Sunday, May 10, 2009

Bracing for Impact

One day, my husband said this to me: “Go ahead honey, why don’t you drive?”

I know, I couldn’t believe it either.

So I said, “Nah, it’s raining.”
“It is ok. You can drive slow. I’m in no hurry,” he said.
“Why not?”
“I don’t like to drive with you in the car.”
“You’re too distracting.”
“Because I am talking to you?”
“No, by gasping and shrieking every time I take a turn. Or the way you flinch and press both palms to the dash every time I pass someone.”
Then he said, “Oh, that. That is just me bracing for impact.”

So, he thinks I am a bad driver. It makes life easier if you just AWG. AWG is my new mantra, a little something I made up, it means: Admit the truth, Work within the parameters of your limitations, and Get on with life. That is why when my husband insults my driving, I don’t get indignant. What is the point? It is a true assessment of my abilities. When other folks hear this they say things like, “Oh, come on now. I am sure you aren’t that bad.” or “I am sure you are better than you think.” But I have never had any of them offer to ride with me.

I think my driving problems began in high school with the driver education program. You see, I didn’t go to one. My dad taught me how to drive. Then after half a year he took me to the county seat to take the actual driving test with the local sheriff. Looking back, the only reason that I can think of why my dad would agree to such insanity is that it never crossed his mind that I would pass the test. I mean, he drove with me for six months, he must have assumed that no competent licensing agency would allow me to pass. But he underestimated my sheer force of will and steely determination. Or, it may have been the crying. Yeah, now that I think about it, it was probably the crying.

When my father first agreed to teach me to drive I am guessing that he thought it would be easy. He was a tank commander in the army and I doubt that he felt out-gunned by a sixteen-year-old girl with poor fashion sense and an addiction to Aqua-Net hair spray. I am sure that he sized me up and thought, ‘piece of cake.’

Our first trip out together was going to be a nice little jaunt around the block. I started the car and drove around each turn, doing what I thought, was a reasonable 45 mph. He didn’t say a word for the 30 seconds it took us to come back to our starting spot in front of the house. When I slammed on the brakes, and his head lurched forward with whip-lash force, narrowly missing the windshield, I said, “How was that?” He looked at me with an expression I had never seen before, I could see much more of his actual eyeball than I had ever remembered seeing, and it was very white. Then, when his breathing returned to normal, he said, “Let’s try that again. Only slower this time. Much slower.”

Thus began our journey together. He tried to teach me to drive and I taught him what really causes grey hair. It was an experience. The clutch survived, which is amazing in it self, I stripped out a number of gears and I once ran the car so far out of gas that air got in the lines. So, when the woman at the DMV handed me my freshly minted driver’s license I was ecstatic. My dad, again, was speechless. I am not sure if it was pride or fear, but either way, he knew there was no turning back. For the ride home, he let me drive. There is nothing like the feel of the open road in an avocado green station wagon with your petrified parent clutching his chest in the seat next to you.

Ever the teacher, on the ride home, my dad decided to give me one last driving lesson. He wanted me to pass someone. I had not passed anyone in all of our training together. Not a little old lady on a Sunday drive, not a single-cylinder moped, not even a pedestrian. Now my dad wanted me to pass the longest greyhound bus in the world.

His mini lesson began with: “See that bus ahead of us is going 45 mph. The speed limit is 55. We are coming up to a good spot to pass. When you see the dotted line, look for oncoming traffic and if the lane is open, pass this bus.”
I said, “Dad, I can’t.”
“Pass the bus.”
“I can’t.”
Then more firmly, he said, “Pass the bus.”

I was scared out of my ponytail. After all of his lectures on not speeding I was determined not to speed as I followed his directive. So, I began slowly accelerating, 45 mph, then 46, 47. The minutes ticked by. I didn’t want to move too quickly, so as to avoid the whole ‘trip around the block’ incident.

“Pass or get back into your lane,” he said a little too forcefully.
“I am passing.”

I could see a car heading toward us in the distance. The speedometer was slowly climbing as we were almost neck and neck with the front of the bus.

“Pass or get back over!” He must have seen the on-coming car too.

I glanced at the gauges, we were almost up to 50 mph and it only took us 4 or 5 minutes tops.

“Pass or get over!” Now he was almost shrieking.
“I don’t want to break the law.”

The on-coming car was getting closer. I wasn’t sure how to proceed, but his instructions were getting shorter and louder.

“I can’t speed. You told me not to speed.”

So, to make him happy, I decided to pass. I didn’t know that you were supposed to get one car length in front of the other automobile before you pass them. (Was that even in the manual?!) So, I just nosed in, narrowly missing a head-on collision with the on-coming car and a ramming from a 10-ton commercial transportation vehicle.

Even though I was upbeat and positive about my triumph over passing the bus--my dad was not. “Can I do a victory lap around town when we get home?” I asked.
“No,” was all he said.

I am not blaming anyone for my bad driving, least of all myself. I mean, I am a victim of unfortunate circumstances. Sometimes the cosmos just conspires against me, I am blaming the devil.

So when you are on the highway with traffic backed up to the coast, and there is one lone car at the front of the pack going 45 mph in a 70 mph zone, maybe you will be more understanding when you zoom around them at the first opportunity. And please wave hello when you cruise on by me, but don’t honk, I tend to swerve when startled.

1 comment:

  1. You are too funny! Between the combination of your great writing and your life experiences, you can sure give me a good chuckle every time I read your blog.

    My DH would be the one that makes me nervous when he drives. And that's all I have to say about that ;)