Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Life in the Fast Lane

Like most red-blooded 15-year olds, I couldn’t wait to get my driver’s permit (at least that was the case back in the day; I understand that kids these days just aren’t all that anxious to drive).  Prior to getting my permit though, I was able to get behind the wheel when pulling one of the family’s vehicles into the back yard to be washed.  Or when visiting my grandma’s farm; there, I had a vast array of space (125 acres, to be exact) in which to get some time behind the wheel.  I needed only to avoid the pecan trees.  And the cows.

I took Driver’s Ed during school (I don’t think they do that anymore – my, how times have changed).  And chauffeured my parents around as much as they would allow.  

My training vehicles:  a 1974 Chevy Silverado and a 1992 Lincoln Mark VI, affectionately known as The Tank and The Boat, respectively.  

The Boat scared the bejeebers out of me.  I was so small and it was so big, that I couldn’t see the front end, much less past it.  I still have nightmares from driving my mom around after she had major surgery and was unable to drive.  I was FIFTEEN!  Driving a boat!  On the busiest highway in the U.S!

But the pick-em-up-truck, The Tank.  Now THAT was my kind of ride.  Because you know … Rednecks.  And Urban Cowboy.  Trucks filled my high school’s parking lot.  Not to be outdone by Bud or Bubba, The Tank was equipped with a stainless brush guard, fog lights, a headache rack and yep!  Even a gun rack.

And then there was the odd day, when my sister allowed me to drive her car:  a 1979 Camaro Berlinetta.  Copper in color, I loved sitting behind the wheel, steering with my left, while my right rested on the stick shift.  Because that was cool.  (Don’t tell my mom and dad!)  And thank goodness, I was able to take my driver’s test in her car rather than the other behemoths parked in our family’s garage.

It was nary a soul that could pass a driver’s test administered by one Trooper Gonzales.  And I spent many a night leading up to my driving test, praying that he would not be assigned to me on what should be the best day of my life.  I may have even lit a candle!  For this was the day I gained my freedom (or as much freedom as a 16-year old was allowed to have).  The day I began saving my allowance seriously so that I could drive myself to Bluebonnet Palace every Friday and Saturday and scoot a boot.  As a parent, I now know, that is the same day my parents gained their freedom too.

As I sat in my sister’s car, waiting in line to for my assigned Trooper to grade my driving abilities and hand me my ticket to ride, I prayed some more.  And when the Trooper stood beside the car and introduced himself, my palms began to sweat.  My eyes immediately tracked to his name plate.  Officer Gonzales.

Trooper Gonzales and I started out in the parking lot of the DPS office.  First up:  parallel parking.  The cones would not have survived my attempt to complete this task in The Tank or The Boat, but in the Camaro?  Aces!  We drove throughout a neighborhood.  I used my blinkers appropriately.  Or at least I thought I did (he tells me I forgot to do so once – it was the left blinker – I’ll never forget it).  I changed lanes.  I drove the speed limit.  I turned right on red.  When the sign said not to.  Up and down Perrin Beitel we went.  Onto the highway and back again.  And back to the DPS office.  Trooper Gonzales, who, in my memory, had a perpetual frown (or was it a scowl?) on his face, exited my vehicle, made some notes on his clipboard, tapped on my window and said …

“Congratulations.  You passed.”
He was probably also thinking, “just barely”.  My Score?  71.

I darn-near wanted to kiss that man.  But that would’ve been weird.  So I didn’t. 

And thus started my storied driving career.

I’ll be the first to admit, my record is not spotless.  I’ve had my share of mishaps.  And gotten a ticket.  Or two. 

Take for instance, the time I was traveling on the highway, on my way to visit my counselor prior to entering my Senior Year in high school.  Traffic headed northbound on IH 35 had come to a standstill.  A paint truck had rolled over and dumped its cargo, leaving the southbound lanes of IH 35 looking like a Jackson Pollock painting.  And so the looky-loos in front of me forced us to sit.  And we sat.  And sat.  And sat some more. 

Finally, we started moving.  Cruising right along around 15 mph, me in The Tank, a 1965 Ford Mustang in front of me.  I reached down (and subsequently looked down) to change the radio station.  When the Mustang driver slammed on her brakes and yep!  You knew this was coming.  The back end of that not-so-mint-condition classic was no match for the brush guard and heaping ton of metal which I was piloting.  Thank goodness everyone was mostly okay (as for me, a bruised knee and bruised ego hurt just a bit). 

My parents took me car shopping throughout my Senior year in high school.  I too, wanted a cool car, much like my sister had gotten.  And when I sat down in the chocolate brown 1983 Camaro Z28, I could feel it.  The power.  The cool factor.  This was the one.  But I think they thought better of putting my reckless ass in a sports car.  “Wait.”, they said, “Just wait.”  

Mercury was changing the body style of their Cougar model.  Huh?  Isn’t that like a … family car?  Not that my parents were anxious for me to start a family, I assure you.  But I think they wanted me to have something a little less … fast.  Finally, I relented and agreed to the Cougar.  At least it had two doors, not four, upping the cool factor just a little.  And … I got to pick out the color.  It was two-toned!  Snazzy!

We picked up my special-ordered beauty the day of my Senior prom.  And yes, I drove it (because there was no way my date was going to!)  Even back then, I had control issues!

I loved that car.  I really did.  And it served me well throughout my college years and a few beyond.  Did I wreck it?  No – I didn’t.  (But my boyfriend did).  I did, however, manage to burn up the engine once or twice.  Trust your parents when they tell you it’s necessary to have the oil changed in your car on a regular basis, kids! 

That’s not to say that wrecking The Tank was the only time my lack of driving skill led to a trip to the body shop.

There was the time I rolled into someone's back end while waiting at a red light.  I swear I had my foot on the brake pedal - perhaps just not pressed down hard enough.

And then, shortly after the front bumper of my Explorer was all shiny and new, there was the time we traveled to Mexico, driving down the highway around 50 mph when a dog, which had previously been playing with its friend along the side of the road, decided to jump in front of my SUV.  It wasn’t pretty.  And I was pretty sure I had actually beheaded that poor creature when I saw something fly over the top of my car.  Thanks to a well-meaning DPS Trooper who stopped us just after crossing the border, we discovered it was actually my license plate that was lost and not that doggie’s head.  Tufts of the dog’s hair left in my bumper, proof enough to avoid a ticket for lack of a license plate.  RIP doggie.

And tickets?  Well …. Let’s just say I’m familiar with the Driver’s Safety Course (both classroom and online) one can take in Texas in order to avoid said ticket showing up on your driving record.

Knock on wood, I think any of my past transgressions are probably expunged by now.  Just don’t ask my husband about my driving – he thinks I do my fair share of tailgating (and I don’t mean the kind of tailgate where you sit in a parking lot prior to a sporting event, drinking a cold one and eating a burger hot off the grill).  I have tried explaining to that man that this is what happens when you spend 14 years commuting in Austin traffic!

And while my driving has improved in the last decade or so, one of my most hair-raising moments in a vehicle was when my son was learning to drive.  Highway Driving 101.  Evan is driving me around small-town Buda.  Emphasis on the “small-town” – there’s no way my nerves would’ve been able to have a teenage driver in a major metropolitan city.  We enter the highway and I’m reminding him to ensure he gains speed and enters the highway at the posted speed limit (or as close to it as possible) so as not to impede traffic.  What I apparently should have also told him is to make sure there were no cars in the lane into which he was moving after entering said highway. 

Blinker on, he begins to move left (all the while gaining speed).  Textbook, right?  Except for the 18-wheeler that is driving RIGHT.  BESIDE.  US.  “BRAKE!  BRAKE! BRAKE!” I shout.  And I think I may have peed my pants.  Just a little. 

Unfortunately, I can’t say that drivers in San Antonio are all that familiar with brake usage.  They don’t know how to merge either.  They’re not familiar with a Yield sign.  They drive too fast.  They drive too slow.  And red lights?  Pffft!

If you live here, I’m not even asking you for an “Amen” – I can HEAR you saying it right this very minute!  (And I see your heads bobbing in the affirmative too!)

We live in a neighborhood with a load of teenage drivers.  They truly don’t understand the meaning of the big red, octagonal-shaped sign with the 4-letter word written in white.  And apparently, speed limits are merely suggestions.  It’s to the point that a couple of my neighbors have taken to placing cones in front of their homes when their kids are out playing.  At least I think that’s why random people have cones placed on the street in front of their homes.

And it’s not just in my neighborhood.

A couple of weeks ago, I was driving down a divided 4-lane street.  Speed limit:  45 mph.  There was a mini-van ahead of me in the left-hand lane.  They continued to swerve over the line.  And just when they would get back in their lane, and the car in the right-hand lane decided to get ahead of them (because the mini-van was driving like 10 miles under the speed limit!), they would swerve over the line again – almost side-swiping the car in the right-hand lane.  You would think that if they almost hit a vehicle, they might put down their phone (or the bottle!) and pay attention to the road.  But nope!  Even after the one car managed to pass them, they continued to swerve across the line.  
Visual representation - because I don't have a dashcam
And just last week, I was sitting at a red light, ready to turn right.  And no, there was no sign saying not to turn right on red.  My light turned green and as I’m turning, a car comes screaming past me, swerving to avoid hitting me!  I couldn’t help but wonder where the hell they came from!!!  I even muttered this out loud (okay – maybe it was slightly louder than a mutter) – not that anyone could hear me. 

Actually, I think what I said was “What the F@&k?!?!  Where the hell did they come from?!?!"  They had run the red light and driven past 4 lanes of traffic (all of which had a green light) as they flew through the intersection.  They then pulled directly in front of me, slamming on their brakes, in order to turn.  Sheesh!  Where is The Tank when you need it?!?!

Someone once told me that when they see someone driving erratically like this or speeding like they’re trying to break some sort of land-speed record, she says to herself “Sick child!  Sick child!” (As in … they must have a sick child they’re transporting or trying to get home to!)  And so, I found myself saying “Sick child!  Sick child!”  But saying that did little for my blood pressure!

And then … there was the person who, on a street with a 40 mph speed limit, pulled out in front of me, causing me to give my own self a bit of whiplash, and then pumped their brakes repeatedly (when there were no cars in front of them).  Like I’m the one who was in the wrong because I impeded her entry onto the street!

As if drivers who don’t think the traffic laws apply to them aren’t bad enough, you get those with an attitude too. 

There is a karate dojo at the entrance to my step-daughter and son-in-law’s neighborhood.  One evening, while taking our grandbabies home, I turned onto the neighborhood’s main street.  Someone exiting the dojo pulled halfway into the street – RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME – AND STOPPED.  The driver sat there and stared me down, as if I was supposed to go around her.  That would be nice, sweetheart, if there weren’t cars coming from The. Other. Direction.  She then proceeded to flail her arms at me, as if to say I was in HER WAY!  This little standoff lasted for a good 15 minutes  minute before I could pull around her.  Never once did she attempt to or look to see if she could throw her car in reverse!  Not once!

On another day, I was turning into my neighborhood.  With a car in front of me (who was also turning into our neighborhood), I slowed as necessary.  And as they turned onto their street, an arm came out of the driver’s-side window, the middle finger of which, was extended.  To this day, I have no idea what I did or what they think I did! 

Maybe … I was just following too closely.