n our congested city street, my mom offered me my first driving lessons in her red Ford Escort. Usually, she let me drive the car wherever I wanted to go--it was just neighborhood streets: a lot of stop signs and controlled 10-15 mph driving. You rarely took a car out of third gear in the neighborhood--if you did it would be just a little reckless. Even with the herky-jerky nature of driving a manual car along city streets, neither the manual shifter nor the need for double parking posed any problems--handling the compact car came naturally to me.
Joey, my tall neighborhood friend, came along during one of my earliest lessons. He and his bony knees wedged themselves into the back seat. He had been taking his own driving lessons with his father in what was soon to be Joey's gold Plymouth.
As I pressed the clutch and started the car, mom turned towards me in the passenger seat, smiling. We hadn't eaten dinner yet; my mom once again sacrificing her time (and a prime parking spot near the house) right after work.
Finding a parking spot near your own house anytime after 5pm was often forged out of sheer luck and patience. A familiar topic of conversation in our neighborhood was how many times someone drove around and around the neighborhoods, in ever widening concentric rectangles in search of the perfect parking space near your house.
The genesis of some of the best neighborhood angst included being in a car when you passed up a space in the hope of a better, closer, space only to find that someone else nabbed it during your next trip around the block.
I liked pulling myself into the driver's seat as if I were a stock car driver entering through the driver's-side window--only, in this case, the car door would be completely open. I watched a lot of shows with cars in them: The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider, Starsky and Hutch, Magnum P.I. and even old men such as Jim Rockford and Quincy, M.D. all jumped into their cars to hurtle to something exciting, dangerous, and sexy. My fantasized stock car entrance occurred by grabbing the roof of the car in a psuedo-chin-up position and swinging my legs in and then under the red steering wheel.
Satisfied with myself I closed the car door and started it--this is when I turned and saw my mom smiling at me, ready to guide me through my next driving lesson.
Before pulling out, and out of force of habit with hopping into a car with friends, I turned and asked Joey, whose eyes reflected the enormity of the mistake I made as it came out of my mouth, "So, where are we drinking tonight?"
"Get out of the car, Brian."
Sheepishly, I did while Joey slid home quietly.
There ended the lesson.