License to Drive

[Welcome, Carnival of the Mundaners. This story was originally written back in 2003, as #109 in the Hyperion Chronicles, and reprinted here for the Carnival.]

License to Drive

There are dividing times in our lives; B.C./A.D. moments. The first time we experience severe disappointment or loss, the moment we become “legal” and for most of us, the moment we can drive.

For me, driving held a specific purpose. I’ll call her “Crystal.” Ever since 9th grade I’d worshipped this girl—no: this goddess—from afar. She was smart, funny, and she had this laugh…sigh. She had long blond curly hair that she would sort of half-flip when she was laughing…sigh. Sorry, but memories, you know?

A young fifteen-year old me desired nothing so much as to take this perfect creation out on a date. As my 16th Birthday approached, I nervously brought the subject up, and Crystal said when I had my license, I could take her out.

Oh happy day! [Cue picture of me running through sprinklers with a rainbow in the sky while Hallelujah plays in the background] However: events conspired against me, and I didn’t quite have my license by my birthday.

Of course, I didn’t tell her that. I wasn’t really lying, because I was going to get it any day, right? Upon more mature consideration, I was lying, but if you just could have seen that 4000-watt smile!! Okay: I have no excuse. I was a 16 year old male thinking with my, um, heart, not my head. Tell me you’ve never done it!

In a perfect world, I would have gotten the license before she was the wiser, and we’d be married with three kids by now. Unfortunately, the gods of fate had other ideas. My entire family was going away for several days. Crystal knew about this, because maybe I’d sort of mentioned it, perhaps hoping that after the date she might be too tired to go all the way home and want to sleep at my house. I know: I’m an idiot.

(amazingly, ours was even bigger....and uglier)

Let me break my narrative for a moment to tell you about the car. A 1979 two-tone brown Buick LeSabre, it was one of the heaviest production vehicles ever made. My little sisters couldn’t close the doors, and I once got rammed by a truck at 45 m.p.h. and didn’t even realize until I was told!

Crystal lived outside of town, in what we then politely referred to as B.F.E. We’re talking cow country. Right before you get to the house is a big Double-back Curve. I didn't think anything of it at the time.

(some caution signs are more suggestions. Some aren't)

I got to Crystal’s house, talked with her parents (thank God they didn’t ask to see my license), and soon we were on our way; I on my best driving behavior to impress Crystal and not get a ticket.

Our planned outing had us driving two towns over to see Basic Instinct. For those of you who don’t remember, this was a controversial mystery/sex thriller. Of course, taking her to a movie that might arouse and scare her at the same time never occurred to me. Like any gentlemen, I took her to eat first: drive-thru Taco Bell. It was in the line to get food that I casually mentioned how I didn’t have my license yet.

[Men: let me take a moment here to clear up a misconception. When women say they want the truth no matter what, they aren’t serious. They don’t want the truth. If they did, they wouldn’t associate with us. They want to be lied to. Don’t disappoint them.]

She was…concerned, and I thought the date might dissolve right there in line, but fortunately I survived by explaining that even though I didn’t have my license, I liked her so much and she was so beautiful, that I couldn’t wait until I was legit. Crystal was mollified.

[Men: this brings me to my second piece of advice, straight from Homer Simpson: “When it comes to compliments, women are like ravenous, blood-sucking monsters. They always want more, more more!”]

On the way to the theatre we got lost, and I asked Crystal which way to turn (she was supposed to look for the hard-to-find street signs), and she replied, “This way.”

This way? It’s night, I am trying to watch 19 lanes of traffic in a car by myself for the first time, in a city I don’t know, and she tells me to turn “this way”??? I asked her if that was opposed to… and she broke in with, “That way.” Crystal swore that all women know the difference between this way and that way. I’ve since found that this is true. Yet another reason why I always get directions from a guy. It’s not that the women would give bad directions; it’s just that they speak a different language.

(To a teenager, this is Spanish Fly)

We finally got there, and Crystal was carded. Would nothing on this date go right? With a heavy heart (that Basic Instinct was part of my plan!) we drove back into my town and saw some Blame it on the Bellboy. Needless to say, Crystal did not get scared and need to hold on to me, and Dudley Moore certainly didn’t help..

(less Spanish Fly, more Human Fly)

After the movie, it was time to go home. I was a little disappointed, but I had made it through the night without any major mishaps, and I was with the most beautiful creature God ever conceived, so life was good. I was mentally congratulating myself for pulling off the evening when we came to the big double-back curve near her house. I had been going the 55 m.p.h. speed limit, but it was so dark I forgot that curve was there and didn’t slow down for it. I slammed on the brakes and we went into a full quadruple spin. Michelle Kwan would have been impressed.

The whole time Crystal was screaming, and when the car stopped we had made it through the curve and were still on the road. Crystal was breathing heavily in the adrenaline rush that happens after a near accident, and her eyes were shining, big as teacups. This was almost as good as Basic Instinct, but it was late, so I took her home and headed back.

Older and wiser, I took that curve at a snail’s pace. But then, Idiocy struck my brain. It occurred to me that the spin-out we made would have laid hellacious skid-marks on the road, and it would be cool to see them. I put the car in Reverse and slowly backed up looking for these tracks. Dark as it was, I couldn’t see them, and I was so intent on looking at the ground in front of me I didn’t pay enough attention to the road behind me. I heard my back two wheels start to crunch on the side of the road. I knew there wasn’t much gravel before the embankment went down into a ditch, and that was not good. I panicked a bit and got out of there by hitting the gas.

As luck would have it, I skipped the oh-so-important step of taking the car out of Reverse and putting it into Drive. So when my gigantic LeSabre sprung into action at the prodding of my foot, it went backwards down into the ditch! Too late I realized my error. I put the car in Drive and tried to get out of the ditch. That only succeeded in embedding me in the ditch. I put the car in Park and got out to push. Of course, pushing an eight-ton car out of a ditch is not the easiest of tasks, and when the vehicle is in Park it’s impossible. What I ended up with was one back wheel buried in the embankment, and one wheel spinning freely, and me covered in mud.

It was at this point I remembered that I didn’t have a license, and with my luck a helpful police officer would come by to assist me. I wouldn’t be driving until I was forty. My only other alternative was to walk back to Crystal’s house. I made that mile-long trek. I was already filthy, and it was so blasted dark I kept losing my way on the road and half-falling into the ditch, so by the time I got there, in my little pathetic shirt-and-tie-and-mud ensemble, I was quite a sight.

I also had to prepare a story. I couldn’t very well tell them that I had backed up in the middle of nowhere to see tire tracks I’d made on the way in, almost killing their daughter. I told them I braked sharply for a rabbit, and spun into the ditch.

(at night they're a lot harder to see)

Crystal’s mother was very comforting, and her father hooked up his spotlight and winch to his truck, and we all went to rescue my car. With the giant spotlight, the skid-marks were visible, and, you’ll be happy to know, quite impressive. Unfortunately, they were also at least 50 feet from the car. The two women didn’t seem to notice, but I saw Crystal’s dad look from those skid-marks to the car several times, mentally calculating how it could have happened. But he’d been a scared kid once too, I guess, and he never said a word.

We towed the car back to the house and sprayed the mud off. It looked horrible. By then, I was a mess. I started shaking and I didn’t think I could drive. Crystal’s mom offered me a shot of brandy to calm my nerves, but I could just picture what would happen if I took her up on that, so I declined. Crystal’s dad told me driving would calm me, and he was right. I had no problems on the way home, and I was finally free of this whole ordeal.

Until I looked at the gas gauge. What had started at ¾ full was now 1/8. I was pretty sure my parents would notice. I should have just driven to a gas station, and let them handle it (we were a full-service state), but I was still pretty shook up, and didn’t want to take any chances, like pulling into the wrong side. I went around the car in my driveway for ten minutes looking for the little square where the gas went in.

Friends, I know you’re not going to believe this, but I tell you the truth: there was no gas cap! Apparently this car went by magic, because I looked for three hours and never found a thing.

There was nothing left to do but to wait the rest of the week, and take my medicine when they got home. But those gods of fate, perhaps deciding they’d been hard enough on me, had one more trick to pull. The Buick was my mother’s primary car. Up until recently I don’t think she was aware there was a gas gauge (or a speedometer, for that matter), and she never checked it. After a week at the beach neither parent remembered how much gas had been in the car, and if they had suspicions, they kept them to themselves.

So I survived, sort of. My parents never found out (unless, of course, they read this column). As years went on, it did make an amusing story, but I will never forget that harrowing night, with one blunder after another. And the next time you read my illuminating Chronicles and think, “He’s so perfect,” you can remind yourself that even great writers don’t always act that way.

Or this way. I still haven’t figured it out.

April 3, 2003

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Anonymous said...

You never cease to amaze me

Tracy Lynn said...

That reminds me of the 'small furry object' I claimed caused me to take out 50 feet of post and rail fence, doing some spectacular and ultimately fatal damage to my car in the process, a mere two days after getting my license.

Oh yeah, and then it was in the town newspaper. Ah, youth.

Anonymous said...

I think this column is even funnier now than is was back in aught-three!