Mergephobia and Me

Do you have a phobia? Not like arachnophobia. Everyone’s afraid of spiders; they can kill you. I’m talking more about those weird, funny, crazy phobias that interfere with your daily life. Well, I do. I don’t drive on the freeway. It’s not like I never have, but the number of times is definitely a single digit. It’s not the freeway driving that scares me though, it’s just the merging part. I don’t know how you guys do it. You have about 2.5 seconds and 50 feet to accelerate to light speed and slide into a tiny open sliver of space between two cars that will run you off the road if you don’t get it just right. It’s like level 30 of Tetris.

I’m pretty sure I got this fear from my mother. She drives on the freeway, although reluctantly. I remember getting on the freeway with her one time and for some reason she didn’t get her tetris piece lined up correctly so we had to pull over on the shoulder. Getting back on the freeway from the side of the road was pretty traumatic for the two of us. That’s never happened with any other driver I’ve ever known, so I’m pretty sure it’s genetic.

How does a person make it 36 years without driving on the freeway, you ask? Luckily for me, I am surrounded by lots of loving, caring, enablers. My best friends, Cynthia and Davina, always offer to pick me up for out of town things and my mom even drove me to and from UC Berkeley one summer so I could finish my Bachelor’s. She would sit near Sather Gate and read and watch the hippies until I got out. If that’s not love/enabling, I don’t know what is.

Since I try not to be a total loser, I have figured out ways to get to most surrounding cities without getting on the freeway. Sure, the backroads might add an extra 30 minutes to my route, but I get to see lots of beautiful farms and have more time for personal reflection. I just type my destination into my phone, select “avoid highways” and the nice, calm robot lady tells me where to go.

A few months ago, I was taking the boys to a birthday party in Stockton. Unlike the way to Tracy or Modesto, Stockton’s backroads are a little less farmy and a lot more scketchy. You have to go through the norteno breeding ground and take a right at the homeless encampment until you get to the bowels of downtown. Unfortunately, there was a Cinco de Mayo parade that day and ALL the major roads in downtown were blocked off. My robot lady was not aware of this, so I as tried to find a way around, she patiently kept “rerouting” me to the parade. I was so exasperated I pulled over and called Todd. I parked under an overpass right by the HWY 4 onramp and the bridge people popped their heads out of their tents and started to get real curious.

I have my sweet boys in the car and I try to remain calm, but I’m flipping out inside. Finally, I tell myself, “Get your shit together Andrea! A twelve year old can get on the freeway steering with his knees and eating a cheeseburger, YOU CAN DO THIS!” So I got on the freeway…but it was the wrong one! I ended up lost in the vast wasteland of the Port of Stockton. At this point I’m crying, the boys are crying. I call Todd again and try to relay my position, but the damn ships don’t have addresses. Jonah cries “Can we just go home? We don’t need to go to the party! I want to go home!” Jesus took the wheel and somehow we made it back. The boys are now terrified of Stockton, rightfully so.

It’s not like I haven’t tried to overcome this phobia. Ive practiced with Todd and I even went to group therapy once. Everyone in the group had anxiety and phobia issues. Some of them were pretty wild, but who am I to judge? One of the ladies in the group had a fear of minorities. I didn’t realize racism was a phobia, but I guess they’ll diagnose anything these days.

The counselor gave us all “homework assignments”to complete before our next meeting. The racist, oops I mean the “xenophobic,” was told to shop at Food 4 Less instead of Raley’s two times over the next week. Seriously?! My assignment was to drive on the freeway. Wow, what a groundbreaking idea. I mean, I’ve avoided it for 30 years, but now that it’s a homework assignment I’ll just zip on the expressway and get that done. 🙄 So I dropped out. My psychiatrist (yeah I got one of those) said “Here, Andrea, take this Xanax the next time you need to get on the freeway.” What!? So I can’t manage it with the music off, my brain on full alert, and my hands at 10 and 2, but you want me to try it ON DRUGS!!! No thanks, Buddy.

At this point it’s something about myself I’ve accepted and I hope you can too. I don’t think it’s worth it to risk innocent lives just so I can go around bragging that I can drive on the freeway.

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So maybe I’m avoiding the merge for the good of mankind. Or maybe I’m just a loser. It’s kinda hard to tell…

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