Tuesday, November 3, 2009

In the Driver's Seat

It's amazing to me that life's most insignificant moments (or so it seems at the time) end up defining us the most. I share one of these moments in my life with you guys. I hope it inspires you to conjure up your own from the forgotten corners of your mind. And if you're willing to share ~ even better. xo

In The Driver's Seat

It was the summer of '83 the first time I drove my Dad's car. We had pulled into the arena's vacant parking lot where my brother's gymnastics practice had been held. As he exited the car to fetch my brother, he instructed me to wait. I was left with the keys to entertain myself with the radio.

As I climbed from the backseat to the front in order to control the song selection (a rare privilege for the youngest of four kids), I slid comfortably into my Dad's spot. As I rapidly twisted the tuning knob that skipped over static and jumbled voices, my ears and fingers searched over the band waves for a likable selection.

Somewhere out in the city, a DJ randomly thumbs through his archives and pauses on an album cover featuring four band members doing their business on a cement piling in England. Sliding out the vinyl from its cardboard cover, his hands carry it to a turn table. He carefully places the needle in the groove that sends The Who's 'Baba O'Riley' through the receivers in his broadcast area. Meanwhile, my Dad's car keys still dangle from the ignition of his 88 Oldsmobile and my tuning fingers find what they were looking for.

(I don't need to fight...)

Perhaps it was the pure energy of Roger Daltry's voice that inspired me. Or perhaps Pete Townsend's power chords. Or maybe it was because I sensed I was on the verge of my own 'Teenage Wasteland'. But whatever it was, it influenced me to do something I never thought to do before.

(...to prove I'm right)

Fumbling down the side of the driver's seat, I find a network of switches and I blindly work automatic buttons that inch me closer to the dashboard. The switches pull me as far forward as General Motors would allow. Gripping the leather steering wheel with one hand, I turn the key with my other. One click further towards the dashboard brings the engine to life.

As I take my left foot off the brake, the car crawls forward. It's hard to believe I am responsible for making it move. So many times I had traveled by car, but this time it was me at the helm, in control. I press hard on the gas with my right foot and the car powerfully jumps forward. Panicking, my left foot finds the brakes as hard as my right foot had come down on the gas. Everything lurches forward then slams back; from loose change to scattered cassette tapes. And me. My heart races and I let out a weighted breath. I sit still for a moment, there in the late night, my arms hugging the steering wheel.

My eyes fix on the key ring rattling against the steering column. My hand hovers above the swaying set, my intention to stop its movement. But instead, I find myself continue just to the right of them. I reach for the volume and turn the chrome knob clockwise.

Music drowns out the hum of the engine and Keith Moon's drums explode within the car's small space. It swells my head and I am nowhere else but inside the song; the fusion of instruments pumping my adrenaline and I haven't even moved from my seat. With two hands on the wheel and my eyes transfixed on the windshield, I press the gas once more, this time with a steadier foot as the night sky opens itself before me.

(Sally, take my hand. We'll travel south cross land.)

My right foot gets real comfortable as it presses the pedal closer to the floor boards; the speedometer responding to its demand. My hands cross-cut over one another around the wheel while tires squeal over the asphalt. Only the stars above are witness to my antics. Them, a couple of lamp posts and the members of The Who.

It was a defining moment to move that car on my own for the first time. Without sitting on my Dad's knee while he reached the pedals for me. I didn't go far. Just a few donuts over the faded white paint marking the vacant spots that would house parked cars 12 hours from now. The exact number of my age at the time.

In that moment, I felt the world was laid out before me across that windshield, urging me to fill its space with whatever I wanted. Everything felt real and possible. I was excited for me. I remember feeling thrilled for my life. I was going to do great things and I was in control to make all those things happen.

(...before we get much older...)

When the song ended, I rolled the car back into its original location. I put the gear shift back in park, just where my Dad had left me before he went into the building. As he walked out of the arena with my brother; a gym bag slung over his shoulder, I was soon shifted to my usual spot in the backseat where all little sisters go. To them, no momentous occasion had taken place.

As we headed home, I hummed the tune that had radiated from the album now resting on a shelf in a DJ booth somewhere in the city. To my father and brother, nothing had changed.

But for me, everything had.


  1. That is very cool and I think I could seriously like the way you write. Well done! Of course, embarassingly, my first experience behind the wheel of a car found me searching for the clutch. There wasn't one and I didn't know what to do! I had only driven a forklift until that time and it always had a clutch. What did you do without one?!?!?!?!

  2. Tracey

    I'm getting ready for my trip, yay! I'll be freewheelin' in a Mustang, how does your twelve-year-old self like that one? I can tell you, my inner twelve-year-old can't wait to crank the Who along the Pacific Coast Highway....

    What a brave kid you were. I'd be terrified to do what you did. You must have really studied your dad to know how to drive! That is wild...I drove when I was nineteen, went to get my license so that Dianne Cross & I could go to The Royal Scot and drink. You needed picture I.D. you see. And since I *looked* twelve until I was twenty-seven, I really needed that I.D.!! LOL

    I love that you are weaving these musings and memoirs in with your recipes...makes a nice tapestry for us, thank you!


  3. Thanks, guys! Well, Steve, if his 88 Oldsmobile had a clutch, I wouldn't have this story to write! I remember thinking how hard could it be to slide the line from 'P' to 'D'??? Gillian, embrace your 12-year-old self on your trip! A Mustang - awesome! Be sure to play some WHO while cruising in L.A. Yes, the Scot. Remember it well. However did any of us get in back then? I think we all looked eleven at the time...ha!

  4. You were one lucky little girl to have not been caught! I can SOOOOO picture you doing that!
    I only thought your driving memories involved the EAGLES!!!!
    Too bad there wasn't a carton of eggs on the seat when you slammed on the brakes, you could have weaved in a recipe for omelettes or a fritata.

  5. My daughter logged in and did the bacon comment. Sheesh - kids!


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