Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I distinctly remember the first time I scooted behind the wheel of an automobile. It was the summer of my Junior year (notice how I ignored the year?), and my uncle had come to visit for the weekend. He called me aside and asked if I’d like to take a drive with him.

Now, in the 50s, there was usually just one car per family (okay, now I’ve given away my age), and the idea that I might have a chance to drive my father’s car was a non-starter. No one drove it but him, and I always wondered what the big deal was. It was an old beat up Mercury, spewed black smoke and the interior headliner was always sagging at some inappropriate spot. But he loved that car, and it was off limits to me.

When my uncle asked me that question, I knew immediately what he had in mind. My heart raced as we pulled away from the curb. “Don’t tell your folks about this,” he said, “they’d kill me.” What a brave thing for an uncle to do, or anyone to do for that matter.

In the 50s, we had Driver’s Ed as an elective in our Junior year, so I’d already aced the test (well, after hitting a few curbs and nearly running down a few little old ladies), and knew I’d be up to the task.

We parked about a block from our house and we changed places. It was a feeling like no other. My hands were clammy and my mouth was dry. I had to do this perfectly so he’d tell my folks that I was ready for my first car. I knew there would be no such item coming, as we were just plain middle-income working class people, and to have two cars in the driveway signaled some sort of prosperity. We couldn’t be show-offs.

My uncle launched into a five-minute speech about rules; turning to look out the window when pulling from a curb, left arm out straight, or bent up if going right, down if going left, etc. Basically it was the same sort of car that our class instructor used, so I did know the names and places for the stuff on the floorboard. I'd just never drove anywhere other than the school parking lot. But,I felt I was ready.

I looked out the rear-view mirror, the side mirror, put my arm out straight, and was ready to go when I realized that I’d forgotten what to do with the two floor pedals and the one large gearshift at the same time. I put my hand on the gear shift, put both feet on the clutch and brake. Nothing happened. “Give it the gas,” my uncle prodded. “Oh, yeah, right.” I then put my left foot on the clutch, right foot on the gas, and slowly pushed down. Nothing happened. “Put it into gear,” my uncle said, patiently. “Oh, yeah, right.”

I then grabbed the gearshift like a long-haul truck driver, pulled it down, pushed on the gas, held in the clutch…and we were off. But I forgot to look out the window before doing so. There was a deafening screech as an old man swerved around the car, honking and giving obscene hand gestures.

All of a sudden it wasn’t so fun. My hands were still clammy, my heart was racing, but for the wrong reasons. I was no longer excited, I was scared to death. “No problem,” my uncle said. Just sit there awhile and calm down. You can try again in a few minutes.

“Can’t we go to a parking lot?” I asked, terrified he would think I was a big baby and wasn’t ready to drive. He got out of the car to take over and drove to a parking lot. I got out with shaky legs, not sure I wanted to do this.

After several bump-and-runs, and giving my poor uncle whiplash, I finally mastered the gear-shift and gas pedal at the same time and was flying high. I felt that I’d just passed puberty; I’d just ascended into the realm of young woman and no longer a kid. I couldn’t get the smile off my face.

Well, here’s the thing. My cataract surgery and retinal surgery was a success (YEAH!) However, the surgeon did say that the growth can return, but I’ll worry about that later. For now, I’m back on the highway again.

Today I picked up my beautiful Versace glasses (if you have to wear glasses, might as well look cool). I drove home with a stupid smile on my face. I felt like a teenager again. I could see trees two blocks away, not to mention pedestrians and cars. What a thrill. I had been driving like I did in my Junior year, hoping that no one had the misfortune to step in front of me while I was behind the wheel.

Okay, I exaggerate a tad, but it has been scary. Last week, before my glasses were ready, I had a scare. On the 91 Freeway, whether you want to or not, you must drive 80 miles per hour to keep from getting rear-ended. So as I’m streaking down the freeway I see something strange ahead of me. You know those rubbery yellow poles that separate the FastTrack Lane from the other lanes on the freeway? Well, they came up on me so fast that I didn’t see them, and I mowed about ten of them down. Of course, they popped right up again, but I was glad they weren’t humans.

Thanks for those of you who wished me well. I will be taking the test for my driver’s license for renewal in the middle of September. Glad they don’t have gear-shifts and clutches in cars anymore.

1 comment:

GutsyWriter said...

Great to hear your news. I'm in Fort Myers on vacation. We are driving around the islands and Naples area until September 4th. So far I love this part of Florida. Sure you'll do well on your test.