Old man's first drive

This weekend I took my first drive since getting my own license. I am a lifelong pedestrian, and have only learned to drive at the age of nearly 40. I record here the circumstances of the drive and particularly my sensations.

Like many New Yorkers, I am a dedicated and rapid walker, and very aggressive in getting through crowds and past those of you who move more slowly than I do. Learning to drive has been a strange adventure I only half believed I would ever undertake. But getting the license was nothing compared to the adventure of renting a car for the first time. Part of what has made it difficult has been controlling my barreling style of locomotion - I had never realized that you have to be a lot more careful in a car than on foot!

After doing extensive research about prices, on Friday I went in secret to a neighborhood Enterprise Rent-A-Car ("we have a store every two miles") and arranged to rent a Ford Focus for the weekend. The Focus is the car I learned to drive on, so I thought it best to stay with it for my first spin.

On Saturday morning I sneaked out, picked up the car, and parked it near our apartment building. I came back in time for breakfast, and afterwards my wife and I were going to go (she thought) by bus to a crafts fair in a neighboring town. We came down together in the elevator, but I told her I had left my sunglasses upstairs, and pretended to go back up to our floor. She watied for me in the lobby. But I didn't go upstairs - I went down to the parking lot and got the car, and drove it up almost into her face. No point in making a life change like learning to drive if you can't surprise your wife with it! She was a brave soul, and got gamely in.

We spent two intense days driving around between Bethesda and Baltimore, visiting places that have been hard to get to, doing some shopping and getting to a serious seafood restaurant. We had no accidents, although Baltimore did surprise me with an unmarked one-way street where I ran right into oncoming traffic. But God protects fools, and we were not hurt.


  • Driving is like floating. The sensation of effortless movement is somewhat addictive.
  • The act of driving makes me alert, and I only feel how tired I am after I stop.
  • Driving has an after-effect on my mind like playing video games. For many hours afterwards I have trouble concentrating on anything else, and when I interact with people and objects my instinct is to treat them like what I see from my windshield: drive past, squeeze through, change lanes, etc.
  • There really isn't anywhere we badly want to go by car. Maryland is just as boring by car as it is by bus and on foot. New York for us! Maybe a trip to Connecticut from New York will be more interesting.
  • We visited the leafy Baltimore neighborhood where I lived from age 7-9, and I was amazed at how small everything was - the street was only one lane! - and how little had changed from what I remembered. But probably I will never go back.
  • I have the impression that Maryland drivers are less skilled than New York City drivers, but also more tolerant of my mistakes.
  • We're agreed that owning a car would be a needless expense and hassle for us, and renting is something won't do often except for specific purposes.
  • After I returned the car and completed all the paperwork, the man at Enterprise asked me very seriously whether I was satisfied. I said I was. "Completely satisfied?" he wanted to know. I had had to wait quite a while because he was the only person in the store and every 15 seconds had to stop helping me and answer the phone. But what's the point in being nasty. "Yes, I'd say so". And he started clapping loudly and said in full voice "We have another completely satisfied Enterprise customer!" Since he was the only person on duty, the intended effect of round applause was not achieved. I felt stupid. This is almost enough to make me try a different rental company next time.
  • Unaccountably there was a small dent on one fender when I returned the car. I'm quite certain I neither hit nor scraped anything. I suppose it could have happened when I was parked somewhere. That was probably the most uneasy-making thing about the whole adventure. Anything could have happened to the car while I wasn't around it.
  • Subway for me, man.

last day-log entry: April 29, 2002

It's sometime past two in the morning (as I later discovered), and I've just succeeded in thwarting my poor sleeping pattern and fallen asleep. Enter Andrew. Andrew in a slightly tight shirt made of some sheer material, Andrew holding a tennis racket. Andrew (as well as a couple of my other flatmates) has just been out for a few drinks - which I elected to forgo as I decided I'd be on time for my early class for a change - and is now in my room at two in the morning with a tennis racket.

"Get up" he says moreorless, and explains why I must do so. I grope for a shirt and he mentions that I might want to put on some trousers. "Don't Worry (sarcastic and unamused), I've got these great old shorts, but for the sycophant on the go trousers can easily be pulled on."

Dressed I proceed to verbally abuse him, pointing out my early class, "Yeah, well you still love me". "It's the eyes", is the darkly muttered reply.

Out on the street now, Andrew has me following him (barefoot I might add - attempting and mostly succeeding in avoiding broken glass) in search of some guys who were hassling him while he ate a pie - I'll spare you his racist slur. They're not there. Not even a sign of the van he was sure they were dealing drugs from.

I curse him impotently and head back, pointing out that it was a stupid idea to come back out (even if it was with a tennis racket) to look for guys he was afraid were going to beat him up, even worse to bring someone along who could at best distract them momentarily.

It takes an hour or so to get to sleep, I miss a bus and I'm forced to run to catch one that will get me there late. Bastard.

DyRE says "thanks. your flatmate sounds like a brave tennis racket warrior."

I console Erin when her boyfriend ignores her. She IM’s me and makes a weird comment or two and suddenly I know I need to walk up the flight of stairs that separate us and listen to her miseries. He didn’t call. He didn’t e-mail. She hasn’t talked to him since yesterday. He didn’t invite her to go with him to the place that I don’t remember the name of. He doesn’t know she’s mad at him. I’d know if you were mad at me, Erin.

Her boyfriend Mike is the stereotypical guy. Goes out with his buddies, doesn’t know much about feelings, but he isn’t mean to her on purpose. He doesn’t try to hurt her feelings, he just doesn’t know any better. Erin is the stereotypical girl in my mind. If once, just once, she doesn’t get her goodnight e-mail it’s the end of the world. Where could he be? He must not love me.

Out of the shadow of Erin walked Karen. They are friends; they almost lived with each other this semester. Karen isn’t stereotypical. She grew up on a horse ranch in Texas, and she’s going to Europe this summer to chill out with her best friend from high school, some cute girl whose name starts with a C.

Hey, guess what? I’m going to Europe too! Yeah, you wanna meet? Yes? Awesome!

Now I’m meeting her in Europe. Karen is excited about life, she wants to go places and do things for the sake of doing them. Her excitement excites me, and now I am doing something I wouldn’t have dreamed of.

Then Erin IM’s me and I don’t know what to say. She tells me she thinks she failed another test (the last time she told me that she had the 2nd highest grade in the class). I know it’s going to somehow become a “he doesn’t love me” tale, but nothing I say seems to convince her otherwise. She hates it that she sits by the phone waiting for him, but it rarely occurs to her to call him. I tell her, and she says she knows, but it continues.

Two different people, both attract my attention. One forcing me to be a pillar of support, the other a partner in crime. Erin is being deserted by her friends; Karen is deserting everyone to go live in Eastern Europe.

I hope when people look back on knowing me they see me as the one who would ride off into the sunset for the sake of riding off into the sunset. I hope they see me as that kid who made people do things they were happy they did, who made others greater because of his presence.

Erin, I want you to stop. Stop being worried. Stop fretting about those tests. Stop being angry at Mike. It’s not Mike! It’s you! I don't know what to say. You are shattered by this year, I've watched you go through it. I hope you have a good summer Erin, I really do. I hope you get through next year okay too. I'm not worried about Karen, but I am worried about Erin.

I'm worried about you, Erin. I showed you this site before, I let you read my nodes. If you are reading this I'm . . . sorry.

On a side note, today marks the two month anniversary of my loss of self respect.

Alan and I have been posting stickers all around Dublin to advertise our magazine. Over the past couple of weeks, we'd been noticing other stickers placed around the city advertising something called "Reclaim the Streets". Some stickers said things like "Free Party. No Cops. Repetitive Beats....etc." This "free party" was scheduled to happen in front of the General Post Office in Dublin on May 6th, at 2:30pm. Alan and I were curious and decided we'd check this thing out and see what it was. So we woke up on Monday, remembered it was the day of the event and decided to walk on down to the post office and have a look.

When we got there we saw a few hundred people hanging around on a traffic island; a few were playing drums and dancing around, but the rest of them were standing around looking as confused and curious as we were. All of them were very alternative looking, sporting dreadlocks and hippyish clothing, and the majority of them were very young. We hadn't had lunch yet and decided to grab some sandwiches and return in about half an hour. When we did, the entire group of hundreds of people had disappeared! There were a few police officers patrolling the area, and Alan asked a few bystanders if they knew what happened to the group. One young man said that he didn't know, but assumed they'd been ushered along by the police; an older man giving away newspapers said that they seemed to move along of their own accord.

We were completely baffled.

We wandered around, trying to figure out what happened to them, and eventually were lured by drumbeats to a quay off the Liffey. There they all were once again, dancing and jumping around while the majority of the group was simply watching in amusement. They had blocked off traffic on the entire block, and police were standing around making sure that things didn't get out of hand. It was obvious that the entire point of the rally was to block off traffic. The group wasn't actually saying anything themselves, but there were papers being passed around which expressed disgust at the fact that our cities are infiltrated by roads and office buildings, etc. We stood and watched for about 45 minutes; during that time, the peaceful party had turned into a protest. Police seemed to be itching to arrest someone, and took beer cans out of the hands of anyone who was drinking. At this point they appeared to have arrested one or two people, for reasons that are unclear. Two men walked past me, one of which was on a cell phone and muttered to his friend about the rally: "It's all a bit pointless, really..."

Things did started getting a bit out of hand. There were a couple of young boys walking around with masks over their mouths and carrying cans of spray paint. They were going around breaking windows and spraying messages like, "No peace for the homeless" on the windows of office buildings. A large amount of the group had migrated to a side street where red smoke was rising up. We figured it was a smoke bomb. Police were rushing over there and it seemed like a fight was about to break out between them and the party-goers. Alan was still curious, but I said that I thought we should get out of there. It seemed to me that things could only go downhill from where they were at the moment.

So we left and went to a cafe, where we sat and talked about what we'd just seen. A woman was sitting next to us who seemed to be quite popular; she knew almost everyone who walked into the cafe, and struck up conversations with them. Each of the first three people who came in had been to the rally and were telling her about it. The first two came in together, a guy and girl, and briefly summarized the events before leaving. The next person to come in was an enthusiastic young man who told the woman all about the rally and how it was an anti-globalization event. The woman looked up from the leaflet he'd handed her and with a coy smile asked, "Why?" The guy just kind of shrugged, mumbled something else and quickly left.

Alan told the woman that we'd also been there, and we told her that it all seemed a bit chaotic. We all agreed that events such as this should have a clear focus. The stickers they had placed all around the city had been ambiguous; nobody stood up and explained what the objective of the event was; there were different people there for different reasons; and so the end result was a mass of people assembled in a small area, with one thing in common: they were all riled up and wanted a cause to fight for.

On the way home we noticed that the group had moved on once again, this time to Dame Street right in front of Trinity College. We decided to cross the street and observe what was going on over there. It seems we got there just in time; only a few minutes later, the group of a couple hundred angry teenagers and young men and women were assembled in the traffic island. They immediately moved onto the streets to continue their plan of blocking off traffic and causing havoc in the city. They danced and waved their wands and flags around, until the police moved in once again. First, they attacked a heavyset man right in front of us, dragged him off to their car and shoved him in. Alan says he also saw the police attacking people who were simply standing around; they seemed to be going after anyone who appeared "dodgy" in any way. Eventually the police lined up to form a blockade at the end of the street and weren't letting anyone through. I turned to Alan and said, "Shit, we're trapped in here too." As the police continued to go after innocent people, the younguns were shouting, "Peaceful protest! Peaceful protest!" and "Police brutality! Police brutality!" Other observers were passing us by, making remarks like "They're all about twelve years old", and a man on a bicycle turned to me and said "Mad, eh?" to which I replied, "Beyond."

The police eventually forced everyone off the streets, and the group moved on away from the direction of Trinity. We decided to follow behind them and see what they were up to now. People were peeking their heads out of apartment windows, and shopkeepers were standing on the sidewalks, bewildered and curious. One yelled out to a friend, "The hippies are riotin'!"

The group stopped again in the vicinity of Dublin Castle, and the protestors were shouting insults at the police. Some of these insults I thought were fair, such as people shouting at one officer "Where's your number? Where's your number?" It appeared that a lot of the officers had taken off their numbers. Gee, whyever would they do that? One of the officers was keeping traffic going, and not allowing any pedestrians to cross the street for some time. The group eventually moved on once again, their next target being the civic offices. We followed slowly behind them, observing the spectacle of angry youth with no idea what the hell they wanted to say. The best part of the whole thing was an old man who straggled behind the rest of the group; he was walking his scraggly dog and muttering in a deep voice marred by cigarettes and booze: "Fuck the system.. [The voting system doesn't work because I'm drunk and that fucks it up.|fuck the system.."

We watched them gather into the enclosed private property for a few minutes. Alan said, "I don't like this. If they're going to have a protest, they need to keep it in the streets. They shouldn't be in here like this." So we decided to leave because it all seemed pretty freaky at this point. A gathering of people had morphed from being a peaceful group dancing in the streets, to an angry bunch of protestors with one cause in mind: get the police all riled up, and hopefully some of us will get arrested. Alan and I agreed that without the intervention of the police, the rally never would have gotten so out of hand; however, it seemed quite clear to me that the protestors really really wanted to piss the police off. "It's all a bit pointless, really."

We passed the police station on the way home, and there was a group of a few dozen people hanging around outside. One girl who looked about 15 was drinking straight out of a wine bottle. Alan whispered to me, "What is this, a vigil?" As we walked passed, Alan overheard something that a few of the people were talking about. He told me that they were trying to file complaints, but the police weren't listening.

So I guess my point is: if you have something to say, then say it. If you don't have anything to say, then don't say anything; or at least figure out what it is you do want to say before you gather a group of hundreds of people together for no reason. The police were wrong to go after random people who weren't doing anything wrong, and they definitely should have kept their numbers visible. Neither of the groups acted appropriately, and I can't really take sides. I just think the whole thing was a big mess, and it made me very upset.

So I had this plan all worked out. I should probably learn that, by and large, such things usually don't wind up working as I intend them to. Living occurs between plans, in the cracks, lodged in the shitty days and the spontaneous moments. It's as it should be.

My plan was to accept a teaching offer downstate but that relied on living with my father for the summer. My father, while a decent fellow in many respects, is like me; he's a tumbleweed. He got fired from his job & decided he wanted to live the vagabond life again for awhile, as he's done before. A couple of years ago, he went on this extended trip across the country, sleeping in his near-dead car, getting food somehow. He went down to Sedona, Arizona where he rolled around the gem shows, buying some of the most beautiful rough specimens I've ever seen in my life.
Dad & I were up in the Adirondacks, driving down after a week in the thin, fresh, freezing air of the mountains. We had hiked my favorite summit there, Cascade Mountain. I had fallen on that hike, my face smashing into a rock and crunching my eye pretty good. My eye had puffed up and the skin around it had turned a purplish-yellow. Dad hit the brakes hard just as I was contemplating my bruises in the rear view mirror.

"Garnet." He spoke the word with a finality that I rarely heard in his voice. He looked at me, smiled, jumped out of his seat and ran to the side of the road.

I followed, not sure where the hell his mind had gone. Then I heard it, slowly at first, but still steady: the rush of creekwater. I jumped over the bank after my father, to find him already in the water, feet braced on two rocks protruding above the surface, hands plunged into the silty bed. I grinned, and joined him there.
Today was the last day of my semester here. There are so many people that I'm going to miss during my months away. Erik, philosophy boy, is one of those, the sweet one. I've known him for years; we went to high school together. There's always been an unspoken, appreciative quality in the way we meet each other's eyes. I have so many memories of this fellow from the years past. I remember one day when I saw him walking to class. The mellow dove gray light of the overcast day hit his brow, the wind tousling his thick, straight blond hair; I imagined this is how he'd look if he were at sea, captaining the waves, gaze to the horizon, lifted beyond the ends of this earth. His pea coat buttoned, hands in its pockets; jeans fitted him well. His face was so familiar. Brow puckered as if engaged in introspective warfare. Eyes concerned, warming this cold day and the air between us.

Gail will be missed, too. Honesty or death is her motto. She told me once that one day, she realized how many melodramatic games she'd played in her life, and that it was time to move on. Today, in our last English class together, she walked up to this excruciatingly handsome man in our class and said to him, "You are a beautiful man, do you know that?" Gail is an interesting one. She uses bluntness in odd ways; I know that she wants to twist people sometimes by doing such things, but usually she's just terribly admirable.

There are others. Others who will pass into my memory over the next several weeks. It's a terrifying process for me; I want to pull them all back from the past, to rescue them from the dust that they will become to me. As I wind through my twentieth year, time haunts me. My experiences have whipped by me too quickly; it is as if I have been running at a sprint for miles, my legs burning, my lungs bursting, my mind whirling. My body exhausted, my mind unable to take anything more. I feel like I am always aiming for the point of no return.

"I wonder about the trees.
Why do we wish to bear
Forever the noise of these
More than another noise
So close to our dwelling place?
We suffer them by the day
Till we lose all measure of pace,
And fixity in our joys,
And acquire a listening air.
They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay."
It is a fear. A fear of losing people. I'm afraid that every person I meet I will never see again. It's the most pressing side effect of my rootless existence. Oddly, I don't cling to people because of it; I push them away; I depend on & expect the fact that they are a temporary aspect of my existence. Hopefully I can gain some sense of balance. I am glad for this summer. I am glad for how beautiful it is up north. I know that my bicycle & my adventures wait for me, and the miles of roads and fields do, too. Perhaps I will gain some better perspective there; alone, in the wind and sun of home.

1Robert Frost. The Sound of the Trees.
i really did go to market spice tea at lunch with a purpose in mind OTHER than flirting with the cute tea boy. really, i did. but he smiled from behind the counter and said hi and then my thinking got all muddled and it became difficult to a) find the right tea b) chose apparatus that would support a method of making it at work and c) i forget.

once i recalled that oolong makes my world very peaceful and okay i set about selecting some. i could feel him smirking at me. a few minutes later i gave up on selecting some and just grabbed the white-tipped store version. i then got bogged down in how to store it at work without purchasing an $18 air-tight glass container... and i hadn't even gotten around to how to make it.

"can i help you find anything?" he offered slyly. i was deliberating over the fancy glazed ceramic steeping cups or a simple shiny filter/spoon thingy.

"uhm... no..." i managed. "i'm just trying to figure out what to do..." d'oh! stupid! "i mean it's difficult to..." i bet he didn't want an intimate view of my thought process "and i'm trying to" blah blah blah... i don't remember what i ended up saying. thankfully more people came in.

as the vaguely gothic girl at the register rang everything up, i ventured to glance back at him. he was already looking at me and smiling. i quickly returned my attention to the exchange of funds and the packing-up of tea paraphernalia. i left the store and he waved and said "see you later." i tried to walk, carry the bag, not blush, turn, wave, and speak at the same time. none of it went well. i think i said "bleugh."

Yesterday Jodi and I went to USF for the orientation session that they made her attend (at a cost of $15 or so) before she could register as a first-time-on-campus student. It consisted mainly of lemonade and cookies as a procession of speakers introduced each other in a circle-jerk of not feeling too bad about having spent thirty years of their adult lives becoming the associate dean of campus programs.

We then waited in a cold (63F/17C) auditorium lobby, on metal chairs, at a metal table, to speak to her academic advisor -- who never showed up. (I *knew* we should have had Gamaliel do it -- he's the Harry Tuttle of academic advising.) The World Language Education department didn't send anyone to tell its students what classes it recommended. It turned out there was a reason (cows were out of season, and one of the hunters, well, he wasn't insured) -- uh, NOT channeling Tom Lehrer, the reason was that their department had gotten slightly damp when a water main burst -- but they could have at least arranged for something, I'd think.

We eventually got one of the organizers of the whole sorry affair, who happened to be an adviser herself, to hook her up with the Holy Grail of registrants: two courses, meeting at separate times during Summer B, that would actually do some earthly good to an incoming student who already has 92 credit hours and none of her departmental requirements. True, one of them is by permit only, but it *is* a class for nonmajors: Theatre History I ( . Never mind the whole "let's read fifteen plays during a Summer B class" -- it counts.

So tonight we went to Hillsborough Community College for one of her last two courses, Child Development. Which actually turned out to have been a case of arrested development, since the class was cancelled for low enrollment -- but the Telecourse then filled up before she could walk across campus to register for it. She ended up in Intro to Music (MUL 1010), and the teacher didn't seem to mind me sticking around -- but I've got to meet our firewall guy here at 8:30, then pick Jodi up at 9:25.

(Yeah, here's my schedule MTWR for the next six weeks: wake 6:30, work 8-4:30, cook and eat dinner 5-6, take Jodi to 6:30 class, pick Jodi up from class at 9:25, go to sleep at 10 or 11 depending on whether chores or sleep seems more urgent. I'll try to get my employer to let me work 10-4:30 and 7-9pm, but we'll see about that.)

And you know what, folks? She's worth it. She just got formally diagnosed with a learning disability in mathematics, over and above the brain weirdness that you get for free with cerebral palsy, and yet by working 30 hours a week on her Math for Liberal Arts class, she managed to earn a solid B. She's amazing.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.