JOSH STEPHENSON/Durango Herald
Editor’s Note: This is a follow-up story to a first-person account by Herald reporter Chase Olivarius-McAllister on the trials and tribulations of learning to drive as an adult.
By Chase Olivarius-McAllister
Herald Staff Writer
Today, I turn 26.
Historically, I have not found birthdays enjoyable.
Firstly, because Christmas’s enshrinement in employment law means I’ve always spent them in sub-optimal conditions: with my family.
Secondly, because aging induces a sort of mortal nausea.
Thirdly, because Jesus Christ, the world’s most famous newborn, upstages me every year.
This birthday is different: for the first time, my family is in London while I’m at the office.
And, thanks to my cruel editor’s machinations, I finally have the upper hand over my birthday nemesis, Jesus: After 25 years of delay, I got my license six weeks ago, whereas he remains, immortally, a messiah who can’t drive.
Getting the license
When, after 11 hours of practice, I passed my road test, no one was more surprised than my friends, parents and colleagues. (Three days before, I’d crashed my noble driving instructor Tim Cunningham’s training vehicle into a gas station.)
My first week driving, I realized there were many things Tim didn’t teach me. Like, why do pimply teenagers turn onto East Third Avenue with astounding confidence?
Or what to do when gas stations rudely hit your car. Do you hit them back to teach them a lesson? (Don’t.)
Tim also didn’t explain that car batteries die if you leave the lights on. When that recently happened, I went to Radio Shack to buy “bumper cables.”
“You mean for your Mac?” said the sales clerk.
“No, for my car,” I said, thinking him faintly stupid.
They didn’t have any bumper cables.
Eventually, I got my colleague Shane Benjamin to bump my car. He also showed me the “defrost” button, so I fired my hair dryer.
For six days after I started driving, cars would weirdly wink at me.
Innuendo, I decided: My car is shapely.
(“Green, Honda, 2002,” says Shane.)
Until I was pulled over by a (lovely) policeman.
He said my lights weren’t on, which was obviously untrue: at that very moment, I was using them to read maps and light cigarettes.
He said, “not those lights,” and fiddled with a stick that pokes out of my steering wheel:
And on the Seventh Day, there was light.
The next policeman to pull me over terrified me
He said, “License and registration.”
“You were going 4.5 miles per hour, for five blocks.”
I pointed to the sign: “School Zone.”
“School isn’t in. It’s 9:30 p.m.” he said.
I’m a committed feminist (Andrea Dworkin was misunderstood!), but confronted with the fear of a speeding ticket (turtle ticket?) and an angry patriarch, I, as though possessed by Phyllis Schlafly, pleaded:
“Sir, I’m so sorry! I’m confused! Relationships! Cooking! And I’m really bad at geometry, all math, in fact. So between that and my debilitating incomprehension of football, I’m worried I’ll never understand sophisticated male concepts like money, freedom, capitalism or bravery.”
He spared me the ticket.
Later, I asked my editor, “Can speedometers even recognize half-miles?”
“Sure, if you’re going that slow,” she said.
Treachery is everywhere.
I threw my first parking ticket on my desk with the outrage of a drafted pacifist. The newsroom burst into laughter.
“There go the city’s budget problems!” said my former friend and still colleague Jim Haug.
I have since gotten 11. I’m appealing them all:
“I was conscientiously objecting to drag racing. People might have died. Yet you punish the hero. Oliver North was better treated by this system of ‘justice.’”
“The parking space was asking for it.”
“And what, pray tell, was this alleged ‘parking officer’ doing, trolling Durango’s streets between 2 and 5 a.m.?”
Free on the road
I can’t afford to take chances: I’ve got to make it through eight more years before I outlive Jesus.
In 1895, there were only two cars in the state of Ohio. They crashed into each other.
Every year, 30,000 die on the road. I was in a bad car accident as a child. It temporarily blinded my mother. She still can’t see color.
Somehow, millions of us survive this true and deadly freedom by depending on each other, on rules, and improvising with kindness and loud beeps when those rules are broken. It’s really no different than navigating my unholy, sprawling, wonderful, chaotic and faraway family.
They keep telling me not to drive in snowy conditions, thinking I’ll die. (They’re wrong. When it’s snowing, everyone is finally going the right speed: 4.5 mph.)
But just in case: Mom, Dad, Kathryn, Jack: If tonight I perish on the road, like Jesus on the cross, I do so from love. And, like Jesus, I am magnanimous. I forgive you your sins. (Except Kathryn. Where are my brown boots?)
(P.S. Even if I’m basically the ‘daughter of God,’ that doesn’t make you God, Mom.)
Please, drive safely.