Law School and Rental Cars- 7.05

I want to tell you a story about an adventure that I had yesterday. Now this adventure has nothing to do with the actual legal work I’m going here, but has everything to do with my personal experience here and my law school experience as a whole.

            This requires some background knowledge about me, which is quite revealing in some ways. For those of you reading this that know me pretty well, you will be familiar with the experience that I convey, for others of you who don’t, this is a reality I face and one that I can imagine is shared by more then one law student.

            When I was younger, I used to have a can-do spirit. If there were obstacles in my way, I would simply overcome them and reach my goal. My Dad loves telling this story about me being at

Sesame Place
(an amusement park for kids in PA) and trying to climb one of those big rope structures where you send your kids to tire themselves out. I struggled with climbing it for a long time but I kept on trying and after an hour or so I actually did it, reached the top, and promptly fell asleep. But law school takes some of that away. There are is no pinnacle, no clear beginning and end. Like I said in my Cape Town post, there is no top of the mountain with a pretty view. I remember working for a green space organization in college and planting trees. I realized how much you lose the appreciation for the process of digging a hole. There was no hole and now there is a hole because of you and you can put a tree in it and it will grow. I did AmeriCorps for a year and it was all clear levels of accomplishment. There was no house and now there is a house and people live in it. I miss that. While the knowledge I am acquiring is invaluable and I love the pursuit of study, it still lacks that sense of concrete accomplishment I crave.

            But I did something yesterday. Something scary, and life-threatening at times, but so life-affirming at the same time. I rented a car. Mike, a guy in my program, had suggested that we rent a car and learn how to drive stick. This would give us more than 2 drivers in a group of 9 and provide us with some added freedom to rent a car and take off, but save us about R200 in additional fees for an automatic. I admired Mike’s spirit- someone who bought a surf board at the beginning of the summer and has been out a lot learning how to surf. Now he was going to get a car and learn how to drive stick. And I was going to do it with him. He asked me if I thought that I could get the car home from the rental place with the little experience I had. I said I would do it as long as he promised to stay calm because freaking out just makes me worse at doing it and then we would be stuck.

We got the car, a little Volkswagon hatchback. I stalled out a few times on the way home but Mike and I remained calm and I just put my emergency flashers on and proceeded to keep trying until we were once again on the move. I got it home and Mike and I drove around an empty parking lot for about an hour until we felt like we had gotten the hang of it. The plan was then to go out to the suburbs to the largest mall in the southern hemisphere to buy outfits for the horserace the next day. I only stalled once or twice on the way there and managed to do both city and highway driving without incident. I didn’t find anything at the mall so Susan and I decided we would go to a different shopping center later in the day.

Here is where it gets interesting. We got directions to the shopping center from a colleague. Susan had asked for the route with the least amount of cars, which somehow got translated into, “Please take us through the city center at rush hour.” We were skeptical but trusted that this person would not do that to us so we remained faithful but ended disappointed. I made my first turn onto what I knew was a two-way street. But suddenly there were cars coming towards me on my side of the street. I knew I was on the left side, the correct side. I panicked. Was I somehow mistaken? I calmed down. Okay, people coming the other way were pulling around a parked car blocking the lane. But then I stalled out. And it was one of those stalling outs where you just cannot, for the life of you, get it going again. I panicked again. I clammed up and starting thinking about turning around and heading home. “You can turn around and head home,” Susan reminded me. I thought about it, but I decided “NO” I was not going to be defeated by this. I was going to drive to that shopping center if it killed me, which it potentially could have.

We continued uneventfully for a bit of time. I got the hang of coasting into lights so as to not let the car stop completely- boy did that make it easier. Things were going okay until I hit traffic. Commuter traffic. On a hill.

The guy behind me was really understanding about my need to have about 10 meters of space behind me. I waved every time I had to pull up a little bit. I almost freaked out but I didn’t. I kept going- I had to. I didn’t panic. Perhaps it was stupid of me to be driving under conditions that I had no business driving it, but I had gotten myself into it now and the only way out was to get to the shopping center. I knew I had the skills to do this and now I just needed to apply it to the real world. We arrived alive and I got a silly hat for the horse race.

We had one more incident where I stalled in the middle of an intersection and the light turned read while I was blocking oncoming traffic. But I simply started the car, gunned it and sped off to the smell of burning rubber. It was a bit scary but not near-miss so I felt okay.

I talked to Susan on the way home, reflecting on the experience of the day. I did it. I set out to learn how to drive stick and now I had done it (pretty well). I acquired a skill that was tangible. Lawyers in South Africa in their course of study learn how to draft contracts and motions. And I know eventually I will be in a position, at a higher level, to learn how to do those things too. But first year has frustrated me. It is so theoretical. I know the law of torts, but I’m not equipped to do anything with it yet. I guess that has been part of the satisfaction of being here. I get to see my points argued in court. I get to apply my knowledge to the practice of law. And now I can drive stick. And that is a skill that will likely come in handy throughout my personal life.

Perhaps next I will get this surfing thing down…..



Previously law required that all rental car charges be included in the advertised base rate, so that consumers are not surprised by unexpected charges at point of rental. The companies agreed to include the concession fee in all advertising and to disclose it fully. AB 2592 was approved by the Legislature and signed by Governor Schwarzenegger, and it became effective on January 1, 2007.
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