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Life's Little Lessons

Helen pointed out my offbeat interstate preference with a hint of irritation, "You're one of those left lane drivers, aren't you?"

It struck me as an odd accusation. People have always deemed me a good driver. "I'm passing that car up there," I explained.

She lifted her arm and pointed, closing one eye as if to bring something on the horizon into focus. "Do you mean that red car wayyyyyyyyyyy up there?" she asked, hitting a note that almost shattered the windshield.

I said, "I hate when people rush up behind me and dart over to pass at the last second. It's obnoxious and startling."

Then I confessed I never had any formal driving instruction. I never had a learner's permit or went to driving school. The only motorized thing I'd ever driven up until two days before my 16th birthday, when my daddy took me out for a driving lesson, was a riding mower.

He selected the most dangerous, winding, vehicle-eating, life-threatening road in our county upon which to induct me into the world of automobile operation. I cannot imagine the amount of alcohol the man had to consume to endure such a harrowing, heart-stopping hurtle past pines and ditches. Whatever amount it was, I'm sure it wasn't near enough.

He grasped the dashboard, white-knuckled. The only complete phrase I remember him shouting is, "You've got to ease into the curves," his voice hitting a note that nearly shattered the windshield. Everything else came out squeaks and gulps. After I successfully parked in our driveway, my daddy's stomach contents intact, he deemed me a good driver in no need of his presence on any future outings.

On my 16th birthday, I took my driving test, which amounted to a route of right turns around a neighborhood block. The only words the tester, whom I know hadn't consumed near enough alcohol, shouted were, "I told you to turn right, young lady," while he clutched his clipboard to his belly. After I parked at the DOT testing center, he deemed me a good driver, who need not take him on another spin around the block, and granted me a driver's license.

At the end of my confession I passed the red car and smiled.

Helen retorted, "You went to the testing center on Davis Road, didn't you? You didn't even have to parallel park!"

When the sun set, I sensed Helen's anxiety about our trip home, so I went ahead and put her at ease. "I don't see well at night. I'm a right lane driver after dark."

After riding in the right lane for quite a way behind a van locked in at 60mph, she pouted, "At this pace, we'll never make it home at a reasonable hour. Pass this van," she ordered, urging me to take up my position in the left lane, again, adding, "You're rushing up behind him. He's startled."

Human nature is funny. The very thing that bothered Helen most about me became the very thing she craved. By the time I parked in Helen's driveway, her stomach contents still intact, she appreciated my affinity for driving in the left lane. I think she even deemed me a good driver.

(Lucy Adams is the author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny. E-mail Lucy at

Web posted on Thursday, September 30, 2010

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