The Invisible Car

Los Angeles at Night

The levers and wheels are the easy part. I learned that lesson when I was fifteen years old. It was summer of my Sophomore year, and I was taking a driver's ed class at my high school.

For students who took the class, if you passed, you didn't have to take the DMV behind-the-wheel exam. I was no fan of summer school, but I knew a good deal when I saw it.

A handful of unimpressed teens and I spent maybe a day or two behind desks in a mostly-empty Flag High classroom, and then our instructor took us outside and put us behind the wheel.

There wasn't much ceremony to it. We just...started driving. On a quiet rural road, to be sure, but a live road, with live traffic.

I remember the vibration of the wheels on the shoulder as I started the car rolling forward for the first time, the initial anxiety I felt, pulling onto the road, trying to keep the car steady, trying to remember everything.

But mostly I remember a sharp feeling of surprise. The anxiety faded quickly, replaced by the delight of actually controlling an automobile. It was a lot easier than I'd imagined.

We spent the remainder of the class behind the wheel, driving perimeter streets, listening to the radio, chatting with the instructor, gaining confidence.

It was all very uneventful. Mostly.

Toward the end of the class, as I approached a large crossroad, the instructor told me to make a left after stopping. I did what I'd been taught—pull right up to the line, make a full stop, look both ways.

I eased the car forward but we immediately came to a jarring halt, as if we'd hit a wall. It took me a moment to realize the instructor had slammed on his dual-brake.

I'd been about to pull in front of a car coming from our right. Somehow I'd completely missed it. To me the car seemed to have appeared from nowhere, as if it had been invisible.

It cruised harmlessly past us and was gone.

I passed the class and got my license. But the memory of the invisible car stuck with me. Whenever I was driving, I'd look for it. It was a game I played. I pretended it was out there, somewhere, waiting to surprise me.

So I checked my blind spots. And then I checked again.

Over time my vigilance for invisible cars evolved into a sense of humility. Sometimes you catch things coming. Sometimes you don't. Either way, invisible cars reveal a fundamental truth about our world:

There is always something we're not seeing.

It can be paralyzing to realize you have a limited amount of time on this planet, and pretty much anything you do exposes you to uncontrollable levels of risk.

But that realization can also be liberating.

Uncertainty is out there, all the time, all around us. Look for it, manage what you can, and let go of the rest. Don't let it stop you from pursuing what you care about.

In time you may even come to appreciate invisible cars, and the change they inevitably bring. Though for me, that's a work in progress.

— January 20, 2024

Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents

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