Don’t Drive Angry
I used to love driving. When I first learned to drive, I was given a 1960 Chevy Station Wagon, white with red interior. (See The Car On The Porch). Despite its rather hideous resemblance to a hearse, I enjoyed the heck out of driving that car. It was heavy, it was solid, and it boasted a V-8 that put most cars to shame. My folks thought they had humbled me into driving safely, since the car was ugly and they didn’t think I’d want to attract any attention. But I literally used to try to drag race it. Some punk kid would pull up next to me and I’d start revving the engine, hinting that I’d like to race. That thing could go from zero to sixty in… not very much time at all. And the engine had such a satisfying throaty rumble. There was the small issue of the brakes not working in park, and the emergency brakes not holding most of the time, but I kind of learned to park her up against walls or Jersey bumpers to keep her from rolling away.
Then I graduated to the 1982 Buick Regal. That was the last American car I would own. Buick is just a hideous brand; no matter what the make or model, the ceilings always fall in. And the engines always stall, usually while pulling across a busy intersection. This was the only car I had that didn’t really have a name (well, until the current one, because I hate this one too). It was navy blue, which at this time was the only color car my parents ever bought. That thing was a piece of shit. The engine coughed and bucked and chattered on cold mornings. It was my college car, and a classic college car it was. My folks had already driven it for over sixty thousand miles, so it wasn’t exactly new. I didn’t get new cars like some of my spoiled friends did. Oh, how I wanted a Jeep Sahara instead! But one wasn’t forthcoming, so The Blue Bomb it was. I still enjoyed driving. Except when the engine died.
Next was Lucky. Lucky was a neat little Toyota Cressida (forerunner to the Avalon, one of which my mother now owns). She was used but she was actually bought for me. Again, she was navy blue. I loved Toyota instantly. The engine didn’t chatter, or balk, or die. The ceiling didn’t fall in. I drove that car until it had two hundred thousand miles on it. It died just before the end of my final year of residency – the engine block cracked. And, no, I didn’t forget to change the oil. I think she was just really really tired. She was my medical school and residency car. She carried my boyfriend and I everywhere, since he had a 1978 Firebird convertible that lacked heat or air and that was notoriously unreliable. The Firebird had holes in the floor where you could watch the pavement whizzing by below. So whenever we went on road trips, Lucky got volunteered. She saved me more than once. One time I was speeding back from the town where my boyfriend lived to my medical school on a rainy Monday morning, and I hydroplaned and spun the car out. Miraculously, at eighty miles an hour (I don’t do that in the rain anymore, thanks to Lucky’s timely message) I spun out a full 360 and wound up on the median facing the way I had already been going. There was a bridge and there were signs everywhere, but Lucky was kind enough to save my ass and not hit anything. I slunk back to my boyfriend’s house, saying this was a sign from God that I wasn’t meant to go to school that day. Another time Lucky saved me, the same boyfriend and I were driving in the snow to Montreal to see his sister. We were arguing in the car; I was telling him that he was driving too fast on the solid ice road. He slammed on the brakes and told me to get out and drive myself if I was going to act like that, and the only car on the road for twenty miles came up behind and slammed into us on that bridge. Lucky spun around, and damn if there wasn’t a mark on her. The other car’s front bumper was completely crumpled in. Well, I blamed my boyfriend for being such an ass, but at least he taught me how to drive on ice and snow while we were up there. He put me in an empty parking lot and had me spin Lucky out time and time again so I could recover from a spin or a skid. That came in really handy later. The third time Lucky saved me from my own stupidity was in the snow again. The blizzard of 1992 was predicted but I really wanted to go visit my boyfriend that weekend. I was living in DC at the time and my lovely boyfriend lived in Alabama. He didn’t say anything to discourage me from driving to see him (he never worried about me at all) so I took off on my usual twelve hour drive to Alabama. That twelve hour drive turned into about a sixteen hour drive, because the blizzard hit with a vengeance. By the time I got to Chattanooga, the snow was drifted up and by the time I got near Scottsboro, the road had gotten completely invisible – you could only see where it was by looking at the tops of the signs. As I reached Huntsville, they were closing off the highway into town and it was three o’clock in the morning. I was determined to reach my goal, and I took back roads skidding and and spinning, and used my skills from Montreal to get me to the house. It took me another hour. My boyfriend, completely unconcerned, was sound asleep and I had to throw clods of ice at his bedroom window to get him up to let me in. I was furious at him for not caring that I could have (stupidly) perished in the blizzard while trying to drive to see him. But I made it. When Lucky died, it was a sad day. I was enroute from Houma, Louisiana to New Orleans, a drive I made often because my residency was done half at Chabert Hospital in Houma, and half at Ochsner Hospital in New Orleans. My car died out along the bayou, midway between the two. Fortunately, I was within walking distance of Frank’s Bloody Marys, an a-frame structure that contained the best Bloody Marys I have had before or since. I had a little rose in a pot, so I carried it up the road with me so it wouldn’t roast in the car, walked to Frank’s, ordered a Bloody and called my friend to come and get me. He found me there about an hour later, several Bloody Marys under my belt, and the car was declared a write-off when the towing crew came to get it. Her block was cracked and my heart was broken.
My next car, I finally got to pick out myself. I had to buy it the last year of residency because of Lucky’s tragic death. I borrowed the money from my folks and eventually paid it back. I bought a five-speed Honda Civic, because when I finished residency and became rich, I planned to buy a Porsche, and I needed to know how to drive a shift. I learned to drive the shift as my dad and I drove the car off the lot. I was a little shaky for a couple of weeks, and then I just took off! I loved my shift! I loved my little car Scout, whom I named for Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird. Fortunately, New Orleans is about as flat as they come, so learning a stick there was easy. I drove that car until I finished my residency, then I drove it to my first job in Atlanta and bought the Porsche.
I traded in the Civic on the Porsche, which was kind of funny. I’m sure they were thrilled to have a used Civic on their lot. I picked out an Arctic Silver Carrera Cabriolet, whom I promptly named Sophie. I LOVED Sophie. I used to go outside at nights and just sit in her, and listen to that great Blaupunkt stereo. I also used to drive her around Atlanta late at night, when the roads were emptier and I could drive real fast. Somehow, I never got a ticket. I loved that car the whole time in Atlanta. I felt like the shit, driving her around. I had gotten really good at driving a stick, and love to downshift to slow the car to a stop without ever hitting the brakes. The car had a spoiler that raised up automatically when you hit sixty miles per hour. I had idiot kids try to race me at intersections and I would drive away laughing, just leaving them in the dust. At that time, I was not very happy with my life and I sort of had it in my mind that maybe I would just die behind the wheel; that that would be a good way to go. Then I met my husband. We drove my car on our first big date up to Helena, Georgia, which is a beautiful little town that is German in origin and all the architecture is that of a German town. It turns out my husband hated the car. He felt it cost too much money and the “feel” of the road jounced his hemorrhoids. So when we had a baby, and my lease on Sophie ran out, instead of buying out the lease and keeping Sophie as I’d always planned, we got…
The minivan. The words just stick in my mouth. One thing I had said, my entire life, was that I would never. Ever. Own a minivan. I would die first. We went when the lease ran out and we took my eight month old daughter with us and we bought a Honda Odyssey. There were only two small consolations. First, the van was a beautiful deep red. Second, at least it wasn’t an American car. I’ve had nothing but bad luck with American cars. But I hated the thing on sight. Not even sixteen cup holders could make up for the fact that my husband made me turn in my beautiful Porsche and buy a minivan. I hated it so very, very much. I missed my stick. I had to tuck my left foot way far back so I didn’t reach for a clutch that wasn’t there. I abused that van every chance I got. I wasn’t really thinking clearly, or I didn’t realize, that this would be the car I would drive until it died. Or until I did. And that Hondas don’t die easily. I hate driving the thing. It’s huge, unwieldy, difficult to park, and impossible to drive in reverse, even with one of those back up cameras that keep you from running over your kids in the driveway. I have always prided myself on being a good driver. And I drive this van, well, like a damn soccer mom. I park crooked, or too far to one side or the other. I’m scared every time I back out that I’m going to hit something, or scrape something with my side. I have destroyed the van in our garage. I have scraped the side of the van on one side of the garage door, and then the other. I ran the front of the van into stupid plastic shelves that were full of paint cans, and the cans slammed down on the hood of the van and left scratches and dents. I just didn’t care. My husband threatened to humiliate me by hanging a tennis ball up to judge how far to pull in. That happened some time after I hit the shelves, and after I brought the garage door down on the back bumper. My van doesn’t have a name. It’s just the stupid van. It has ugly scratches all over it, deep into the paint and I hate it and I just don’t care. I usually keep a clean, neat car, but my daughter has totally trashed it out in the inside, and I just don’t care. Her dirty footprints are all over the seat just in front of her. There are french fries and school papers on the floorboards. I dumped the top half of a pan of baked beans onto the rug in the front seat, and didn’t even bother to clean it up. Words cannot describe how much I despise driving a minivan. In an attempt to be cute, my husband got me a personalized tag for the van: PEAPOD. We call our daughter Pea, and I once remarked that if she was the Pea, the van was the Peapod. So he got me the license tag. I hate it because everyone in town knows who I am. I can’t even flip anyone off in traffic. So these days, I drive angry. I don’t drive like a maniac, because I don’t want to hurt my daughter or anyone else, but I am just plain mad every time I get into that ugly thing. I look at pictures of my Porsche, and I don’t think I will ever get over it.