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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Beep beep! Driving through Grinnell

By Ben Mikek

Many Grinnellians are adding more to their workloads this semester and expanding their liberal arts education — not by writing papers or completing problem sets, but by learning to drive.

“[It’s] very slow, very slow. But yeah, it’s fun. I’m hoping to get my license soon,” said Farah Omer ’19. “It’s kind of slow because I have a schedule, but then things come up and I have to stop and do that thing, but I’m hoping, before the semester ends, I can get my driver’s license.”

Omer has now been practicing driving for about a month and says she started learning to drive at Grinnell because she did not get a good opportunity to do so earlier. “I went to boarding school for five years … so I missed a lot of the things that people learn to do between the ages of 14 and 19,” she said.

According to Omer, progress has nevertheless been good. And she isn’t the only Grinnell student learning to drive during their fourth year.

Marysia Ciupka ’19 is also learning the road rules and intricacies of driving as she finishes her final year at the College. She is learning to drive now because she has spent most of the time since her eighteenth birthday outside of her home country, Poland.

“It’s been really fun. I really enjoy it,” she said. “It also has become like a social thing. … When we go for a lesson, we hang out and we talk and catch up, and we also use that time to see the things around the Grinnell area that we wouldn’t have seen without having a car.”

The opportunity to see parts of Grinnell and Poweshiek County was a recurrent theme for the new drivers at Grinnell; both Omer and Ciupka mentioned it as something of a side benefit of learning to control a motor vehicle. Ciupka’s driving instructor, Andrea Baumgartel ’19, also noted the benefits of discovering new locations outside the orbit of the Grinnell campus.

“It’s … fun to show people different places on the outside of Grinnell that they might not have seen before,” she said. “There’s this one abandoned school far out, north of here. Before we’d driven, a lot of people hadn’t seen the [elementary and middle] schools.”

Even if it is an interesting sight, the abandoned school might not be the best place to plan a picnic.

“It looked kind of creepy,” said Ciupka of the same school. “We just got out of the car to check it out, and then this man appears … and he was really scary and he told us to get the fuck out, and he was kind of like threatening us. It was really weird.”

“It almost seemed like something sketchy was going on in that school,” she added, laughing, “as if he was, I don’t know, cooking meth in there or like, hiding dead bodies.”

Luckily, this abnormal encounter seems to have been the scariest moment so far for the student drivers.

“It’s really nice to drive in Iowa, because the roads are emptier,” said Baumgartel. “The biggest thing is watching out for animals and children because that’s always scary.”

There apparently have been no very close calls, aside from a few overshot turns and slowing down too soon for stop signs.

“It was not anything I saw myself doing,” Baumgartel said, who, despite some driving experience, is not a formal instructor. “I’m from Illinois, so I’ve been driving since diapers,” she said. “But these east coast people, they didn’t know where the brake pedal was.”

While it is true that rates of driving proficiency vary with geography, it is not a simple coastal phenomenon. The lowest rates of driver’s licensing in the country, according to the Federal Highway Administration, are in New York, Texas, Minnesota and Utah. The country is led by Indiana, where 864 of every 1,000 residents has a driver’s license.

Yet regardless of your background, it seems that Grinnell is not a bad place to learn to drive.

“It is a fun activity that we do. … It’s just an hour that I feel like I take a break from Grinnell and the craziness of the day,” Omer said. “In that sense, it’s also like, when it’s especially nice out, it acts as a break.”

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