Sunday, June 27, 2021


I am fairly certain that I did a few things right by my father as I was growing up; however, I know that learning to drive was not one of them. 

To this day, I wince at some of the stupidity I exhibited as we drove our family car around the parking lot at Wheeling Park High School and on the one road in our neighborhood. I practiced driving on a stick shift. I am glad I learned to drive that way, but I was so terrible at pushing in the clutch and shifting the gear from first to second back then. Crunch! Grind! Halt! I could sense the growing disappointment with each of my father's deep sighs. 

The frustration melted from my father's face whenever I could successfully shift into a higher gear and move forward steadily. But, unfortunately, roads are not straight for very long around West Virginia, and I would eventually need to slow down to make a turn.

I grew up watching Speed Racer. Speed was so cool to me. I loved the way he would zip around those turns, repeatedly crossing his arms and spinning the steering wheel of the Mach 5 round and round and round. If anyone came too close or got in his way, he could bump them off the road, through a guardrail, and into a deep ravine. Speed Racer and the Mach 5 would just keep moving ahead on the road in front of them. He made driving look so easy. 

"Stop turning the wheel like that!" my dad would yell. "Never, ever, keep your arms crossed when you are turning! Slow down and move your hands! You are going to have an accident because you have no control over the car! "

I would give my dad this bewildered look as I sat with my left and right arms still locked across the steering wheel because I could not quite figure out the timing to move my hands around the wheel.  One problem had blended into the next. I struggled with down-shifting, so I took turns faster than I should, holding onto the wheel for dear life.  I was such a doofus. 

My issues with turns have followed me throughout life. From time to time, I find myself too close to a curb and ride over it. You see, I am terrified of making a wide turn into someone else's lane. I witness other people doing this all of the time. I am speechless as they leave a parking lot or make a turn at a light only to glide cavalierly into the next lane instead of carefully taking the time to stay in their own lane. 

"Wide turn. Wide. WIDE!" I can hear my dad's crescendoing voice as he tried to appear comfortable in the passenger seat, hoping that I would not lose my confidence. "If another car is coming, you will be right in front of it. That is their lane." While I still wanted to be Speed Racer, I knew my cartoon idol would never drive straight into an oncoming car. So I played small and hugged my side of the road, occasionally riding tires over a curb, eliciting a Bump! and Thump! from the car and a "Curb. That's a curb!" from my father. 

The world has changed since I struggled with the complexities of the clutch and making turns. More country roads and endless highways have opened to me, and more drivers have joined me traveling to their own metaphorical destinations. I learned a long time ago that a wide turn is just not suitable beyond the confines of a quiet road, regardless of how separate from the rest of the world we think we are. A wide turn can take another person by surprise, forcing him off his path. A wide turn can change a person's attitude and how a person sees the rest of the world. After all, we do not drive these roads and highways by ourselves.

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