Thursday, April 13, 2006

I wouldn’t say I’m a BAD driver

I’ve never caused an accident, and I’ve never received more than a parking ticket or occasional speeding ticket. But I’ve had plenty of adventures behind the wheel of a car.

One of my earliest driving memories is sneaking into my parents bedroom where they were both asleep, silently opening the cabinet where they kept the keys, tiptoeing back to my room, lifting the screen off my bedroom window and climbing out into the night. It was about midnight, I had never driven before (if you don’t count sitting on my mom’s lap as a child and steering us down an old country road), and I was wearing nothing but a blue teddy and a blue jean jacket. I slid into the station wagon, turned the ignition and as quietly as possible made my way down the driveway. I didn’t know where the lights were, so I made the first few miles driving twenty miles an hour guided by nothing but the moonlight. By the time I made it out of the neighborhood and onto the big farm to market road, I’d found them. Ten minutes later and I was outside my boyfriend’s house. I can say that all ended safely and well; two hours later I was back in bed as if nothing had ever happened. The next day, though, my Mom with a wry smile on her face said something about needing to better secure our windows.

My very first car was a 1968 Dodge Dart given to me by my great aunt. When I got the car in 1989 it had 38,000 miles on it. My great aunt drove it to the store and back and church on Sundays, literally. She kept meticulous records of each time it was serviced and every drop of gas that was added. In fact, when I got it, it still had the original factory plastic wrap on the seatbelts in the back seat. Most important to my parents, however, was that it was big and safe. Its lack of power steering and power breaks strengthened my arms and legs and it provided plenty of protection. One evening I was waiting to take a left turn, against traffic, on a busy rural highway, into the school parking lot. I was rear-ended by a car traveling 40 mph. That car was crumpled straight up into the driver’s seat; my rear bumper had a small v-shaped dent. The Dart car served me well. But the insurance company decided not to pay to repair it, and I moved into the realm of more modern machinery.

One weekend during college my girlfriend and I decided to take a road trip out of town. She drove and sang and talked and looked for music, all at the same time, and almost missed our exit. When I pointed this out she veered for the turn, just yards from the highway railing, at 60 mph on the elevated exit lane. Her little Nissan Sentra swerved straight toward the left hand railing, and then once she corrected it headed straight toward the right side railing. Time slowed to a crawl as I watched this scene play out before me. We alternately headed straight toward the left then the right railing, all the while several stories above the highway. I felt my heart stop. When my girlfriend finally got the car under control, we continued on, neither of us talking, until she said, “Wow, I handled that really well. Maybe I should go into trauma medicine.” A few hours later I got my voice (and heartbeat back.) Today my girlfriend is an excellent doctor.

When I moved to California, I promptly took my signing bonus down to the BMW dealership and bought myself the fastest, sleekest Z3 on the lot. It’s a silver convertible with black leather seats with seat warmers (once you try them you can’t go back), extra wide tires and an awesome sound system. This was to compensate myself, I reasoned, for the insanely long hours I worked at my new job. The best part of driving this car was when I left the office late at night. To get home I had to make my way around a three-lane highway onramp that circled 270 degrees. Imagine taking that curve at night, with the top down, the stereo blasting, and the road wide open for miles ahead. Each night I’d take it a little bit faster, the cool air whipping my face and hair, shouting out the lyrics to my favorite song. I never got tired of that road.

Ah, the memories.

For those of you concerned about my cat inflicted wounds, my index finger is out of commission and hurts like HE**. Call me, I could use the sympathy.

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