Sunday, May 30, 2010

It is not the car.

I started this blog one year ago. It amazes me I'm still writing it, or that anyone reads it. The blog friends I've made makes it all worthwhile. I was going to write a whole big blog about it being the one year anniversary but instead I got a call from my sister, Nina.

"Can you come over around noon? I've talked Bruce, the man who overhauled the Buick, into coming out and checking the clutch and the transmission and maybe giving us a driving lesson."

I haven't driven the Buick since that disastrous day in February when I ground the gears and nearly took out a tree trying to turn without any power steering. I drove down to Oregon and screeched to a halt in front of my sister's house. Bruce, the grey-haired mechanic, stood beside an old Rambler station wagon, smoking a Pall Mall. He looked like an ad from the 1950s.

"You ready?" he asked.

"Have you driven it around to see if there is something horribly wrong with the transmission or the clutch?" I asked.

He took a puff on the cigarette, his eyes on me, and flicked it into the gutter, blowing out a cloud of smoke. "There is nothing wrong with the car," he said, his face hard.

I got a chill. "Well, then, sure. Sure. Let's go."

We got in and it took me about ten minutes to get it started. There are more floor pedals than a pipe organ and the levers on the dash and steering wheel are daunting. It finally caught and we jerked out of the driveway and all the way across the street, stopping just short of the curb. For the next few minutes I worked the shift out of reverse and into first. My father hadn't arrived yet and if you grind the gears when your father isn't there, do they make a sound?

With Mr. Bruce telling me when to shift, how fast to shift, when to double-clutch and when to downshift, I did pretty well. I made it back to the house and Laurent became the next student. While they were gone, my sister, Nina, arrived with my parents and we waited until we heard the Buick pull up. Laurent got out and Nina propped herself behind the wheel with a couple of pillows and my mother got into the back. Bruce stayed in the front passenger seat. They pulled out onto the street and headed for the corner.

"That was pretty smooth," I said. "She's doing a good job."

Grind. We could hear it a block away.

My father just hunched his shoulders and sank into a lawn chair. I sat next to him and we listened for the car to return. Neither one of us talked much but when we did it was mostly about the fact that it was starting to rain and he didn't think the windshield wipers worked very well. We waited. And we waited. My father shifted in his seat, looking down the road. I glanced at my watch every couple of minutes.

Twenty minutes later, Nina jogged up the sidewalk. My father groaned and I made the sign of the cross. "What happened?"

"We think we ran out of gas." She panted past us into the garage and dug out a red, plastic gas can. She shook it. It probably contained a half a gallon.

I pulled my keys out of my pocket and unlocked my door. "Hop in," I said. "Where is it?"

"In the middle of main road." The main road is only a 25 mph speed limit and lots of people drive little golf carts on it, so they are used to odd vehicles blocking the street. Mr. Bruce stood behind the car in the misty rain. He thwacked the stick--used to measure the amount of gas in the tank--in his hand while fat drops of water fell from his cap. When we handed him the nearly empty gas can he shook it, rolled his eyes, and dribbled it into the tank.

I grabbed the empty can and motored off to a gas station while he and Nina drove the Buick back to the house. When I returned, he helped us pour the gas into the tank and then he suggested we practice for a little while.

"So, you still think there is nothing wrong with the car?" I asked.

"There is nothing wrong with the car. Only the drivers."

Nina and I plan to drive it in a parade next week.


  1. Sounds like my family. My dad was a car guy and when he taught me how to drive, he had to give up. My cousin took over because I kept saying, "This stupid car won't shift right."

    My cousin took me to the top of the hill, put it in neutral, put the parking break on, got out and made me drive down the other side of the hill. It took 3 tries before I finally made it over the top of the hill but after that I was fine.

    Great story. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Piedmont

    LOL. Your cousin was smart. Sometimes that is the best way.

    I've driven a manual transmission most of my life. It hasn't prepared me for driving a 1930 Buick, though. No synchronized shifting, no power-brakes, no power-steering. Makes me wonder how cars caught on. I suppose it was easier than harnessing up a horse and hooking it to a wagon.

  3. Hysterical!

    I once test drove a car that died in the middle of the intersection about 4 blocks from the owner's house. This was probably why he was only asking $100 for it.


  4. Tawna,

    I really wish I could read the rest of that story. Maybe in your next book?

  5. Jars,

    We are going to have two civic leaders in the car for the parade. We're going to have them sign a waiver and issue them cervical collars. It might be nice to have the "AAA" Road Service truck standing by, also.


Comments are great fun. Really. I love them. Except from the bots that have found my blog. I'm enabling the word verification to block them. Sorry.