It wasn’t until I began thinking about promoting my new mystery, Crash Course, that I realized where my fascination with driving horror stories really came from. I thought it had come from reading all the online complaints by other transplanted Americans concerning their experiences with driving in England. Or worse, with passing the required driving test. Americans have to take it and pass it within a year of moving to the UK. Canadians? Not so much. Which is odd; I’ve always considered US and Canadian drivers to be about equal. Chalk it up to commonwealth solidarity.
Anyway, I happened to see an old photograph of my mother on a trip through some scanned pictures this morning…and it came to me. It is all my mother’s fault. My heebie jeebies about the test, obsessing about it, and doing all sorts of other things that led, in the end, to my writing a murder mystery about a driving instructor…they were all my mother’s fault.
Driving test in NYC
My mother was only 17 when she married my father, and had not yet passed her driving test. She signed up to take it and, on the appointed day, arrived at the test site in a borough of New York City. She did all right throughout the test, or so she thought. But then the examiner asked her to parallel park, which she also did quite well. But there was a problem. She did it in a fire hydrant zone, marked in yellow on the kerb. When the examiner got out of the car, he tripped over it. She failed.
The second test went all right, too, until she apparently narrowly missed hitting a bus. She told the examiner that she “could drive all right, but not judge.” She failed.
Mom's automobile safety procedures
The third time was the charm. Well, sort of, since she passed. But she was a nervous driver all her life, even when she wasn’t driving. Especially when she wasn’t driving. Straight-arming the dashboard was a favourite manoeuvre, as was muttering, “You’re going to kill us all” when the driver (me, my father, my brother…anyone) approached too close to the vehicle ahead.
How close was too close? Put it this way, if you could actually see the other car’s tail lights, you were too close. Apparently, my mother favoured a sort of mystical form of driving in which one sensed the other cars through the etheric. At least when someone else was driving, a condition she unaccountably aimed for as often as possible. That was, of course, OK with us as we really didn’t care much for a 30mph pace regardless of conditions, imprecations about other drivers―virtually all other drivers―for…umm….driving, and taking the odd turn the wrong way on a one-way street. While my mother was a dear and often amusing woman, she was a dreadful motorist.
At least she never hit anyone. Looking for horror stories this morning, I came upon this one on the internet from the UK: “Ran over the instructor’s son. Luckily I only broke his foot; could have been a lot worse.”
Pulling down the garage
I wonder if that examiner in Queens, NY is still around. I’d show him that, and possibly he would feel better about his own conduct in passing my mother. I’m not sure if he did a good or a bad thing…but the only thing my mother ever broke was the garage door. She had bought herself a pickup truck; she claimed she could see the road and other drivers better that way. (Or perhaps she figured a truck was big enough and high enough that she would survive any of the stupid things she knew OTHER drivers did.) Backing it out of the garage one morning, she hooked the garage frame with the bumper, back when trucks actually had metal bumpers, and took the whole frame out.
“Lou, why didn’t you stop when you hooked it?” my father asked her, surveying the mangled metal in the driveway.
“I thought it would be easier for you to fix if it was all the way out,” she replied, climbing back into the cab as Dad shoved some excess bits aside so she wouldn’t wreck her tires as well.
I, sleeping in my room above the garage, just smiled and went back to sleep.