IN 1984 MY BROTHER COSIGNED a car loan for me. My very first car was a bright yellow nineteen seventy-one Chevrolet Chevette with a hole in the floor on the driver’s side. When you got into the car, you had to swing your legs in over the hole.
The car sold for fifteen hundred dollars. I put five hundred dollars down and stretched the rest out over two years. My car note was seventy-four dollars a month. And my car insurance was a mere forty-seven dollars a month.
My little yellow Chevette would give me freedom. But first I had to learn how to drive. My brother drove the car home and parked it in my parking spot at the Gentilly apartment building.
With the bike, I’d practiced early on Saturday mornings. The car I deemed would need a lot more practice. So, every morning I rose a half-hour early. I started by turning the car on and off. After I got over the fear of that, I practiced backing the car up in its parking space and slowly pulling it forward within the same space.
After about a month of backing up and going forward, I decided it was time to hit the streets. I figured I’d better choose a time when there weren’t a lot of people on the streets.
So, I again, I started at five in the morning and practiced until six. I carefully started the car, put it in reverse and eased my foot down on the gas. So far so good. Holding my breath, I put the car in drive and at the fantastic speed of five miles per hour, I pulled out of the apartment complex. I drove around the block, braking for every parked car. It took fifteen minutes to go around the block. By the time I got the car back into its spot, I was sweating bullets. But I was confident that I was going to drive that car one day. But until that day came, I was taking the bus to work.
Each morning, I went a little further, and a little further, and a little further. After all, I deemed, if I got into trouble, I could simply shut off the car — no problem — even if it was in drive. Just reach down and turn the key. Off went the car. (Now you understand why my brother made me get a used car for my first car!)
It wasn’t until I rounded a corner, a little too fast, one morning and took out a lady’s garbage cans that I learned you should use the brakes while turning. After careening through the garbage cans, the car was headed straight for the garage and instinctually, I lifted my foot off the gas and then stomped both feet down hard. One foot, thankfully, hit the brake. I carefully backed out of the driveway but not before a very angry woman came to the door screaming, “who’s out there. I’m calling the Police.”
About two months after that incident, I woke up late. If I took time to shower and dress, I’d miss my bus. What to do?
Reason won out. There were thirty-five men on the floor where I worked, under the age of thirty and another fifteen or so over the age of thirty. There was no way I was going to work without showering, putting on makeup, or combing my hair. I drove to work that morning, keeping to the back streets, of course.