“O.K. Get in the driver’s seat!” My dad said, expectantly.
He looks like he’s having too much fun.
I walked over to the driver’s side of The Silver Bullet – which was the name of the silver Volvo that we’d had in our family for at least five years by then – and my dad jumped into the passenger seat, looking excited.
At 15, I couldn’t wait to drive. But it was the stick shift that scared me. Lessons with my mom to date had been miserable: I’d seen her dramatic seizing of the arm rest between us each time I choked the clutch, gained more momentum than 20 miles per hour, and spoke on that drive. She made me terrified of the road, even though I was only driving on the residential streets of our neighborhood. She made those little lanes look like evil avenues of massacre.
Not that my dad’s childlike glee was any better. What is he looking forward to? Is something fun going to happen? Am I supposed to make this a car-fest – Lalalpalooza in the Silver Bullet? I couldn’t help but wonder, as I started the car to convulsions, and then heard my dad’s uproarious giggle.
“Clutch all the way down while you start the car, Kate. And you start it in first gear. Brian must have left it in third when he took the car last night. But remember: always start the car in first gear, and make sure it’s in first when you park and shut off the ignition.”
How am I supposed to remember that? I can’t even start this fucking thing.
“Dad, don’t laugh. I can’t concentrate.”
Success! I started the car, and we were rolling! Rolling toward the palm tree at the end of the driveway. Fuck.
“DAD!” I shrieked, over his boisterous laughter. “DAD!” I slammed on the brake, letting go of the clutch, and Chug! Chug! Chug! We ground to a quaking halt, my dad’s laughter getting higher in pitch and louder in volume.
Out of the driveway now, ready to kick my dad out of the car at the next joyful outburst, I was going 25. 30. 35. This feels natural. No gripping of the arm rest. My dad was chatting away about something I’d never remember later, something that couldn’t possibly have mattered more than my fight to keep us alive on this treacherous stretch of pavement.
Arcadia Lane is no match for me. Gliding, listening to my dad’s story about one of his recent cases, finding it mildly amusing, even – even though I’m driving! I can drive and listen to dad at the same time!
Oh, fuck. The stop sign. Nervous, since gears would need to be shifted and my feet would have to rotate positions below me, I slammed on the gas, not the brake.
I’d never heard my dad laugh so hard. I was gunning it through the stop sign at 30 miles per hour, taking our lives into my hands because my feet wouldn’t do what my panicked brain was telling them to. The Menace of Arcadia Lane – I could feel the headline cranking on the printing press as I took us through the stop sign, Thelma and Louise without a cliff, my dad every bit as calm as Geena Davis, as road rules were damned by my well-intentioned, bad driving. He bellowed.
“That’s IT!” I yelled, when I had us safely to the other side of the intersection where I’d unwittingly attempted to kill us, saved only by the fact that we were in a residential setting, where the odds of a fellow driver approaching the same stop sign at that very moment highly favored us.
“Get OUT! I’m tired of your laughing! I’m terrified!”
“Come on, Kate! We’re almost home. You’re doing great.” I could see how hard my dad was trying to encourage me, to instill the very confidence in me that he had, knowing that somehow we would live to my 16th birthday, and that I would live on the road for many years thereafter.
But I couldn’t be so sure. I’d seen my mom’s terror manifest in her white-knuckled clutch of the arm rest – and I shared it, much as I’d rather have been endowed with my dad’s sunnier view of life and everything in it, including his daughter’s insane attempts to master the clutch of a stick shift car.
“No. I’m done. You drive down the block and get us home.”