Friday, December 19, 2008

Lessons Well Taught

It's snowing today. Unless you've been living under a rock, this isn't exactly news. No offense to anyone actually living under a rock, although I imagine that would be a pretty cold rock right about now.

Last night was my office holiday party where I dusted off my atrophied pool playing skills without embarrassing myself too much. A rare event indeed. I actually made an outstanding combination shot that had to be seen to be believed - except no one was there to see it as my opponent had taken a potty break and no one else around me was paying attention. Typical. But then I won a raffle and got a $50 Home Depot gift card, so I was mollified.

I had traffic problems (must be a day ending in y) as I was winding my way from our sister office through idiot accidents on all major highways involving the number 8 - 280W, 80w, and 287N. I felt a little like Count Von Count from Sesame Street - EIGHT! EIGHT IS THE NUMBER OF THE ROAD! EH HEH HEH!!

Our office was a graveyard this morning, staffers wandering through the halls in ball caps and Saturday clothes. Thank God for bagel Fridays. Nothing like a deluge of carbs to weigh down a lazy morning. This close to Christmas things for us are fairly quiet, though our sister company is overwhelmed with launching several new brands for the new year and my department has been pitching in there for the last few months. Still, there wasn't a hell of a lot going on today. The snow didn't deign to start till nearly 10:00 when it blew in with a vengeance. Around 10:30, our CEO got on the paging system and played "Baby it's Cold Outside" and then gave us the gift of closing the office at noon. I think she was as eager as the rest of us to get out of there and home safe and sound. Unfortunately, her musical introit opened the floodgates for a flurry of Christmas songs on our office stereo - er, paging system - by anonymous deejays culminating with Porgy Pig's rendition of Blue Christmas, which I had nothing, nothing to do with, I swear.


At 11:30, our CEO sent out another e-mail that said, "if you're reading this at your desk - leave." I took her word for it, packed up, and invoked my Nanook of the North street cred to brave the elements. I couldn't clean my Honda off fast enough; by the time I finished with the passenger side windows, the rear window was covered over again. I finally headed out and, with the first slide out of the parking lot, settled in for the battle.

I do not understand why the slightest precipitation seems to rob the surrounding population of every brain cell in their collective heads. I just don't Get It. Please, whilst driving in a winter snowstorm, DO NOT get into the bloody left hand lane, cutting me off and spraying snow all over my windshield in the process, and then flip on the hazards and SLOW DOWN. Not Good.


A cavalcade of 18-wheeler trucks limped up the left-hand lane on 287N, blinding any and all possible visual perception. Nonetheless, I soldiered on, employing one or two slightly daring maneuvers, mumbling careful, careful to myself the whole way, as though willing my recklessness to behave more rationally until I managed to push through to an open pocket. See, the danger in driving in these conditions is not just only the treacherous roads or impaired visibility, but the stupidity of the complete and utter jack holes driving around you.

Anyways. My Honda behaved admirably, even on the vastly more treacherous local roads. This is when my stick-shift training came into use. I learned to drive in a VW Rabbit stick-shift that I affectionately called "The Turtle" not for its performance, but rather its dark green color. Plus, there was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle - Michelangelo, I think - that a friend had won me in the claw game on the Point Pleasant boardwalk. It held a place of honor on my dashboard for a while. Only four gears in that bunny, people, five if you count reverse, which I didn't. My father endured death defying feats in the parking lot of what used to be E. Toff Drug Store while teaching me tricks of the stick shift. Like the fact that you don't actually have to flip a turn signal fully on, but can just push it slightly with your finger and then release when done. This maneuver is best employed when changing lanes and helps prevent the toggle from getting stuck blinking ad infinitum while one drives on obliviously. And did you know? It also applies to automatic cars! He also taught me to downshift when approaching red lights so as not to wear out my brakes. Also a tidy thing to do in raging snow and rain storms so that the whole car works to slow down rather than its entire weight resting on the brakes.

See Dad, I do listen. Sometimes.

Though my Honda is an automatic, I still drive with my hand on the stick and if I'm driving a van or a rental car with the gear shift behind the steering wheel, every single time, my hand will still reach for the stick in between the seats, falling ignobly into empty space. And every time I drive in dodgy weather - like, say, today, - I still downshift on hills and through turns. At one point today, I was pulling out of a parking lot and had to stop behind a ginormous F-15000000 truck. He pulled out, no problem; but because I had to stop behind him, I was now stuck in a rut thanks to the local construction and, oh yeah, THE SNOW. Did I panic? I think not. I rocked the car into reverse and then plunged forward and free - learned on the stick shift baby. Later, as I was nearing home, sliding through my last left turn, and I do mean sliding as the roads had yet to be plowed, I reached for the stick to downshift and found it already all the way down in second gear or D2 as my Honda calls it. Ha! Yes, I actually thought to myself, HA!

Instinctive? Yep. A lesson well-taught nearly in spite of myself?

You betcha.

My young friend, Keyrsten, is learning how to drive now, with a mobile unit of prayer coverage hovering over her every step of the way. I've driven with her; I know of what I speak. She's no worse than I was at that age - and no cracks about how much better she may be than me now, thank you. But I think of these things when we talk about driving or when I'm picking her up from her job at the mall, or if we're driving somewhere together. I don't want her to pick up my bad habits, but I think of these good ones and hope she learns them. I think of the pleasure I still take in driving a stick shift car, in the control it gives you over the machine, in the joy of surging forward through the gears, the melody of 2nd to 3rd and 3rd to 4th. I drove a stick shift through nearly 2/3 of Ireland and loved every hill and valley I curved through (though perhaps not so much the bridge wall an 18-wheeler scraped me against in rain and the dark of Western Ireland.)

I guess I may have a few things of my own to teach well too.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely - why can't I even REMEMBR Friday??? My brain is FRIED!!!!