My summer internship is a challenge; that’s to be expected. But living in Phoenix is also a challenge. It’s not that the city is so hot — sure, it’s over 100°, but what would you expect from the summer in the desert and, plus, I’m a Baltimoron — and it’s not the politics. The challenge is that I have to drive on the freeway, to and from work and to get just about anywhere, every day.
I used to have panic attacks when I drove. Actually, at first the panic attacks came much of the time when I left the safety of my home, but, eventually, they came only when I was in the car. I would be driving along, and then my chest would tighten, my breath would shorten, I would hyperventilate, and, if the attack continued, I would lose feeling in my fingers and toes and get tunnel vision. Obviously, this was dangerous, but, worse, it was unpleasant, and I soon developed a fear of the panic attacks. This is normal, but it’s also an awful response, because I quickly developed the tendency to have a panic attack because I thought I might have a panic attack.
Over a period of years, I got back the ability to drive. Part of that came from cognitive-behavioral therapy, which is a kind of talk therapy that focuses on treating symptoms — in my case, understanding the physical experience of panic and becoming comfortable with it. Part of that came from simple practice, because who can get around in LA without driving?
The final frontier, for me, was freeway driving. Believe it or not, it’s possible to get quite far in LA without ever taking an on-ramp, and, over the past few years, I’ve learned all of the back routes. Since the whole city is so freeway-focused, they’re actually quite quick.
At any rate, I have driven the highways and overpasses over the past few years, from time to time, almost always with a companion in the car. There’s something about having someone sitting next to me that removes the risk of panic. Still, I have not regularly driven the freeway alone, except for some late-night trips home from SC (to avoid the ‘hood at 2am) and a few jaunts up the 1 to the vet in Pacific Palisades, both about 15-20 minutes each way.
In LA, we have a saying that you can get to anywhere in the city from anywhere else in the city in twenty minutes (this is, like most of Hollywood, a blatant fiction); in Phoenix, they seem to say that you can get anywhere in twenty miles. Twenty miles is a long way, and so I’ve taken a lot of freeway trips. Every morning and every evening I take the freeway to work. Many evenings I hop on the freeway to get here or there, to visit one of several identical (to me) strip malls and purchase goods at one of several nationally identical chain stores, thus doing my part for the economy.
So the point is, I’ve driven a lot lately. Since the Friday before last I’ve driven 667.7 miles, including the trip from LA to Phoenix. For me, that’s a whole month’s driving in about a week. Almost all of it has been on the freeway, and much of it has been alone. And I’m not panicking. It’s actually kind of fun, the wide open lanes, the high rates of speed, the quality, rut-free roads. It’s good for me; I got out of the freeways of LA, all of which have memories for me, and into a new space. And, you know what? I like driving. It’s fun. Now get the hell out of my way, I want to be in your lane.