Sunday, January 31, 2010
How I Spent Last Sunday Giving Parking Lessons to my Dear Old Mother.
Last Sunday morning I was home enjoying an exceptional view of the valley. The sky was crisp blue and the air was clean, a real treat considering the muck we’ve had to breath for the last several weeks.
“Victor!” mother called from the door leading to my home's basement apartment. She was using her “I’m going to ask you to do something so I’ll use my kind, less shrill” voice.
“Yes,” I hesitated in responding. She knew I was home so remaining silent wouldn’t be wise. It would only result in a personal visit up the stairs.
“Would you take me driving so I can practice parallel parking?”
I let her words hang in the air until the shock of their meaning dissipated to the point where I could respond. My mind went through thousands of calculations in an attempt to rearrange the universe in such a way that I could get out of doing it without disappointing her. I opened my mouth to lie....
“Yes, I’ll take you,” I said. I don’t knew where those words came from. I suspect guilt planted them into my head. She needed help and I was home. It was a son’s duty. I also realized that her chances of passing the parallel parking part of the driving test were as good as dad ever saying “I’m tired of working. I’m going tot take the rest of my life off.”
“Let’s go,” she shouted. Her excitement reminded me of a dog circling and yapping in delight after realizing he’s about to get to ride in the back of the pickup truck for a trip into town.
I fell to my knees realizing the mortal danger I’d put myself into. I prayed, using my own made up prayer; afterwards, thinking my own prayer for safety wouldn’t be enough, I went online and did a quick Google search for “Prayers for Driving Instructors”. I found a good one, fell again to my knees and recited it word for word. I heard her ascending the steps. I closed my computer, put on my coat went into the kitchen, opened my desk, and searched for my amulets. I found my Rabbit’s foot and plastic Buddha. I couldn’t find my Star of David but felt it would be OK considering we doing this on a Sunday, and Sunday wasn’t the Jewish Sabbath. I put the two items in my coat pockets and turned to select a cross necklace from the many hanging around the wooden banister separating my kitchen and living room. They were sent to me by dozens of Catholic charity searching for donations. Sheezzzz, I gave a couple bucks to a Catholic homeless shelter for teens in New York City and Presto... my name is spread to every Catholic charity world wide. I selected the cross sent by the Sister of Ever Increasing Hope, put it around my neck and walked out to the garage to meet her.
“Get in,” she said. She was sitting in the driver’s seat of her Titanic sized Lincoln Town Car. I got in. She backed out of the Garage without hitting anything. Fortuna was with us I thought. I thought too soon. She didn’t take the driveway at an angle causing the car to scrape against the rise where the driveway and sidewalk meet at a sharp incline. I cringed at the sound of metal on concrete. She didn’t hear or feel it. She was too busy finding the road. She managed to find Drive and we jerked forward.
“How’am I doing?” she said as she leaned forward to rest her chin on the steering wheel - her favored driving position. You see, she has a cataract in her right eye, so she really only sees out of her left. She thinks she has a better view of the road if she leans forward that extra foot and a half. The hood of the Lincoln stretching out several yards doesn’t help. I fastened my seat belt and rubbed the cross around my neck praying to Saint Christopher for deliverance.
I watched her as we rolled down the hill. Her eyes were wide open staring at the road ahead.
“What’s the speed limit,” she shouted nearly sending me out the door. I was clutching the door handle anyway, ready to jump and roll if necessary. You know the old adage, at sea - its every man for himself on a sinking ship.
“Twenty Five,” I shouted back. She slammed on the brake to slow from 18 miles per hour to 12.
“Read this,” she tossed a yellow paper at me containing the notes written by the driving evaluator from her last failed attempt to pass the driving test. He’d written that she wasn’t looking over her shoulder when changing lanes.
“You’re not looking over your shoulder when changing lanes,” I said.
“Where?” she shouted. Her foot found the brake again. A radar gun would have clocked us at 8 miles an hour at that point. She jerked her head left and right looking for something that wasn’t there.
“When you change lanes - you need to look over your shoulder,” I explained.
“Oh..... got it,” she answered. Our speed increased. I looked at the paper again. Down in the bottom corner I found a cross drawn in ink. Below it were these words, “Pray for us now and in the hour of our death Amen.” I recognized them from the Catholic “Hail Mary” prayer.
“Mom, was your last driving evaluator Hispanic?” I asked.
“How did you know?” she answered. I let it go.
We approached the traffic light at the bottom of the road on 1100 North. She was going to merge to the left to get into the turning lane. She braked, then spun her head violently to the left to check for cars creeping up beside her. Then, to my surprise, she spun her head to the right to check for cars. We stopped on the red. We waited. Her hands clutched the wheel. My hands clutched the dashboard. The light turned green. We didn’t move. Yes, she saw the green but was busy looking to the left and right for oncoming cars.
“Go?” she shouted out the question, unsure of herself.
“Yes, its green?”
“Yes.. GO!” And go she went, pedal to the medal. I believe the Lincoln rolled up on its right two tires on that corner.
“God help us,” I mumbled.
“WHERE?” she shouted. Her foot found the brake again.
“Keep going,” I said loud enough for her to hear.
A quarter mile down the road we came to the school crossing zone.
“School Zone,” she said. “They’ll get me if I don’t slow down.” We slowed.
“Mother, its Sunday. There is no school.”
“Does it matter?” she asked.
“Slow down only if there are children present or if the yellow lights are flashing.” I reminder her.
“That’s were Judy lives. She’s my friend,” she said as we passed the large house next to the cemetery.
“Who drives when you and Judy go out?” I asked.
“Judy drives,” she replied.
Yes, I was right. I knew Judy would be the designated driver. Would you let an old lady with one good eye and paranoid of everything else on the road drive you anywhere?
We got to the light on Center Street. She was going to turn right. Again, she cranked her head to the left and right before signalling the turn and moving into the right turning lane.
“Why are you looking over your left shoulder when you’re making a right hand turn?” I asked. “You said the instructor wrote that I needed to look over my shoulder when changing lanes. Did he write that or not?” she asked a bit perturbed.
“Ma, look over your shoulder at the lane you’re moving into to check for traffic, not at the lane you’re moving out of,” I explained.
“Well make up your mind,” she shot back.
The rest of the way to the driving range was filled with the same. She cranked her head to the left and to the right all the way down the road, at every intersection, at every stop sign and every time she changed lanes no matter what direction she was turning.
We managed to get to the driving range alive. She pulled up to the tall cone markers marking the place where parallel parking was tested.
“This is where I keep failing,” she hissed as we pulled up to the front two cones marking where the back bumper of a parked car would be. Behind us stood two taller cones marking where the front bumper of another parked car would be.
“I’ve got to get this car in there,” she said point to the small open space between the two sets of several orange cones stacked on on top of the other.
“OK, let’s do this,” I said. Hoping for the best. For the next ten minutes she maneuvered the car. First forward, then she would check the position of the front cones. Then backward and rechecking the positions of the cones. She was looking for some magical sweet spot that would guarantee a perfect park. I urged her to just “Do it already”. She bit her bottom lip, cranked the wheel and hit the gas.
We stopped after the back right tire went up and over the curb.
“Damn,” she mumbled as she shifted from reverse into drive and peeled forward out into the driving lane and into the parking lot. She turned hard left, circling around, passing the parking test point into the opposite parking lot. She made another hard left and pulled back into position to try it all over again. I’ll call that her classic Circle 8 maneuver.
She tried again. Success! We didn’t climb the curb. We also didn’t parallel park. We ended up half in the parking place and half into the road.
“Damn,” she mumbled and stepped onto the gas. Another classic Circle 8 maneuver.
The next time I talked and talked and talked her through the parking. We moved slowly an inch at a time. It was nearly a success. We did another circle 8 to reposition the car for another attempt.
By this time I was getting car sick with all the circle 8’s. We were into it 20 minutes and I had to get out or I’d loose my lunch, breakfast and supper from the night before. I got out of the car and stood beside the cones. I talked her through a half dozen attempts. She got the last one right! There were cheers. She was so proud of herself. She insisted she do it again. She got the next half dozen wrong. Her problem was she couldn’t see the cones very well. She also freaked out because the Lincoln had a backing up alarm. Every time she’d get close to the back cones the alarm rang sending her into shock. Thirty minutes into the practice she became desensitized to the alarm.
On the 19th attempt she successfully knocked over the back two cone pillars.
“Damn it,” she mumbled and sped off into another circle 8. On her next attempt she knocked over the front left set of cones. By then I’d had enough. I got in the drivers seat. She stood outside and I parallel parked the car several times so she could see how it was done. Half the time she seemed more interested in the cones than my demonstration. She thought they were lower than the last time she attempted to pass the driving test.
She got in again even more determined to succeed. I remained in the car and tried to teach her to focus more on the mirrors than cranking her head around so much.
“Mirrors! I can’t see the cones in the mirrors!” she shouted.
“Are you telling me that you can’t see the cones in this mirror?” I said pointing to the mirror on the outside of my door.
“Am I suppose to?” she asked. I heard a chuckle from the back seat. I turned, and for a brief thousandth of a second I thought I saw what appeared to be an angel. Her guardian angel. The one she says is there to help with her driving. It was all just too much. I moved the mirror until she saw the cones in their right position.
“Look at that, I can see the cones!” she said happily. After that, she parked nearly perfectly.
She had parallel parking mastered and it only took 90 minutes to do it!
On the way home she got a phone call from my father. I answered it fearing to let her talk on the phone and drive at the same time.
“How many cones did she know over?” he asked from work. My dad works at Walmart. He retired many years ago, has plenty of money but likes to work to keep busy.
“Ask her if she’s going to Walmart today,” he asked.
“If he needs me to go I will,” she replied. I passed the message back to dad.
“Tell her I need my three D’s” he responded. “Do you know what the three D’s are?” he asked.
“No,” I said, and in reality I didn’t care to know.
“Drink, dinner and dessert,” he said. I passed the information to mom and the call ended. I thought for a moment. That entire conversation seemed strange.
“Mom, Dad’s at work. He’s at WalMart. He’s asking you to drive to Walmart to pick up a drink, dinner and dessert. Why? He’s already there. Why doesn’t he do it himself?”
“He thinks it tastes better If I do it?” she answered as she cranked her head back and forth so much I didn’t need the window down for a breeze. Her head was fanning the air enough.
I was never so happy to get home in my life than I did last Sunday. The next day she went in and took her driving test. She passed!
“I passed,” she said when she got home.
“Any problems?” I asked.
“Nope. I got up and had a revelation. I realized the Lincoln was too big so your father and I rented a small compact car for the day and that's what I used for my driving test. I parked that small thing on the first try. Thanks for you help honey!”
"You're welcome. I'm glad you passed. I told you you could do it. I never lost faith," I lied while feeling peeved I spent all that time on Sunday trying to teach her to park that Titanic Lincoln. Now hopefully her license will be valid enough years so I can recover before it all has to be done over again.