The rest of our visit with my folks was blah-normal. At last it was time to go back to California.
After about a nano-second of deliberation, T and I decided that finding a hire-car to deliver to the west coast for someone was a much preferable idea over hitching back. We had had enough of risking our lives with nutty drivers and crazy truckers.
I’m sure the percentage of ‘nice’ or ‘good’ truckers far outweighs the ones who are stoned out of their minds on speed or just plain crazy, but we were’t taking any chances.
Now, remember I keep saying how un-street-smart I was?
That included not having a driver’s license. I had had two lessons at the age of 16 that were both half a hair away from fatal in nature. I couldn’t get myself to take any more lessons, and the driving school wouldn’t let me anyway.
So here I was age 22 and I still didn’t know how to drive. T insisted It was Time I Learned How. In someone else’s almost-new sedan.
Once we got to mid-continent and straight-as-arrows boring long stretches of road, he figured I’d be safe enough to allow access to the wheel.
I did fine until each town came up, where he’d take over. Until he was just too tired to drive, and then I’d drive. After a while, I calmed down, and I was finally able to breathe through the town junctions and cruise slowly through them.
I think we must have taken I-70 across, because I remember passing through some of the most spectacular landscapes – Denver to Glenwood Springs was nothing like I’d ever seen before, with great deep canyons so narrow the sun didn’t reach the road.
Which, of course, wound around right on the very breath-taking edge of wide wild rushing rivers. Grand Junction with its many-layered mesas and Green River – I could barely keep my attention on the road.
I really wanted to take some side roads and visit Moab and Monument Valley, but we had a deadline to deliver the car by. I wouldn’t get to visit those places until twenty-plus years later.
It was a blessing there were hardly any other cars on the road – blessing for them, anyway – they were safe from my mistakes!
One of the worst of which was the turn towards Las Vegas.
It was right when the day morphed into evening – that soft miragey-time when things aren’t quite where you think they are, and ghosty wavy energy flitted up from the road and over the mountains.
I found myself mesmerized, fantasizing, wondering if we were really on planet Earth, or in some sci-fi movie, or even on another planet.
The road was two overly wide lanes. Coming up was a very plainly demarcated split-off on the left, a perpendicular turn to get on the road heading south.
T was sound asleep.
I wanted to try one of the things (I thought) he’d told me – that when you take a turn, you speed up in order to keep the car flat on the road.
So as I made the turn left onto highway 15, I sped up.
So far so good –
I went faster.
But the car was not staying flat.
I accelerated more.
The tires began to squeal.
Not only not flat, now, but it was wanting to hike up on the right side like a boat heeling over in a storm!
I started to press my foot on the gas, thinking we needed more speed, when T, suddenly jerking sitting up wide-eyed with fear, screamed ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
I’m knuckle-white gripping the steering wheel, yelling back, “You told me to press it when I take corners!”
“Take your foot off the gas!”
I did, and we lowered back flat again … slowing down … finishing the curve … back on the straightaway.
Gasping for air, I steered the car off onto the shoulder as soon as there was a pull-off. I slumped back into the seat, closed my eyes and tried to stop feeling so crazy, get back to breathing normally.
T laid on some pretty furious, frightened, exasperated, un-fun invective-laden scolding.
I actually didn’t really hear a word he said, being swamped with terror and inundated with my own inner-scolding. It took ten years more of being scolded for this and that to realize hey, I don’t need this! and leaving the man. But that’s in the far future.
After I calmed down and was able to breathe again, I asked T if he wanted to take over. No. Too tired.
I swung back on the road. Now it was full dark, and the big rigs were starting to come out and dominate the roadway. I was numb by then, and not feeling the fear enough any more to refuse to keep on driving.
T rolled his eyes and shook his head, curled up in his seat saying, “Don’t wake me if you crash,” and went back to sleep.
I continued on through the outskirts around Las Vegas and further down the road to LA. After we delivered the car, I flatly refused to drive one more inch.
I didn’t drive again for another year.
The only reason I ever got behind the wheel again was that we had found a tiny little cabin to rent out in the middle of nowhere up in the Santa Cruz hills, and I had to go into town to shop while T was at work.
It took me until I was 29 to brave taking another test. I got the license – but that’s yet another story.
text and image © Angela Treat Lyon 2023
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