Saturday, March 24, 2012

1 (of 2) Things You May Not Know About Me

I have other things on my mind this morning, but I am determined to let this weekend be only about good things: good thoughts and feelings and good people.

On G|+ the other day, some folks were doing a post called "Two Things About You That We May Not Know." It started on a day when I wasn't feeling so well and I missed out. It was a lot of fun to go back and read some of what was shared. I am going to do my sharing here. Of course, because I cannot tell even the shortest story in less than novella form, I will break this into 2 posts.

So "The 1st of Two Things About Me That You May Not Know" is...

...I can't drive a "stick shift."

I started driving when I was around 16 and starting my last year of high school (I graduated at 17, not because I was an academic superstar, but because of the way my birthday fell or something). My parents had divorced, things were running different in the household, so there was no one to drive me to school. I could have taken the bus but one of my older brothers (Joe) thought it would be cool to toss me the keys to a second car he had and say, "Don't do any damage."

Now, technically, I knew how to drive, I had three older brothers and about 30 "play" brothers from our military days. I had a learner's permit or something that allowed me to operate a vehicle as long as there was a fully licensed driver with me. There was. Of course, being fully licensed had nothing to do with whether or not my friend "Arnetta" was fully sane. She wasn't.

My brother told my mother that he would make sure I got to school, but I don't think that he told her how that would be happening. Mom had gone back into the workforce after 20-some years of working for my dad as cook, tailor, lover, child-bearer, nurse, psychologist and hold-the-fort-down-er. She had fearlessly taken the classes to prepare her to work in an office environment and she was up really early mornings to get out there and support her family. (My God, I miss Mom!)

Anyway, Mom would be gone by the time four of my friends and I took off in my brother's car (I think it was an Oldsmobile...) and somehow made it alive to school everyday. I wasn't a danger to anyone else on the roads. Even if I had hit someone, the only damage would be from them laughing so hard at my grandmotherly pace of speed. We lived about a mile and a half from school and it took me around 30 minutes to get us there. It took me a whole 5 minutes just to go through the pre-drive checklist Joe had taught me. Airline pilots have done less checking before flying their planes... And once I got moving, it was at the pace of a yawn. My friends would tease me that somewhere a crippled turtle was outpacing me. I didn't care. I was determined to be safe. (I did learn at one point from a really nice policeman that I could get a ticket for moving too slowly. He said something about impeding the normal flow of traffic, Then he laughed all the way back to his car. Probably called and told all his buddies how he had to race to catch up with me.)

I eventually gained confidence in my driving skills, but when I turned 25 or so, I had to learn to drive a manual transmission vehicle.

Oh. My, Good. Mercy,

I was terrified. I had always said that I would never want to drive anything with a contsantly moving gear shift. I liked the idea of just putting a car in one gear and leaving it there. I liked having to worry only about moving my feet to stop and to go. All that busy hand and foot work was just a distraction from the music I liked to listen to when driving. (When I had lived in England with David, I never did drive because not only were almost all the cars manual, but there was that whole wrong-side-of-the-road issue to deal with. David and I got into an argument once when leaving a restaurant and my hot-tempered self decided to storm my way to the car, get in and slam the door. David got the last good laugh when I ended up sitting behind the steering wheel...

Anyway, this time I had no choice but to learn to drive my own worst nightmare. My family and I had decided to take a break from living in the cold of Alaska and move to Arizona where we'd be closer to my brothers. My mother's health was still decent, but she had gotten to where the cold winters were a little bit tough on her. We put the house up for sale - the one that Mom, my sister and I had worked so hard to own together. We put in notices at our jobs, packed up things for storage, and made the decision to keep a tight travel budget. I've always been "frugal" (okay, tight) with money so I was down with the skimpy budget. Until our car started having engine problems. See, part of our budget included driving the AlCan out of Alaska and on down to the Lower 48. Our family has been making that drive since I was 12 years old, but we'd never done it in a car we had to worry about.

The Family (what we call ourselves when we pull together in a crisis - anything from a death to somebody's broken heart) decided that we needed to dump the old car and get a new old car. Thinking of the budget (damn that budget), we set a spend limit and went looking, or rather we sent the guys looking. One of my older brothers and a few of the "play" brothers started putting out feelers and such. We women were too busy packing up the house and getting everything (except the kids) ready for either storage or shipping that we were paying no attention at all to the car thing. I should have been.

I came home from work near the end of my last week on the job. A friend had been driving me to and from. When we pulled up to the house, there was this tan and brown station wagon in the driveway. The back window had a sale sign with "Sold" written across the price. I told my friend that it looked like I'd be able to drive myself in the rest of that week.

You'd think.

Wow, we had a car, the house was almost packed up, I had only a few more days left at work. It was looking like we were going to be on our way.

You'd think.

I was so happy we had a car that I didn't pay much attention to it right then - just that it was not too beat up and looked roomy enough for all of us. Yay.

When I got in the house, I wondered what horrible thing had happened. My mom, sister, brother, play brother and my sister-in-law were there. They looked like people do when they have bad news. Not major bad news, but fixable bad news. I wondered if they were going to tell me something like the sale of our house had come undone or something.

Soon as they told me "the news," something had come undone all right: me. I think I must have had a mild panic attack then blacked out for a moment. When my head cleared, everyone was standing around me saying things like, "It will be easy as learning to ride a bike."

Yeah, uh huh. That's kind of what my mom told me about sex a few days before my wedding. That's kind of what my mom told me about learning to bake a cake from scratch. Well, turns out I like sex. I like baking. I was never, not ever going to like driving a stick shift.

My family has the saying about sucking it up and doing what has to be done. That's gotten me through a lot in my life. It was going to have to get me through learning to drive the new old car.

My sister-in-law, Theresa, was going to be the instructor for me and my sister. Yeah, because Mike (my sis) didn't know how to drive a stick shift either. (My mother did. Mom had grown up driving a pickup with the gear shift on the steering wheel. Mom was a can-do woman. The only problem was, none of us wanted my mom anywhere behind the wheel of a car at this point in her life. Cantankerous, ornery, road-rage old woman.)

Now, Theresa is one of the sweetest women I have ever known. She really is a beautiful soul. She is also patient. Thank God. She also tends to fall down laughing over just about anything. She took me and my sister (in that dang Subaru) to an empty school parking lot to teach us how to drive.

Oh, my goodness. We were comical.

My sister, bless her heart, was probably as nervous as I was, but she was determined. The look on her face was cracking me and Theresa up. She look so serious.

Theresa drove us around the lot a few times, talking us through the basics of using the gear shift and the clutch. Then Mike got behind the wheel. She did pretty good except for damn near putting us in the hospital with whiplash. Every time she shifted gears, my head punched the back of my seat. Theresa was riding shotgun so she could give instructions, but all she did was laugh each time her head whipped back. She was giving herself a stomach ache and tears were rolling down her face. She was yelling stupid words of encouragement like, "Good! You're getting the hang of it!"

What did she say that for? Mike went and got all ballsy and decided to cruise out of the lot and down a little side street.

"All right, Mike!" Theresa's laughing and shouting.

I'm in the backseat having weird memories of the time David almost knocked me out having sex when I banged my head on the headboard. (Yeah, almost too much information, but I'm trying to tell the truth here.)

Well, I guess all that encouragement got so good to Mike that she forgot she was just learning to drive this car. Somehow, we ended up on a little bit of a hill. Not anything steep. We made it up and would have been fine if there hadn't been a Stop sign. Mike stopped just fine and seemed not to realize the situation she'd put us in.

I did realize. Theresa certainly realized, but she only found it more amusing than our sore necks. She was so doubled over with laughter that she couldn't warn Mike about the tricky thing about hills and clutches.

Soon as Mike got ready to take off, the car started to roll, so she HIT the brake.

I'm in the back, worried that someone is going to drive up behind us. Theresa's laughing so hard that she's about to wet herself. (Can I admit now that I was really, really pissed at Theresa by now?) She is trying really hard to explain to Mike how to use the clutch to move forward. Mike is terrified to get off the brake. I'm about to get out of the car and walk home.

It took Mike about minute or two, but she did get off the hill and back to the safety of level road. Theresa pretty much gave her a gold star and pronounced her ready to practice more on her own.

My turn.

You know how when you just aren't good at something and it's hard to admit it, but you do? I didn't. I refused to let Mike be the only one who could master the stick shift. We were in that parking lot for another hour before I made a circuit without stalling out. I even drove us the 3 or 4 blocks home.

The next day, I had to drive that damn car to work. I felt sick to my stomach. I wanted to call in, but I'd been paid for working a full week, I had a ton of stuff to clear off my desk before my replacement took over, and I just couldn't stand to let my bosses down.

My knees knocked the whole time I was getting ready for work. My mom made things worse by telling me how she just knew I could do it. Mike had the nerve to give me tips on driving. (Was she kidding me? I was damn near in a neck brace because of her and she is the pro here?)

Back then, our house was just off of International Road, not far from Minnesota Drive. I worked out near the airport, so I had to go down a slight hill to a light, then turn onto a busy, busy road. Once I got past the turn, I would pretty much be okay since I could ride a frontage road on to my work site.

I made it down the hill and to the light. Then I could not get going again without stalling out. I stalled through a 2 light cycles.

This is Alaska. People tend to be pretty nice about most things. The first light I missed - with a line of morning traffic behind me - people were patient. No one blew horns, flipped finger, yelled nasty things or tried to bust through my window and beat me up. Then I missed the second light.

This is Alaska. People tend to be pretty nice, but they have a limit. We were in a double turn lane. Cars started jockeying to get around me. Some of the drivers were giving me dirty looks. I just kept my eyes forward, practiced some deep-breathing and tried to remember how to ease off the clutch.

That third light came and I stalled again. Tears were rolling down my face. I noticed that the driver in the car behind me had put on his flashers and was getting out.

He's coming to kill me, I was thinking. I shut my eyes and started praying. (Seriously, I was thinking of leaving the car right there while I walked my sad little self back home.)

This nice man tapped on the window and smiled, bless his heart. I cracked the window and he said that he would stay behind me to wherever I was headed.

"Just calm down and take your time," he told me. "You can do this."

You don't believe in angels yet?

This man's kindness somehow calmed me down. I made it through the light and to the frontage road. I pulled over and waved my angel past.

Of course, I damn near rammed the car into the side of the building when I got to work. Don't ask me how.

My drive to and from work the rest of that week was basically my practice time. My co-workers would watch my arrival from the windows and my departure from the parking lot. I was like the entertainment for their dull little petty lives... I have to admit, it was kind of amusing.

Two weeks from the day we got that car, we were in it and ready to drive the Alcan. Three women, one teenager (Cherie) and twin toddlers (J.P. and Gabs). We did make the drive and I've posted here before about that episode of my life...

 The funny thing: I cannot drive a stick shift anymore. I probably could  if I had to, but I don't right off remember how. But it's probably just like riding a bike.

P.S.: By the way, we hated Arizona. We bought a house and stayed there less than a year and a half. I came back to Alaska after about 9 months and went back to my old job. We never lived in Arizona again until after Mom passed. All of us siblings just needed to be closer together. It was the first time in 12 years (I think) that we all spent Christmas together at Joe & Peg's. A favorite memory and I have the photos to remember it by...

Someone told a joke & we all just lost it.
l to r back: Darrell, Lawrence ("Chuck") & Joe
l to r front: Sandra ("Mike"), Gwen ("Chubby") & me

Darrell & Chuck wandered off. Joe told me a bad joke.
 Mike & Chubby were telling each other how good they looked!

The sisters-in-law (Keva & Peg) had to take around 30 shots to get a keeper.
 Man, I love these guys!
(Gilbert, AZ Christmas 2007)