Learning To Drive When You’re Not 16

Car upside down.
Not optimal…Image via Wikipedia

Can be scary as hell.

Fun piece in The New York Times by Frank Bruni about his recent re-learning to drive and take a driver’s test, decades past the age of 16:

This is a cautionary tale. Like too many harried New Yorkers without cars or much cause to use them, I let my driver’s license expire — in October 2006. Then, in an unlucky development the next May, I was pick-pocketed. The double whammy of an expired license that I could not physically produce meant I could no longer right the situation with a written exam and a vision check. I was effectively 16 again, on the hook for a five-hour class and the dreaded road test, which I came to fear I’d never reach, given the labyrinth of civil-service incompetence, bureaucratic nonsense and simple misfortune I had tumbled into. Kafka could have had a field day with me.

Granted, the stakes weren’t so high. Many people don’t drive, and on most days, not having a license hardly inconvenienced me. But there were vacations and work assignments that required rental cars — and travel companions fed up with my inability to share the burden.

Bruni had to re-learn in Manhattan, which is indeed one of the scarier places to drive. Cyclists swerve and swoop in front of you and pound on your vehicle if they think you’ve transgressed their trajectory. Deliverymen and couriers ride on the wrong side and head straight for you, forcing you into the wrong lane where you, too, can have and/or cause a really bad accident. Hand must be ready to honk horn at all times. Decide, immediately, when it’s OK to cross the intersection and squoosh in behind the furthest vehicle — and when you’re going to get stuck there, blocking the box, liable for a very expensive ticket.

I learned to drive when I was 30, in Montreal, a city whose drivers are every bit as aggressive and impatient as Manhattan’s — but in French and with some very steep hills. I was taught to drive stick.

One night we were on a hill, in the dark, during rush hour. I can’t shift gears because I can’t even find the damn gears!

I started cursing. The instructor cursed back. We finally got up the hill and around the corner.

“You’re such a bitch!” he shouted.

“You’re a terrible teacher!” I shouted back. “I’m only being a bitch because I’m so scared of having an accident. If you were a better teacher, this wouldn’t be happening.”

That cleared up, from then on we got along great.

Like Bruni, I was terrified of taking the driver’s test, especially since I was going to be tested on an automatic, not stick shift. I’d never driven an automatic transmission car and here it was, in French. I got in, stared at the gear shift.

“P…that’s Park, right?” I asked. Thank God she answered, and didn’t flunk me on the spot.

I’ve since driven in a few places legendary for their danger: a mo-ped in Corsica, a rental car in rural Mexico, at night through Kingston, Jamaica (other side of the road.) I think I’m proudest, so far, of parallel parking in Dublin, which felt like doing a back dive it was so totally disorienting.

When did you learn to drive? Who taught you? Was it scary for you, too?

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Baby? What Baby? We Have A Baby?

Sleep Like A Baby
Forgettable? Really? Image by peasap via Flickr

Maybe this is why I didn’t have kids.

Two stories from today’s New York Times on people who forget they have babies, one from South Korea, one from the U.S.. In South Korea, Internet gaming addiction is a national problem:

Neither had a job. They were shy and had never dated anyone until they met through an online chat site in 2008. They married, but they knew so little about childbearing that the 25-year-old woman did not know when her baby was due until her water broke.

But in the fantasy world of Internet gaming, they were masters of all they encountered, swashbuckling adventurers exploring mythical lands and slaying monsters. Every evening, the couple, Kim Yun-jeong and her husband, Kim Jae-beom, 41, left their one-room apartment for an all-night Internet cafe where they role-played, often until dawn. Each one raised a virtual daughter, who followed them everywhere, and was fed, dressed and cuddled — all with a few clicks of the mouse.

On the morning of Sept. 24 last year, they returned home after a 12-hour game session to find their actual daughter, a 3-month-old named Sa-rang — love in Korean — dead, shriveled with malnutrition.

In South Korea, one of the world’s most wired societies, addiction to online games has long been treated as a teenage affliction. But the Kims’ case has drawn attention to the growing problem here of Internet game addiction among adults.

And, from the Times’ automotive section:

INFANTS or young children left inside a vehicle can die of hyperthermia in a few hours, even when the temperature outside is not especially hot. It is a tragedy that kills about 30 children a year, according to the National Safety Council.

Making the deaths all the more tragic, perhaps, is that many are a result of forgetfulness rather than neglect, occurring when distracted but otherwise responsible parents or caretakers inadvertently leave a child in the car.

Newspaper articles and campaigns by safety advocates had brought some attention to the problem, but its visibility grew when a March 2009 article by Gene Weingarten in The Washington Post Magazine, “Fatal Distraction,” asked whether the mistake of forgetting a child in the back seat of a car was also a crime. The article won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing…

Janette Fennell is the founder and president of KidsAndCars.org, a safety advocacy group based in Leawood, Kan., that focuses on issues involving children and automobiles. In a telephone interview, Ms. Fennell made her view clear, saying she believed that carmakers must develop reminder devices to warn drivers if a child is left behind.

I’m not buying this. Now the car has to remind you you have kids? That’s the car’s responsibility?

You accidentally cook your baby — the Times‘, typically obliquely and too-politely calls this “hyperthermia”, — in the back of your vehicle on a hot summer’s day because….you forgot s/he was there?

Babies travel in carseats. Those carseats are heavy and bulky and demand your full attention as you buckle and strap your baby into them, and into your vehicle. When you exit the vehicle to do your urgent errands on a hot day, wear the baby in a sling or put the kid(s) in a stroller and remove them from the car. This is complicated? Yes, it takes time and energy. You chose to have kids, right?

If you’re so tired you forget you have a baby in your own vehicle, you’re in no shape to be driving. Nothing you need to get in a car with your kids and drive to obtain is that urgent — drugstores can deliver medicine and you can buy food and do your banking on-line.

How, exactly, do you forget you have a baby?

Curves, Power, Speed And Stamina — Ooooh, Car Lust!

Not for me, but cute...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

What do women want in a car?

From The Globe and Mail:

Studies show that American women spend $200 billion a year at car dealerships and account for 54 per cent of purchases. A 2009 survey by CarMax showed that Canadian women hold sway over 85 per cent of car buys and make 51 per cent of purchases. If a car manufacturer can get women to buy its products then fortune awaits. So, it seemed logical to talk to a few women.

“I want it to get me from point A to point B,” the first said. “And it has to be reliable.”

“The colour,” the next added. “And it has to be roomy.”

Performance and endurance,” the last of three said and then a glimmer caught her eye.

“Women choose their cars for the same reasons they choose their men.”

From the female car-owners’ website askpatty.com:

Women spend $300 billion annually on used car sales, maintenance, repairs and service. 51 % of women over 18 are single and are shopping for a car with out a man in tow.

Long gone are the days when the only decision women were expected to make about a new car was which color to choose. Women are now the fastest growing segment of new car buyers and, thanks to the Internet, are more confident, more educated and better prepared to make a buying decision than ever before.

Car dealers have already noticed the effect that the Internet has had on their interaction with female car shoppers. They’ve done their research and usually have information printed out from the Internet so they are more confident in negotiating a good deal. With all the information fully disclosed, women feel they can make their own car buying decision, without bringing a man along. The Internet has certainly been an equal opportunities provider in the world of car sales.

So take a tip from women car buyers who use the Internet to be informed, educated, confident and empowered to negotiate when you hit the dealership. If you take advantage of all the tools available to you, you should walk away with the car of your dreams at a price you can afford.

I’m dying to own another two-seater convertible with a stick. I desperately miss my red Honda del Sol, stolen from our suburban parking lot in August 2002 and pillaged for parts. It’s since been discontinued and I spent the insurance money supporting myself to finish my first book, the loss of one beloved red pleasure subsidizing the next, the red cover of my new “baby.”

As spring begins and the sun is warm, I so long to roar down the highway again. I’d kill for a Boxster, stare longingly at Audis and Z4s and try not to caress anything I see parked. My poor sweetie had to pretend he didn’t know me when I practically hugged the showroom’s Honda S2000 (also discontinued) when we were car-shopping a few years back. Money’s no better right now, so there’s no shiny new/used car in my immediate future.

Owning one gas-sipping nine-year-old vehicle is as green as we can be for now, living in the ‘burbs where a Vespa just won’t cut it for all our needs. Our old Subaru Forester serves us well, but sexy? No.

When you go looking for a car, ladies, what does it for you?

Here's A Car I Want — A 1950 Nash

... Nash + babes = Fun!
Image by x-ray delta one via Flickr

I am crazy about great automotive design. I love the chamfered edges of recent Volvos, the dashboard of the Mini Cooper, the swooping curves of the Allard, a British car made between 1936 and 1966. I love the deep bottle green of early MGs, the nuttiness of Karmann Ghias and Deux Chevaux.

My first car, when I finally learned to drive at 30, was a used gray Honda Accord, not sexy, but a great vehicle for rural New Hampshire, where I bought it and lived for a while.

But, no, not my dream car.

At 12, I wanted (still do) a yellow Lotus. My Dad, then, drove a gold Jaguar XKE, sex on wheels. He’s now 80, on the road as I write this, driving from Toronto to Madison, Wisconsin in his black Jag (used, dirt cheap.)

I mourn the loss of the Solstice, which I first saw at the Manhattan Auto Show as a concept car —  I never even got around to test-driving one. They killed the Honda S2000 and I am pissed to read the the Boxster is slipping in its ratings. If I ever have money again, it was top of my list. I’d still like to test-drive a Corvette, Z3 and Z4 and maybe even the Audi convertible.

For a while, I owned, ecstatically, a red Honda Civic del Sol, long since discontinued. Almost nothing I have owned, before or since, made me so damn happy every time I touched it. (It was, of course, stolen from my suburban parking lot, pillaged for parts and written off by the insurance company. Yes, I cried.)

So, geeky girl that I am, I read The New York Times automotive section every week and this week they featured a man and his 1950 Nash. What a gorgeous automobile!

From the Times:

The Ambassador Custom has several distinguishing characteristics. First, there’s the big and bulbous shape. Nash gave a name, Airflyte, to the look. Introduced for the 1949 model year, it was Nash’s first postwar design, and it featured enclosed front wheels for improved aerodynamics.

Nash also increased the turning radius. “When you make a U-turn you kind of have to phone ahead,” Mr. Conaty said as he tried to execute the maneuver on a wide, quiet street. “I’m not going to make it,” he said before resorting to a three-point turn.

Inside, the rumble of the car’s in-line 6 echoed through what Nash brochures promoted as the “Sky-Lounge safety interior.” The seats recline like first-class airline seats. There’s not much to the dashboard. All the dials, the speedometer included, are in a bullet housing on the steering column. The radio occupies the center section of the dash behind a metal roll-up door.

I love its fully-reclining seats — and wonder how many 60-year-old men and women were conceived in one.