Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Channeling Dave Barry

The article below was originally published in the Kern Valley Sun. It is all true, and I recieved more feedback on this one than any other article I had published with them. I like to think I was channeling Dave Barry a little here. My mother used to read Dave Barry's articles to us every Sunday, and I always hear her voice speaking to me when I try to write something amusing.

I would like to point out that although the title of my blog is "My Mother Thinks I'm a Good Writer," she's not the only person who has supported me through all this. My father has also been very supportive, as well as my sister, my brother, my sister-in-law, my bro-mo-law (brother's mother in law), my aunts and uncles....the list goes on and on. Last summer they all tolerated listening to chapter after chapter of my Guinea Pig book. I think it might have been painful, but they cheerfully listened and offered feedback week after week.

Without further ado, here is the article.

My Humiliating Car
Until recently, I was still driving the same car which I drove in high school. Considering that I am now a high school teacher, the poor vehicle has been through a lot. My old car, a 1992 Dodge Shadow, was once a great high school vehicle and a decent college car, but every year, it’s been getting a little more banged up, a little more dilapidated. The air conditioning stopped working about a year ago, (summer was miserable), and the blinkers stopped working about six months after that.

Legally, you can still drive a car with no turn signals if you use hand signals. This means rolling down your window and sticking your arm out of the car, making it a target for wind, rain, chilly weather, gross bugs, and other people’s side mirrors. This is particularly unpleasant in the dead of winter.

In addition to these charming problems, the old car groaned and rattled every time I turned it on. Concerned strangers and acquaintances at random places like Rite-Aid, the Shell Station, or church, would frantically motion for me to stop and roll down my windows so they could say, “You may not realize this, but your car sounds terrible. It sounds like cats are being tortured in there. You might want to put some oil in that thing.”

“I know,” I would respond smiling ruefully after the fourth person had told me that in one day as if I somehow would not be aware of the hideous noises it was making. “It has a broken lifter,” I usually explained.

This was a lie. The truth was, my husband had practically rebuilt the car from the inside out and we still didn’t know what was wrong with the poor thing, but saying, “It’s a broken lifter,” seemed to make the concerned people in parking lots and the wanna-be mechanics at gas stations feel better. They would nod knowingly, and say, “Oh yeah, I hear it now. Yep, that’s a broken lifter.”

The other teachers, aides, and custodians at school would frequently ask me, “So how’s your car?” and then snicker snidely to themselves. My crummy little car became a poorly running joke almost everywhere I went.

Finally one day near the end of last year, as I was driving my sister to her wedding, the car began making a new horrendously terrible noise, (this one was less like tortured cats and more like yaks giving birth) and decided that now was the time to die. And it really died, with no hope of resuscitation. My sister, wearing her veil with her beautifully styled hair and makeup, and I had to push the car off to the side of the road and wait in a filthy parking lot to be rescued. Ah, memories.

Now, the Shadow and I had been through a lot together, so I observed a brief mourning period (about a week) and then my husband and I went out and bought a new car! The new car is shiny. It has no dings, its air conditioning works, and so do its turn signals. It is a lovely factory-new Toyota, the perfect car. The only trouble is, it’s a stick-shift. My Shadow was an automatic. It was easy and simple to drive. It magically knew when to shift gears with no prompting from me and that was a feature which I’m not sure I ever truly appreciated until the car had departed to those happy roadways in the sky.

I’m sure there were many good reasons why we chose to buy a stick-shift, but they escape my mind at the moment. All I can think about are the amount of times I have inconvenienced other drivers on the road by having my car die repeatedly at both of the stop-lights in Lake Isabella. I can also think about the times I have stalled the car in the middle of the high school parking lot and had my students point and laugh at me as they climb in their stick-shift cars and gleefully drive away as if it was the easiest thing in the world. I can also remember when, driving out of the parking lot in front of the Drugstore in Kernville, I had my car die three times in succession, much to the irritation of the honking driver behind me.

Oh well, soon I will have mastered driving the new car, and will hopefully have fewer and fewer of these embarrassing moments. In the meantime, if you get trapped driving behind a brand new Toyota whose owner seems thoroughly incompetent and possibly mentally ill, remember that it might be me, a pathetic high school teacher who loves teaching your kids, but just can’t drive a stick shift. Please don’t honk at me.

What about you? Do you have any humiliating car stories like mine? If so, please leave a comment below.

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