Saturday, September 17, 2005

Life is a left turn

When my dad taught me to drive back when I was 16, it was not an enjoyable experience for either one of us. My dad, a former flight instructor for the Army, would get quite frustrated at his insubordinate daughter, who didn't react quickly enough to his "orders". His daughter, in turn, would get incredibly stressed out and frustrated with said "orders". As they careened down the 20mph road with her at the wheel of the '63 beetle, he would begin chanting in a military monotone, "To the right. to the right. to the right. to the right. more. more. more. TO THE RIGHT." And I would move slightly to the right, but stop because for the Love of God, the curb was Right There and I was not very good at this, you know? I swear he wanted me to scrape the tires against the curb, and then I'd be "to the right" enough. Every single driving lesson ended with me dissolving into tears and him telling me gruffly to get back home. This is why it took me a year after my 16th birthday to finally get my driver's license, when all my friends had run out and taken the test the day of their birthday. Which, incidentally, made it possible for me to procrastinate a year -- everyone else could drive, why should I?

The other thing slowing me down, besides the frustrating driving lessons, was the stick shift in that bug car. In driver's ed, which I had already taken, we drove an automatic, of course. But nooooo, even though my Grandmother offered to let me take the driving test in her automatic car (ok, it was a huge cadillac and i probably would have failed in that car too), my dad said no, I couldn't take the test until I could drive the car I would actually be driving. Go figure. So about a year later, one night I had a dream where I was driving the bug car. With ease. I was flipping through the gears like a pro, and it felt good. The next day I got in that car and I. Could. Drive. Not quite as smoothly as in the dream, but I definitely had the gears down. With a little more practice I was licensed and ready to go. I even aced parallel parking, but that could be a whole separate entry. I know you can't wait.

I remember that the first place I drove by myself was my boyfriend's house. Which was a pretty straight shot from my house, except for one thing: the Big Hill with a Stop Sign at the top. Every new stick-shift driver's nightmare. I was very nervous about the first gear thing on the hill, but I figured it out and after that, I could go into first without killing it pretty much from then on. I've said it before, I'll say it again: I work well under pressure. So I was excited to take on my next conquest, which was driving to school.

But here's the catch -- my dad sat down and figured out this weird, twisty way to school, and spent a lot of time explaining and drawing me a little map and everything. It finally came out (after his insubordinate daughter questioned his orders yet again) that all this was so I would not have to make a left turn into the parking lot. That's right. I wasn't going to be allowed to make a left turn. We fought about this. Oh, how we fought. There were tears and door-slammings and the kind of drama only wreaked by a teenaged girl. But after much protest, my mom stepped in and overrode him, taking my side. My side was that eventually, I would have to make a left turn. I couldn't go through life taking the long way around to avoid the left turns. Life was not a series of simple right turns. I couldn't truly grasp the wisdom of my argument until almost 20 years later, even though it finally won my dad over.

I thought about all of this tonight, as I sat at a blinking yellow light waiting to make a left turn, AFTER DARK no less, into my neighborhood. I found myself noticing how interesting that my home ends up requiring a *dangerous* left turn every single day. And guess what? I've been doing it for five years and I've got it down pretty well, left turn and all. Now that I think about it, I've been braving the tricky turns since I was a teenager, and here I am. We all do it, every day. And imagine what the world would be like if we didn't? If everyone just kept it simple and took the long way around, avoiding any risk or danger?

What a mess that would be.


Crazy MomCat said...

This was an awesome post! It made me think back to those days of driving with my Mom...which also always ended in me crying and her giving up. I passed my drivers test, but did fail the parellel parking portion. (Maybe you should teach me!)

Most of all, I love the left turn analogy because we all need to be reminded to go for those left turns now and then. It keeps life interesting. Safe is boring!

Babs said...

wow... he trusted you driving a stick, but not making a left turn?!?! I'm ashamed to say that I never learned how to drive a standard... so you done made me proud!

Crazy MomCat said...

me neither, Babs! Actually, my father-in-law taught me, but I never practiced after that so I'm sure I couldn't do it at all now.

Dipu said...

That reminds me of the day I "learned" to drive a stick. Babs probably remembers this too. Some 10, 11, 12 years ago, somewhere along there. Trish, Babs, and I went to lunch somewhere; Trish drove us in Brian's jeep because her car was in the shop. She'd hoped we could pick her car up after lunch, and with two cars and three drivers, that shouldn't be a problem, right? But. Neither her nor Brian's cars were automatics, and neither Babs nor I had ever driven a stick. So, it fell to me to learn on the fly. Trish somehow trusted me to drive her Cavalier back to her house even though all I knew were automatics. So Babs and Trish followed as I drove Trish's car. I think I killed it 3-4 times before I even left the parking lot. Then there was the scary incline at a stoplight. But somehow, I passed that one with flying colors. And I got Trish's car home safe.

That was a pretty nerve-wracking 15 minutes, let me tell ya. But I'm sure it helped a lot that Trish wasn't barking orders and imposing restrictions ... instead, she trusted me to figure it out. How's that for another life metaphor?

matthewstoryteller said...

Interestingly enough, I was driving years before I ever got behind the wheel of a car.
Growing up on a farm, I started driving tractors before I was old enough to reach the pedals. I used to have to slide off of the seat and stand up behind the steering wheel to reach the clutch and the brake.
When I got tall enough to reach the pedals, I started helping with the real work around the farm.
Imagine making that left turn through a gate barely wider than the massive set of double hay rakes you're pulling behind you.

Yes, indeed, I am a farming god!

And I think I told you about learning to drive a stick with my Grandpa while he had me careening through a rutted pasture at 50+ mph.

And then, of course, I graduated to to my mom's massive suburban, or as my brother and I used to call it, the party wagon.

It makes you wonder how any of us survived this long, eh?