He can drive (sort of)
Steve Braunias updates his attempts to learn to drive.
So there I was the other day driving like a beast. I had my foot to the floor and my hands gripped the wheel and I was moving fast, real fast, living out certain basic principles of physics – speed has no direction; velocity is an object's speed in a particular direction. I was at a go-kart track.
My first column this year stated my intention to learn to drive. At 58, I could no longer tolerate my role as one of life's passengers. A friend very kindly gave me driving lessons for two days a few months ago, in Dunedin, in Aramoana, in Milton – I rode that Nissan Maxima through Otago like a man discovering what it means to be set free. I was set free of myself. All my life I've thought of myself as someone lame, someone not up to scratch. Not being able to drive was proof. It formed my character and shaped my destiny. But for two days that bleak perception began to alter. Driving was a kind of regime change. I didn't know who I was anymore. Good.
That set into motion more or less exactly nothing. I got back home and asked a couple of people if they'd give me driving lessons in Henderson – I really fancied the idea of ripping along the back streets of West Auckland, one of the great homes of motorsport in New Zealand. Neither came through. One was a so-called friend; the other was Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman. She used to teach new migrants to learn to drive; I argued the case that I was also a stranger in a strange land, a non-driver in a motoring state, and appealed to her sense of public service.
"That actually sounds so great," she replied, two days before Christmas. "Up for a spin late Jan if it's still a goer." It was still a goer when I reminded her in late January. She didn't reply. I asked again in late February. She didn't reply. I asked again in late March. She replied, "Oh Steve! Don't be so needy. One of my favourite things at the moment is randomly telling white people you're being needy. It's important." I have never voted Green and never will.
But if I couldn't emulate West Auckland motorsport champion Bruce McLaren by driving on the roads, I could try to channel his legend in a go-kart. Blastacars have a track in Hamilton and another on the fifth floor of a mall in Kuala Lumpur. I found it more convenient to head for the track on The Concourse in Henderson. Its website states: "Not to be confused with regular go-karts, these are hand-crafted, powerful karts that drift indoor tracks." What? I was confused, but turned up, got a briefing, put on my helmet, hopped into a 250cc suicide machine, and took it out for a last chance power drive.
Blastacars drift sideways. I don't know why. I was only interested in taking bends at speed, accelerating hard along straights for 15 intoxicating minutes, and contemplating the history of mankind. To drive is to assert our dominion over the Earth. It connects us to some ancient workshop when we made the first wheel. Evolution, slowly plodding from the swamp to the shore, from simian to sapien, took a great leap forward in that moment, and conquered the tyranny of distance. The inside of a great big shed in Henderson felt like my experiences on the road in Otago, except this time I was alone and in a vehicle that starts like a motormower.
Let the race statistics tell the story. Laps, 25. Slowest time, 94.5 seconds on lap 15 – look, something happened, I don't want to go into it. Fastest time, 33.7 seconds on lap 25. Yeah man, saved the best till last, really hit it, felt in control, felt good. "I watched you out there," said the guy who gave the briefing. "You sure you haven't driven before?" It was the nicest thing anyone has said to me, ever.
There's a section of the track which allows a view of the Northwestern motorway, also known as State Highway 16. It's real close. I saw trucks, cars, a bus, a concrete mixer. I could see the faces of the drivers. We were all going from A to B, we all knew how to get there, we were all moving forward. True, I was also drifting sideways. But it was progress. It was something. It was my new regime, under construction, evolving.