so much. It’s not an unfamiliar process to me. It’s just a new set of combinations, a new set of variables to pay attention to, a new set of proper responses and timing. It was very stimulating to have my brain engaged to such a degree, and the sense of familiarity is part of what made me feel in harmony with the machine.

My learning continues. Right now, fortunately, I live in a fairly large, populated metro area, which is ideal for me to get practice dealing with a variety of situations: peak hours, rain, slow traffic, high and low speed, complicated maneuvers, parking, speed limits, and so on. I am somewhat anxious sometimes, because getting behind the wheel brings about a whole slew of new risks (which are obvious, so I won’t elaborate), far into the future though they are right now. Besides that -and this is silly, I know, but sometimes it just happens- I can’t help but feel awkward knowing that most people my age have been driving for almost 20 years. But I will overcome all that, the anxiety and the awkwardness. I want to learn this, and I am enjoying it already, at this so early stage.

My parting thought is this: respect the machine, whatever machine it is (car, smartphone, computer); and it will respect you. Also: never, never ever, be too afraid to learn something new. Believe me when I say, it’s never too late.

See you next week.


2 Responses to “In harmony with the machine.”

  1. Hahahahaha I laughed so hard at this! I was a wee 15 when my father taught me how to drive a stickshift. I could not even reach the pedals yet. Thank you for the trip down memory lane with my daddy ❤

    • That must have been quite the experience! I may have taken far longer, but I do believe being older is taking some of the edge out of the learning… and being able to reach the pedals does help too!

      Here’s to lessons, old and new.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: