Five Stories of Lessons Learned

Driving through the Rain
Photo by Randy Stern

Even as adults, we always have lessons to learn.

These life lessons include living with automobiles. Rather, how we integrate our lives with our vehicles. We often blur the lines between our automobiles and ourselves.

We also think that our vehicles are capable of doing things that may not necessarily possible. Often we hear stories and legends of these crazy stunts and other hard-to-believe moments that our minds often go into "what if" mode.

All of this is part of the romanticism that we place upon our automobiles. Our vehicles may be our heroes…or our villains.

To understand this notion is to look at my own lessons that needed to be learned behind the wheel. Stories filled with wrong decisions fueled by the overarching understanding that I can do anything with an automobile. Keeping in theme of V&R – I picked, of course, five of them to tell.

There is one bit of information to give before I go on: Some of these tales involve adult situations. Reader discretion is advised. Oh, and don't try these at home…or wherever you find yourself in these situations.

THE PLACE: TARZANA/RESEDA, CALIFORNIA
THE VEHICLE: 1985 CHEVROLET NOVA CL 4-DOOR

Remember the story of the "Tortoise and the Hare?" We all know what happened in that fable where the slow one actually beat the rabbit. Or, how Bugs Bunny was too cocky and confident to be his own foil. There are similar stories and parables, such as the song about the "little Nash Rambler" who went up against a big high performance V8. Picture this: A high school acquaintance had just bought his Ford Mustang SVO – black, evil and turbocharged. I rented a new NUMMI-built, Toyota engineered Chevrolet Nova for the weekend. If I'm not mistaken, we went out for margaritas at some place on Ventura Boulevard and were headed home. This dude pulled up aside my rented beige Fremont-built compact sedan and challenged me to a race. Being young(er) and stupid, I accepted. At the corner of Reseda and Oxnard –it was on. We faced northbound towards the railroad tracks (now the Metro Orange Line BRT right-of-way) and hoped for the best. If I recall, I had one of my friends with me. Guess who won? The SVO did. Not all stories about the Tortoise and the Hare always favored the slower, shelled character. BTW, that was my last drag race…or, car challenge. I learned a lot from that tussle.

THE PLACE: CANDLESTICK PARK, SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
THE VEHICLE: 1985 OLDSMOBILE CUTLASS CIERA 4-DOOR

Celebrity sightings can be rather exciting. However, being perceived as a celebrity can get really interesting. One quick trip up to the Bay Area from Reseda resulted in a night away from my father to take in a Friday night San Francisco Giants game at The 'Stick. I believe they were playing the Philadelphia Phillies. Because of the notorious chill from the bay at night, I lucked out and brought a jacket with me. This one was pretty special – a satin San Francisco 49ers jacket from the early 1980s. It was my favorite jacket at the time as it was the same as the players wore. Keep in mind that I'm not a petite person. After the game, I exited the ballpark with in my jacket on…minding my own business. Some dudes were walking behind me thinking I was a member of the 49ers…or, some big shot season ticket holder. I heard them wondered whether I drove something luxurious. Then, I approached my rented medium blue Olds Cutlass Ciera. Oh, the disappointment from my "stalkers!" I believe I smiled slyly and got into the car. No lessons learned here…just one heck of a chuckle from The 'Stick all the way to Novato.

THE PLACE: STATE COLLEGE, PENNSYLVANIA
THE VEHICLE: 1998 OLDSMOBILE ACHIEVA SL 4-DOOR

Just for reference sake: The Bear subculture are normally gay/bisexual men who have a few more pounds on their body, a bit more body and facial hair than a mainstream homosexual male and are supposedly masculine. And, sometimes, they can be a breeding ground for geekery and darker shades of humor. During one summer, I drove from my home (at the time) in Falls Church, Virginia to meet some of the local Gen-X Bears up in Happy Valley for the weekend. The rented Achieva was doing quite fine, despite my misgivings of its styling. On the Saturday of my visit, we were thrown into the compact-ish Olds for a caving adventure nearby. The rain created another dimension in our travels along US Highway 22 right in the throes of the Allegheny Front. Our drive back seemed uneventful…until a bird decided to fly low on the road we were on. The bird ended up going right into one of the five holes of the Achieva's passenger side front wheel. The next thing I knew, I was called a "bird killer." Throughout the rest of my stay in State College, I was teased to no end about how I could not stop for a bird before it became part of a disc brake rotor. Lesson learned? Watch for low flying birds.

THE PLACE: CULPEPER, VIRGINIA
THE VEHICLE: 1999 PLYMOUTH BREEZE 4-DOOR

How far are you willing to go for love? As "The Cubby House" radio show on Melbourne's Joy 94.9FM found out a month or so ago, about over 13,000 kilometers (it's an Australian show, BTW). In my case, it was about 61 miles. I met a guy online who seemed rather nice. I wasn't sure where it would go, but we agreed to meet down where he lived. In a rented Plymouth, I headed down US Highway 29 right into the heart of Virginia. The town of Culpeper would be an unlikely locale for such a potential ex-boyfriend. Beyond the Beltway, it was expected for any place to be rather conservative and its gay residents to be extremely closeted. For this fella to be out, he did not need to come into DC, but a gay bar at the back of a popular restaurant in Fredericksburg. We did hit it off…quite well, may I add. We spent so much time in the throes of each other's company that the time flew. I ended up leaving and headed back toward Falls Church. Somewhere on Interstate 66 near Manassas, the skies opened up. I experienced something I never thought was possible – a short, but sustained deluge of rain. It was someone simply poured a bucket of water over the land for 15 minutes straight. I felt that I could not drive until the rain let up. That was surreal to go through that – for love or something close to it. My lesson? Perhaps reminding me to check the weather forecast before setting off to drive.

THE PLACE: TWIN PEAKS, SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
THE VEHICLE: 1994 MAZDA MX-6 2-DOOR

There were moments when two organisms were attracted to each other to do something rash, but pleasurable. The classic make-out scene in the back seat of an automobile was a rite of passage for the young in decades gone by. The reason why many people stopped making out in the back seat was the scale of the vehicles…and the human body. Without going into specifics, I met a hot guy at a bar in SoMa, we made out, and wanted to do more. Me? I lived the suburbs of Contra Costa County. That was out of the picture. Him? He lived in the city, but with roommates. Any alternatives? Um…not that would cause further drama amongst peripheral people, but everything else was off the table. Solution? We drove up through the Castro in my rented Mazda coupe and found a reasonably flat place up on Twin Peaks to do something with the lights of the city entertaining us. Needless to say, it was the wrong car to make out in! A gearshift, a handbrake and a console binnacle made for some interesting gymnastics that would seem impossible for hirsute men to accomplish. Note to self, pick a proper vehicle to make out in. Did I learn that lesson? No…well, I did after the second time.

The moral of these stories are…you're human. You make mistakes. Then you get older and have to recall these stories to remind you how much you've grown. As painful, silly and just downright wrong as they me…someone else be will pulling the same things at the same age you did them.

Then, you take a deep breath and wonder if anyone else had done these silly things dating back well over a decade or more. Knowing that there were similar stories of this kind that all it takes is a good run of laughter. And, a smile. That's what life is all about.

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