Wednesday, June 22, 2011


I was talking to my uncle not long ago about his driver’s exam, the one the state requires people to take when they reach age 75. He said it was a snap, even when they made him back up between two lines.

I felt my stomach knot as I mentally calculated how long it would be before I’d have to take that test. The truth is, I’m not particularly good at backing up – either in a car or out of one.

“They didn’t make you parallel park, did they?” I almost was afraid to ask. I couldn’t parallel park a car even if the space had enough room for a motor home.

“No, no parallel parking,” he said. “Just driving where he directs you to go and then backing up.”

There was that “backing up” part again. If I were good at backing up, I wouldn’t have had to spend the past 38 years driving around parking lots until I found a parking spot with an empty one in front of it so I could drive through to the front spot and be facing forward…no backing up required. Sometimes it meant I had to walk a half-mile to a store, when I could have parked 10 feet from the door. But I probably have a great set of lungs now because of it.

“How about the written exam?” I asked my uncle. “They don’t make you answer all of those questions again about how many feet from a fire hydrant you should park or how fast you should drive during a blizzard, do they?”

“No, nothing written,” he said. “Just a road test.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. I used to be able to read stuff and memorize it in a snap. Now, I have trouble remembering my own phone number, never mind how many feet it takes the average car to come to a full stop when it’s going 35 m.p.h.

When we built our current house and I saw the width of the garage doors for the first time, I nearly broke out in a cold sweat. How, I wondered, was I going to aim my car to fit perfectly through that doorway without scraping the sides? Even worse, once I managed to get the car into the garage, would I be able to back it out without causing any structural damage to the building…or myself?

The first few times I backed my car out of the garage, I held my breath and prayed. But after a while, and an increasing number of successes, I became more and more relaxed. I even was able to use only one hand on the wheel instead of both hands clutching it in a death grip.

Maybe I was becoming too cocky, or maybe I was momentarily distracted, but last weekend as I was backing the car out of the garage, something puzzling happened.

First of all, I should explain that to the left of our garage is a small clearing. I always back out of the garage and into the clearing so my car can then head forward down the driveway. I would never be able to back it up the entire length of our 400-foot, curving driveway – not without causing the premature demise of several trees, and maybe a squirrel or two.

So last weekend, I backed out of the garage as usual and turned the wheel to the right so I could back into the clearing to the left of the driveway.

A frightening “sccrruunncchhh” sound made me slam on the brakes.

My husband, the man who usually has the volume on the TV cranked up to 40 because he can’t even hear the cars when he watches the Indianapolis 500, heard the noise. Before I could step out of my car to see what I’d done, he was out in the driveway.

“What did you do?” he asked.

I shrugged. “All I know is I heard a noise when I backed out of the garage.”

Old “Sherlock Holmes” checked out the telltale streaks of white paint on the front right side of my red car and then walked over to the garage to examine the scrapes and dent on the door frame and said, “Well, it’s obvious you turned the wheel before you were even all the way out of the garage! What would make you do something like that?”

Again I shrugged. “There was a killer bee in the car?”

He rubbed one of the many white streaks on my car. I sucked in my breath and prayed they would come off and not leave permanent scratches – permanent reminders of my temporary dumbness.

The white paint came off and revealed an undamaged car underneath. I allowed myself to exhale. “What about the dent in the garage’s door frame?” I asked.

“It’s barely noticeable,” he said. “If you don’t tell anyone it’s there, they won’t even notice it. And you can touch up the scrapes with some white paint.”

The next day, as I was heading out shopping, my husband called out to me, “Hey! Evel Knievel! Make sure you’re all the way out of the garage before you turn the wheel!”

The more I think about it, the more I think I should enjoy driving while I can. I’m pretty sure that when I hit 75 and have to be tested on backing up between two lines or (heaven forbid) two posts, the examiner will take the scissors to my license.

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