I’ve been driving in NYC quite a bit lately for college fairs and high school visits. In fact, I’m headed down there again just as soon as I wrap up this post
and pack and shower and run out the door. And even though I have more miles on my driving record than most experienced truck drivers, I’ve never spent an extensive amount of time driving in New York City.
While I still maintain that driving in Dallas or on any highway in Maryland is just as stressful, driving through NYC is a unique experience. So much so that every time I successfully drive into and out of the city I feel like I need a helmet to add a sticker onto like they do for achievements in high school and college football. Or a t-shirt that says, “I survived THE TRAFFIC.”
Aside from the imaginary souvenirs, driving in NYC has taught me a multitude of life lessons. And I’ve had time to think them over while sitting in two hours of Holland Tunnel traffic. (Oh. My. Word.)
Here’s what I’ve learned thus far:
1. You can’t always look extensively before you leap.
I like to evaluate a situation before I dive into action. This mode of operation is not available while driving in NYC. If I sat in an entry lane and waited to merge until all was free and clear I’d still be sitting there right now, likely underneath a pile of cars that drove over me to get onto the highway. The only way to successfully navigate the situation is to keep moving forward and make a move into a lane the first chance you get.
2. Once you do leap, there is no turning back.
Made a bad decision about when to enter the highway? As Carole King once said, “It’s too late, baby; now, it’s too late.” There is absolutely no turning back on the decision to go. There is only moving forward and making the best out of it – whether that means successfully merging into traffic or getting off in the exit lane and trying again.
3. Hesitation will kill you.
Literally. Which is probably the best lesson I’ve learned from driving in the city. There is no such thing as halfway commitment.
4. You need a game face, and you need to use it.
True story: Every time I know I’m driving into a busy part of the city, I put on red lipstick and change the music to a workout station on Songza. This actually happens. And as much of a freak as it makes me for doing it – it works. It puts me in a competitive, confident mindset that is necessary for tackling traffic in NYC.
5. There is no such thing as an insurmountable obstacle.
I used to think there was such a thing as a space too small to fit into in traffic. I now know that there is no such thing. If you need to make your way into another lane you’ll find a way to make it happen. And it will happen!
6. You can’t panic, and you can’t quit.
One day a few weeks ago I felt mildly overwhelmed by the prospect of navigating to my last stop of the day. It had been a really long day filled with intense traffic, and I didn’t want to have to fight my way through to one more location. But as I was sitting in traffic trying to get into an exit lane, I realized my only option was to keep sitting in traffic and trying to get into an exit lane. I couldn’t freak out and put the car in park right then and there. I couldn’t quit and decide not to drive anymore. And panicking about the situation wasn’t going to help me get there any faster or any easier. The only option was to keep driving.
7. Patience is the only way to survive with your sanity.
There was one week that was just a doozy for traffic jams. I found myself sitting in multi-hour delays on three separate occasions. This did not make me feel overcome with joy and praise. However, I also realized that I was going to be sitting there for awhile whether I wanted to be sitting there or not. There was no changing the situation. So I did the best that I could to make the best of it.
Including having a dance party in the parked car and breaking out my stash of emergency chocolate.
Desperate times, people.
8. Timing is everything.
Going into Manhattan at 8am: 2 and a half hours.
Going out of Manhattan at 1pm: 20 minutes.
Case in point.
9. The end doesn’t always look the same as you imagined it would.
During one trip to Queens I assumed that I’d just grab dinner there because I was in NYC…how could there not be somewhere legit (and awesome) to eat within walking distance? However, when I arrived at my location and surveyed the area, I opted to sit in the back of my locked SUV and dine on a bag of Cheez-its and a Luna bar instead. Which, despite not being the outcome I had hoped for, is one of the more entertaining stories from travel season so far. That same theme runs through all of these lessons and, really, through all of travel season. There is always a way to make the best out of any situation.
10. Doing the hard thing that you don’t want to do is worth the effort, every single time.
I love the city. I don’t always love the prospect of driving in the city. But every time I do, I gain a little more confidence – in myself and in my driving abilities. I’m always glad for an opportunity to take on a challenge that I probably wouldn’t have taken on of my own volition.
And I never, ever get tired of seeing the skyline and feeling part of the city, even in a small way.
That moment, combined with all of these other unexpected life lessons, makes every frustrating, intimidating, confusing aspect of city driving worth the effort. It makes for a great ride.