Escaping behind my steering wheel

How being able to drive has helped me cope with shelter-in-place


Joanne Cho

I clutch the wheel tightly as I drive to my behind-the-wheel test.

Tyler Cho

The leather grip smooth underneath my palms, the wind caresses my hair as the beautiful sunset paints my vision. As I listen to my favorite ballads, the order carefully curated by my driving playlist, I realize that there are few experiences in life that are as beautiful as driving. 

As a child, I spent many holiday trips seated in the back of a car, often dreaming about what it would be like to drive myself around and finally be independent, not needing my dad to chauffeur me to volleyball practices or my mom to accompany me to every trip to the movie theater. And although the learning process was difficult and scary at first, with my dad using the “tough love” teaching style to improve my parallel parking and get me acclimated to the high speeds of the freeway, I quickly found myself loving being behind the wheel.

However, it wasn’t until the pandemic that I began to fully appreciate the privilege of piloting a car. I was used to having responsibilities, like watching my younger siblings while my parents were at work. However, having everyone stuck at home with nowhere to go, I felt lost, having no control over my circumstances. As a result, I began looking for something, anything, that could give me some semblance of order in my life. I found that in the driver’s seat.

The feeling of absolute freedom that comes with cruising down an empty highway, the elation that comes with the fact that I can go almost anywhere I want on my own set of wheels — that kept me grounded during the pandemic. Although I didn’t run errands before quarantine began, after a few months, I began begging my parents to let me go grocery shopping and purchase dinner for the family. Those outings became the highlights of my week; being able to contribute in a meaningful way to my family’s well-being while also escaping gave me a small sense of normalcy.

And during my hours spent reflecting while on the road, I realized the importance of having a calming place of comfort in one’s life. During this pandemic, no one expects you to be living your best life; we’re all trying to get through this one day at a time, and it’s completely understandable to become discouraged or indifferent as you continue to cope with unprecedented circumstances. But we should also take pride in even our smallest victories, because each one reaffirms the idea that we will get through this.

I’m waiting for this pandemic to end so that I can go out and do all of the things I’ve been dying to do — treat my siblings to Korean fried chicken, set up a volleyball net on the beach and spend the day playing with my teammates, and get my hair dyed again. 

But until the opportunity to do that comes around, I want to continue to provide for my family in any way possible, while simultaneously doing something that provides me with some freedom and control. And right now, that just happens to be behind a wheel.