Sunday, March 16, 2014

Red Paseo

A funny thing happened yesterday.  I was talking to my mom on the phone, as I try to do every weekend.  (No, that's not the funny part.)   Halfway through our conversation, I heard my dad in the background telling my mom something, but I couldn't make out the words.  When she relayed to me that he said I should blog about buying my first car, I was stunned.  I couldn't possibly have heard her correctly.  First of all, I didn't know my 86 year-old dad knew I had a blog.  Hell, I didn't know he even knew what a blog was!  But stranger still was the fact that last summer I had written about that very topic, although I had never shared it.  What on earth had made him think of that?  And why now?

This last month has been a difficult one for me, one in which giving up has appeared to be the only viable option.  Unknowingly, with his out-of-the-blue suggestion that sent me back to this piece of writing, my dad gave me just the encouragement I needed to keep on going.  So, Dad, this one's for you.


I was 25 when I bought my first new car. It was kind of a strange time in my life.  I had graduated from college but still didn't know what I wanted to do with my life.  (To be honest, I still am not entirely sure about that one.) I had fallen hopelessly in love right before graduation, which had probably convoluted the whole what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life scenario.  But alas, the relationship had fallen apart, I was working for a financial consulting firm, and I was living alone in a tiny, run-down studio apartment in an iffy neighborhood hundreds of miles away from family.

What does this have to do with my car?  Perhaps nothing.  Perhaps everything.  I was at that proverbial crossroads and seeking to gain control of a life I was beginning to suspect I had little control over.  What better way to convince yourself that you are master of your universe than to spend several thousand dollars you don't have?

The car I settled on was a 1992 Toyota Paseo.  Medium red pearl was the color.  (Funny the things you remember.) She was a beauty, and the closest I was going to get to a sports car on my budget.  I absolutely loved that car and still get misty whenever I see one to this day.  There was just one little problem with my beloved car.  It had a manual transmission.  And I had never driven a stick-shift in my life.
Now, I could have bought one with an automatic transmission, but that didn't fit my "vision." If I was going to drive a sporty car, then by God, it was going to be a stick!  The salesman actually gave me a quick lesson, I signed the paperwork, handed over what little money I had, and the deal was done.  By some miracle I was able to drive it back to my parents' house.  When I jerked my shiny new car to a stop in their driveway, they must have thought I was the biggest idiot ever to buy a car I couldn't drive.  I give them props for not saying anything to that fact.  At least not to me anyway.
I spent the next few hours practicing driving around the neighborhood.  It wasn't pretty.  For some reason, I just could not get the hang of it.  Seeing as how I am not the most coordinated person in the world, this should not have come as a surprise.  But to me it did.  In school, learning new things hadn't been hard for me.  They weren't always easy (especially math), but I was able to get through--no, be successful--without too much strain.  Now I was in a situation where I was on the hook for thousands of dollars for the next five years, and if I couldn't get the hang of this "ease up on the gas, put in the clutch, shift, ease up on on the clutch, and smoothly accelerate" dance, I was screwed.
I'd like to say that I mastered it that weekend, but I can't.  It seemed hopeless. To make matters worse, I had to be at work Monday, and work was in Santa Barbara, a 5-hour drive away.  So, there was only one thing to do.  My dad had to drive me.  So much for independence and mastering my universe.
For the next week, a friend drove me to and from work, while my boyfriend (new guy, not the one I fell hopelessly in love with) gave me driving lessons at night.  Slowly, I got the hang of it until I finally acquired enough ability to get from point A to point B.  It still felt awkward, though, and took tremendous amounts of concentration and effort.  In short, driving my new lovely car wasn't so lovely.
I am not sure how long this went on.  I do remember one humiliating occasion of being unable to get my car in the right gear in the parking lot at work while a coworker waited impatiently behind me.  But mostly I remember the day I was driving home from work, and coming off the freeway, it all seemed to click into place.  I didn't think to check the rear view mirror, but if I had, I'm pretty sure I would have seen a light bulb over my head.  What hadn't made sense before, made sense.  What hadn't worked, worked.  It was like my mind and my body had finally decided to work together and stop fighting each other. Thinking about it even now, I am pretty sure I can hear angels singing.  It was the most sublime a-ha moment of my life.
There are a few lessons I am sure can be learned from this experience.  Everyone has things they are good at and learning comes easily, and everyone has things that are difficult for them.  When learning something new, you sometimes are going to have to persevere through the struggle before you get it.  Everyone learns at their own pace.  These are important lessons, ones I need to keep in mind as I help my students learn and as I watch my own children grow through the experiences of their lives.  These are important lessons.  My take-away, however, is a little different and a little more personal.
When I think about this particular event in my life, I marvel at the shear gumption I displayed.  I knew what I wanted and I wasn't about to let anything, not even lack of skill, stand in my way.  I fought hard to make it happen.  And I triumphed.  That moment sticks in my head when so many other memories have faded from view.  Why?  Not just because it was a moment of success, but because it was a moment of success following failure.  I refused to be beaten and took control.  Some would say it was a stupid move to buy that car.  I say it was bold.  And a move that led to one of my proudest moments.

Thank you, Dad, for always being there for me even when it meant great sacrifice on your part, for believing in me, and for giving me the courage to believe in myself.

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