Autumn moves in like an inexperienced driver, one who hasn’t quite mastered the gears that make the earth revolve smoothly around the sun. He’s wary at first, but soon barrels ahead into sweater weather, only to backpedal into summer for two sweltering weeks in October.
Speaking of which, my nephew and niece turned sixteen and started driving this year, stirring up memories of my own early experiences behind the wheel. I can appreciate why parents aren’t especially eager to ride shotgun while their progeny learn to navigate the open road. Mine sent me to a two-week driving school. My first in-car instructor was a very pregnant Hispanic woman. It terrified me to realize three lives would be at stake if we crashed. The teacher, blithely unaware
that I was a driving virgin who had never even backed the family Buick out of the garage, told me to “adjust the seat and mirrors” while she popped back inside to use the restroom. She returned to find me ill-positioned and completely perplexed. How was I supposed to adjust the seat if I didn’t know what I needed to be able to do or reach? How could I adjust the mirrors when I didn’t know what I should be able to see? She sighed; it was gonna be a long two hours for both of us. We went no faster than 35 mph, circling clockwise, then counterclockwise around the block, me struggling to keep the car between the lines as
I practiced stops and right and lefthand turns. I must have scared the poor kid right out of her; I arrived the next morning to find she’d been replaced by an easygoing hillbilly with long hair and a scraggly beard. On the entrance ramp to the highway, he slid one foot out of his man-sandal and pulled it up onto his lap. “Turn your left blinker on,” he said. He barely glanced up from the callus he was picking as I merged, white-knuckled, into the speeding traffic. I learned to drive a stick shift in my boyfriend’s Mercury Lynx. It was surprisingly easy; I can recall only one embarrassing incident. I was first in line at a traffic light, waiting to make a left turn. When I got the green arrow, I manipulated the pedals as I had been taught, but somehow, I stalled the car. I tried again and again, to no avail. Traffic backed up behind me. Angry honks filled the air. Stymied, I fingered the shifter, realizing as the light turned red that the car was in third gear. More precisely, jammed in third gear. When the light changed, I punched the gas and held on as the engine caught and the car bucked and jerked around the corner. I managed to coast safely into a parking lot and use a pay phone to call my boyfriend, who dispatched two of his mechanically-inclined uncles to the scene. Mark and Rich were kind enough to get me un-jammed without any snickers or snide remarks. At least, none that I ever knew about. It was a life lesson in having patience with beginners… both ourselves and others.
Another one of Earth’s boys
must have gotten his learner’s permit
Suddenly, the orbital ride
is downright jerky and unpredictable
Stalling out and stopping,
creeping cautiously through summer,
then punching the gas,
tossing equinox headlong into solstice,
only to jam on the brakes
and throw the spin of the entire planet
into a wobbling reverse
Trees blush in embarrassed empathy
Earth sighs and sets his jaw;
they will tackle parallel parking later
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