“Yo, what the hell? You’re gettin’ on the freeway.” That’s the last thing Murray (Donald Faison) says before the famous freeway freakout scene in Amy Heckerling’s 1995 cinematic masterpiece Clueless.
Deep in conversation, Stacey Dash’s Dionne unknowingly drifts her boyfriend’s red BMW onto the freeway. Distracted driving at it’s finest, the situation goes from bad to worse when Cher (Alicia Silverstone) and Dionne both start having meltdowns. Cars whizz by. Horns blare. A motorcycle gang swerves around the convertible causing Dionne to perform one particular cardinal sin of driving. She takes her hands off the wheel. This before screaming her head off and closing her eyes. You know, just as a huge semi-truck appears behind the car.
Eventually, the car cruises to safety, but the damage is done. Murray tries to calm a dramatic Dionne down, while narrator Cher sighs from the backseat realizing that “getting on the freeway makes you realize how important love is.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the same epiphany watching this scene. Instead, came the cause of my life-long (well, 25-years-long) fear of that six-lane terror that takes drivers from one side of the city to the other.
Yup. Clueless is to blame for my fear of freeways.
It’s been nearly 25 years since the film was released and I remember that scene as if I watched it yesterday. Probably because I did. But also because it was that traumatizing. Before I moved here I never had to worry about Dionne’s fate becoming my own because there are no freeways in my hometown and anytime I did encounter one while traveling, I was asleep in the backseat.
That all changed in September of 2018.
Moving to Los Angeles, California came with many challenges. I had no job. No place to live. Few friends in the city and no family. But the only thing I was freaking out about was the prospect that I would one day have to get on that death trap they call the freeway.
I’m confident in my driving abilities, but let’s be real. Before moving here it had been almost four years since I regularly operated a motor vehicle. I prayed that driving would come back to me like riding a bike is supposed to (not 100% confident this is true either), but boy did my anxiety go through the roof.
The “what if” buzzer went off in my head and I contemplated all the horrible outcomes me driving in LA could bring. And let’s just say that 9 out of 10 scenarios involved the freeway.
Back in 2015 Hecklering did a Q&A about the movie and explained the inspiration behind that particular driving scene.
“I’m a nervous driver, and I don’t drive on the freeway,” Heckerling said. “But now and then, you find yourself on a street or a ramp or a lane where you cannot stop and turn around, and it’s going onto the freeway, and then you go, like, ‘Oh my fucking God, I’m going onto the freeway,’ and there’s nothing you can do about it except to keep holding the wheel and screaming until you get off. It’s very frightening to me.”
She was right. My first foray onto the freeway was by total accident and I freaked out the entire time.
I had rented a car to go to Santa Monica with my friends in October and unknowingly drifted onto the freeway thanks to the stupid GPS. Cue a meltdown of my own. Suddenly, I was forced to increase my speed from about 35 to 60, cars were on both sides of me, and someone had abruptly turnt off the music. Someone was me.
Both of my hands were firmly on the wheel and I was sweating bullets. I distinctly remember my friends laughing that I was going so slow in freeway terms, but I didn't give a damn. It was terrible and I’m pretty sure I ran a red light at some point after that because I was in a trance.
Somehow we made it to Santa Monica safely, and no, I didn’t drive back home that night.
From that point on I made the super-easy decision to stick to side streets. Sure, that means I have to leave at least 15 minutes earlier than everyone else to arrive on time, but I’m cool with that. And on the rare occasions when I have no other choice but to get on the freeway, I grip the wheel tightly, forget procedure, and try to control my breathing as Murray said to do.
Now, if only I had a boyfriend to comfort me when I got to the exit.