DrivingNovember 15, 2011
Again. I am driving in 2011 after not having driven since 2004. I didn’t realize it had been quite that long. It will be only a few years before you begin driving; I hope you always remember to be as careful a driver as you can be. Look out for the other guy—it’s always the other guy who is dangerous. Don’t ever BE the other guy.
Regardless of how careful we are, we are likely to see or be involved in an accident or other car-related weirdness. I think Grandpa Frank and I had a knack for being just where weirdnesses were occurring.
The first incident was in old Betsy, my beloved 1969 Plymouth Valiant. She was an old girl and had old parts. I was always fixing something, but one day Betsy gave me a double-punch surprise. Literally. The control assemblies at the front end of both of her torsion bars punched right through the frame of the car, almost simultaneously. I guess that ten years of rust compromised the integrity of the body and frame. I had turned the corner right outside the house when I heard the loudest, “BOOM, BOOM,” I ever care to hear from a car. The car settled low in front and became scratchy-clunky noisy. Over the next few days I learned about torsion suspension and arc welding, and Betsy was repaired.
The next incident was when I was waiting in the left lane in Betsy’s replacement, a 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme (those cars were built like tanks), with my left turn signal flashing, to turn left off of U.S. 31 into Grandpa Frank’s driveway. The highway was virtually clear of traffic. I was chatting with a friend who was with me as I waited for the last car coming from the opposite direction to pass, and glanced in the rear view mirror. A car was gaining right behind us, and fast.
I moved my foot from the brake to the gas pedal and floored it, then said to my friend,
“Brace yourself, we’re gonna be hit.”
I was wondering why the car behind us didn’t change lanes. Once the car I had been waiting for had passed, the highway was all clear. With the accelerator to the floor from a dead stop I couldn’t match the speed of the car coming up behind us and, sure enough, it hit us. And RAN! My friend and I memorized the license plate and make of the car. It was a gray Cadillac. Neither of us was hurt; we had both been wearing seat belts and my acceleration lessened the impact. But I was mad. A guy in a great big expensive car had just smashed my rear bumper. It would be an expensive repair.
I later learned (when I sued him in small claims court, after identifying who he was through his license plate) that he was a prominent doctor from another country, practicing in Ohio. And he was driving a great big Cadillac. And he HIT me and RAN! I am not much for suing, but that guy had lots of money and I had virtually none. I was still single—only dating Grandpa Frank—and I figured the good doctor could afford to pay for the bumper he smashed, especially after he told the judge in broken English that I had been parked in the left lane. PARKED! Sheesh.
He sent me letters for a few months asking for my forgiveness. There was nothing to forgive. I just wanted my bumper fixed.
About two years later, married, expecting your dad and still driving the Olds, I encountered a new difficulty. My tummy had grown too large for me to be able to drive the Oldsmobile. It didn’t have tilt steering, and the combination of the big steering wheel, big tummy, and short legs left me unable to reach the gas and brake pedals.
Grandpa Frank began to teach me to drive his 1970 green Volkswagen bus, which had a steering wheel that left more tummy room when I pulled the seat up to reach the pedals. The only problem with my driving the Volkswagen was that it was a manual stick shift, and I had driven only automatic transmission cars.
We went down the highway to the parking lot of the nearest country grocery / gas station while it was closed. I had driven around the parking lot and was doing well, so we were preparing to switch seats for Grandpa Frank to drive home. When he got out of the van he saw a man run around the side of the building, and then saw another man run around the side of the building carrying what looked like a shotgun. Grandpa Frank used a pay phone in the parking lot to call the police, and because he was a policeman himself, he told me to stay put and ran around the side of the building after the other two men.
Just as soon as Grandpa Frank disappeared around one side of the building, the man who was carrying what looked like a shotgun emerged from the other end. He was, indeed, carrying a shotgun, and he came to the van and aimed it right at my chest. He couldn’t see my huge tummy; the van seat and window were a bit high from his vantage point. I was terrified. A moment later Grandpa Frank ran from the side of the building, and the man turned and aimed the gun at him.
Grandpa Frank shouted, “I called the police; I am the police!”
The man lowered his weapon and told us he was the store owner. He had been chasing a man who had been inside the closed store, and had apparently eluded both the owner and Grandpa Frank. The police didn’t find him either.
There are other stories about driving—we all collect them as time goes forward. There was the time I drove the Olds up on the car parts store sidewalk to replace for the third time the rebuilt alternator they had sold me. I told them that I would replace the alternator right there on their sidewalk, and leave once I was satisfied that the part worked.
There was a time that I backed into a house. Didn’t see it there. There was no damage.
There was a snow plow that plowed me right off of the road and into someone’s front yard. The driver said he didn’t see me. Danged nasty winters.
There was a guy who ran in front of my car, stark naked, in March. I looked to see if he had on any shoes. When I told Grandpa Frank about it later, he said that shoes was not what I was looking for, and was mad at me for a week. That didn’t seem fair. It wasn’t I who ran around naked. And I was looking for shoes. It was cold in March!
There were high-speed chases. I detested when Grandpa Frank would take off chasing with the kids and/or me in the car. I don’t like going fast, but Grandpa Frank usually got his man (or woman).
There were times we stopped at accident scenes because we were the first to be around. Usually we could offer only the warmth of our car, blankets, and some comforting words while we waited for other police and emergency personnel to arrive.
There were cars that rolled off of the road into the front yard ditch when we lived on the highway. Other stories.
But the strangest car accident I ever saw involved Uncle Tommy, about a week before my wedding. Grandpa Frank and I were driving north on a main artery when we came upon an accident at the intersection we wished to pass through. We couldn’t get through, however, because there was a van in front of us that had lost its equipment on the road. Ladders and other stuff lay around, and men were beginning to replace the equipment on the van.
We got out of the car and walked into the intersection so Grandpa Frank could ask the police on the scene if they needed help. We were in the city, so it was out of his county jurisdiction. When we entered the intersection my heart sank. On top of a Volkswagen Beetle that had been parked on the side of the road sat Uncle Tommy’s blue pickup truck. He was still in the truck and, thankfully, no one had been in the parked car on which his truck was perched. It was full on that Beetle; it wasn’t even rocking. Beetle and pickup had become one. I tried to understand how the truck had ended up on top of the Volkswagen. I never did figure it out.
As the crowd that had gathered and we watched, Tommy opened the door and hopped down from the truck. He seemed to be okay, but after a moment the crowd gasped at the state of his leg. His right foot was backward!
At that point Tommy noticed me in the crowd. He grinned, lifted his right leg and with his cane, whacked the offending foot until it had spun around to its correct position. He then sauntered over to me.
I said, “You just had to do that, didn’t you?” He just grinned.
What the crowd didn’t know at first was that both of Tommy’s legs were prostheses below the knee. The accident had spun one of them around backward, but other than that Tommy was not injured. He enjoyed causing a stir in the crowd, though.
So, I am driving again after seven years. But I am not going very far.