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25 Years Ago – Spring 1994

Accelerate!

Men say women drivers are road turtles. Ha.

In our culture, women — bikini-clad and draped over a shiny hood — are perceived to be good at selling cars, not at driving them. According to men, the self-styled mandarins of the macadam, we women don’t have the right stuff; testosterone, they insist, is necessary for merging or passing with finesse on the highway, not to mention parallel parking.

The notion that women are bad drivers is as archaic as arranged marriages; ability to drive has nothing to do with whether you have an M or F on your license. Many of us are terrific drivers, or could be, if we would just loosen up and let our instincts for the road take over, if we would stop turning the wheel over to our fathers, boyfriends and husbands. Reader, you are not the ungainly driving turtle that men would like you to think you are. There’s a cheetah inside of you, perfectly poised, coordinated and fast.

I love to drive. Admittedly, I’m a special case; not all women grew up playing with cars as well as Barbies, tagging along with a big brother to a slot-car racing track on countless summer afternoons. David would help me at the remote control, watching carefully as I guided miniature cars around the curves, encouraging me to go faster, to take more risks. When I grew up I left the Barbies behind. But not the cars. Never the cars.

If you met me in, say, the super-market, you’d never suspect my fearlessness on the road. I’m only five foot one; I need help opening a jar of peanut butter. I am craven when it comes to rodents, snakes and flying (it’s not the altitude, it’s that someone else is steering), and if the truth be known, I slept with the light on for a week after seeing Jurassic Park.

But what I don’t have in physical strength or courage, I make up for with a lifelong passion for speed and an innate feel for the road that I’m sure many women share, I learned to drive a stick shift my fresh-man year in college when I purchased a used car. After a week or two I no longer needed to rely on my tachometer to determine when to shift; I could interpret the sighs and rumblings of my engine as easily as a new mother can distinguish her baby’s wet cry from its hungry one. Soon I was weaving in and out of traffic on the Santa Monica Freeway life a native Californian. Guys who rode with me would invariably exclaim, “You can really drive!” The unspoken end of the sentence —”for a girl”— was all the prodding I needed to throw the car into fourth and show them what I was made of, that I could outdrive any man, all the while silently praying to the Goddess of Vehicular Karma to protect me from LAPD radar.

If you love to drive, you know the incredible sense of freedom that comes while cruising along a windy road

with the top down on a breezy moonlit night, foot on the throttle, double-clutching into the turns. There is nothing better. You are the car, and the car is you. It is then, with the wind wildly tossing your hair, that you finally feel liberated, that you are relaxed enough to entertain secret thoughts of getting your brilliant novel published or of being stuck in an elevator with Sam Shepard. It is then that you are uninhibited enough to sing along with the radio and convince yourself that you are harmonizing not only with Bonnie Raitt but with all of humanity.

My memories of driving pleasure are far too numerous to describe, but my supreme moment (so far) happened about five years ago. After dinner at a restaurant, my friend Terri and I were getting into my car when we heard heavy footsteps running toward us. A man rushed past, followed by a cop on foot. “He went that way,” I yelled, pointing ahead of us. The cop opened the passenger door of my Honda Civic, yelled at Terri to get in the back and jumped in.

“Step on it!” he ordered. I kid you not; those were his very words. I needed no further instruction. hook off, foot to the floor, heart racing as my dream came true — permission to floor it with no threat of recrimination. When we got to the edge of the park the cop yelled “Stop!” and jumped out, to chase the man down a ravine. As we watched them slip away into the darkness, I felt like a guest heroine on Cagney and Lacey.

Why should the excitement of driving well be left to the male of the species? Two women have already made it to the Indy 500, the nation’s premier auto race. The most recent, Lyn St. James, placed a respectable eleventh in her 1992 Indy debut and was the only rookie to cross the finish line. I’m not suggesting you enroll in the legendary Skip Barber Racing School (although I am planning on attending it one day). I’m suggesting that the next time you get behind the wheel of a car, you embrace the opportunity to excel, and accelerate; your car couldn’t care less whether you’re a man or a woman. No one else on the road should, either. Particularly you.

by Miata Owner Barbara Feinman

Copyright 1994, Glamour Magazine. Reprinted without permission.

 

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