RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — While Saudi Arabia counted down the hours until midnight for the ban on women driving to be lifted, Hessah Alajaji ran out of patience.
She put on some lipstick, jumped in the driver’s seat of her parents’ Lexus, and at 9:10 p.m. drove out for dinner.
“I’m a bit naughty,” she said, laughing over the melody of Saudi pop tunes as she cruised the wide highway linking north and south Riyadh, the Saudi capital. “I’m just so excited.
Ms. Alajaji, 33, was one of an elite group of female drivers who succeeded in getting their driver’s licenses in time to mark this historic day, one that erases her homeland’s dubious distinction as the last nation in the world in which women could not drive.
For Ms. Alajaji, who lived in Los Angeles while getting her master’s degree in fine arts, the chance to drive at home was a moment to savor.
On Saturday night, she felt the weight of history on her side. And she also felt hungry.
Finally, she could do something so normal that women across the world take it for granted: She could get a meal on her own. She didn’t need to get her father or brother to take her out as required by the kingdom’s strict guardianship laws. She didn’t need to order her family’s male driver from his evening repose. The country’s ruler has decreed that women don’t need their guardian’s approval to get their licenses.
All she needed to do was pull on her abaya, the long modest cloak that Saudi women wear in public, cover her hair and hit the road.
“It’s so normal for me and so strange all at the same time,” she said, as she reversed out her driveway at home.
Ms. Alajaji learned to drive in L.A., where she made a 45-minute one-way commute every morning to her campus at Claremont Graduate University in her convertible Mercedes.
In Riyadh, her ride was a bit more sedate — her father’s two-year-old Lexus. Her first destination was a bit more banal: the McDonald’s a five-minute drive from her front door.
She was so comfortable in the driver’s seat that it was never a question how she was going to place an order — she went straight to the drive-through.
The disembodied male voice taking her order didn’t pause when a female voice placed her order. The male workers at the next window, both Filipinos, smiled broadly when she