Tag Archives: driving

I’m not afraid anymore

I used to be really scared of bugs, but come on, bugs aren’t that scary. Sure, some of them can sting and pinch and poison, but for the most part they’re all really small and harmless. Like I saw this silverfish hanging out on my bedroom wall the other day, and I looked at it, and for a second I was like, man, I hate bugs. But after another second I was like, I’m not scared of bugs, I’m not scared of this silverfish, that silverfish should be scared of me. So I reached for a slipper and – smack! – right against the wall. I had to clean it up though, and now there’s kind of a little stain. But I don’t really know how I’m supposed to go about getting it out of the bedroom without killing it. Whatever, at least I’m not really scared of bugs anymore.


I used to be really afraid of getting in a car accident. But then I thought, why am I so scared? I’ve already been in like ten car accidents, seven of them were definitely my fault, and I’m no worse for the wear. Obviously I’m not trying to diminish the seriousness of automobile safety or anything like that, and yeah, if you or a loved one has been through a life-altering car crash, I hope I’m not coming across as insincere. It’s just that, from my point of view anyway, from my experience, I can’t afford to be scared of car accidents anymore. Like I said, I’ve already been in like a dozen, maybe fifteen or sixteen car accidents, the majority of them my fault, like this one time I was driving a big cargo van and I sideswiped this lady’s Jaguar, it was a really slow speed, like we were in a parking lot, but still, I got out of the car and she was like, “My Jaguar! My baby!” and I apologized and, yeah, that sucks, I didn’t want to mess up her Jaguar, but the insurance took care of everything. And besides, a year or two years later, I was driving my car on the highway when an SUV sideswiped my two-door Hyundai Accent at full highway speed. And the SUV pulled over and these big meat-heads came out and the one guy gave me two hundred bucks, cash, like he wasn’t negotiating, he wasn’t saying to me, “Do you think we could settle this for two hundred dollars?” no, he just handed me the cash, got back in his car and drove away. And in the cosmic scale of justice and the universe and everything, I think I’m tit-for-tat with that Jaguar lady, and so what do I have to be afraid of? The universe will take care of everything, me being scared isn’t going to change a thing.

And it’s like, I used to be terrified of flying. I never had any panic attacks or anything, you know, every time that I’ve had to fly somewhere, I’ve always boarded the plane, taken my seat, everything without incident. But I used to sit there in complete terror as the plane taxied down the runway, imagining how just after takeoff, there’d be a sudden loss in power, everything would go dead, and I’d actually feel it, the sensation of being subtly lifted from my seat as my body and everything around me starts to free-fall. But come on, I can’t waste my time being afraid of planes. Nothing’s going to happen. And if it does happen, whatever, I just take three or four Xanax right before the flight anyway. If that free-fall thing actually started to happen, if I wasn’t already in the middle of a chemically-induced superpower nap, I’d probably enjoy it, the floating on the plane matching the floating in my head.

And I always used to get so bent out of shape about global warming. I’d imagine all sorts of prehistoric bugs and snakes making their way to my northeastern climate. But then people started telling me stuff like, “It’s not just global warming, OK Rob, it’s climate change.” And I’m like, that’s not too bad. More extreme seasons? I actually kind of prefer that. Because, don’t you hate it when you get all the way to March or April and there’s hardly been any snow? You can’t go skiing, the schools never close, I never get to call up my boss and say stuff like, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to make it in today.” No, I want like real seasons. And if the climate’s changing around me to make that actually happen, then I’m totally behind it. Or if not behind it, at least I’m not scared anymore.

I used to be really scared that I was too scared about everything, always worrying, playing out these horrible nightmare scenarios in my head. But I’m not scared anymore. Because what’s to be scared of? I heard this song on the classic radio station, and at the end, the singer records himself in a really old-time record-sounding voice, he says something like, “You don’t have to be scared of anything, except for fear itself.” And it really just stuck with me, because nothing’s going to happen, right, it’s like that car accident I was talking about before, even if something does happen, how bad can it be? What’s the worst that can happen, really?

Gas station co-op

“Fill me up with regular,” I told the guy working the pump. Normally I never get full-serve gas. I mean, I know how to work the pump. It’s ridiculous to make someone else get out there and do it for you. But there was a line behind pump three, and the positioning of my gas cap … yeah, I guess I could have made it work. It would have been an awkward three-point parallel park to get over to the opposite side. Or I could have just waited like five minutes.


But it was freezing out, and it happened so fast, my brain’s way of justifying anything. There was a split decision, for a second I didn’t feel bad about paying those five extra cents a gallon, I pulled up at the full-serve pump and the attendant came around to take my credit card.

And again, it’s not really like full, full-serve. I’d imagine full service to be me not having to turn the car off during refueling. That’s got to be a bullshit rule, turn your ignition off while the pump’s running. What’s going to happen, an explosion? I doubt it. You’d hear about a gas station explosion, even if it only happened once in a while. You hear about every time a plane crashes, and that’s not a very common thing. So a gas station explosion, that would be big news.

Besides I’m pretty sure I’ve left the car running before. One time it was really cold out and I knew that if you used pump eight, the handle still had that little lock, like you could set it to pump and then go back inside the car and wait. It was great, almost like self-full-service. And yeah, I do remember it now, I left the car running, the heat on, I was listening to the radio. I must have lost track of time though, because all of the sudden the gas station guy was banging on my window, he was screaming, I couldn’t tell about what exactly, but I got out of the car and there was gas spilling everywhere, I guess the automatic shut-off wasn’t working for whatever reason, and there was this huge puddle underneath.

That was a pretty expensive mistake, something like a hundred dollars worth of gas, mostly spilled. But still, you fill up the tank and you don’t spill anything, it’s not cheap. “Sixty-seven twenty-three,” the guy handed me back my credit card and my receipt. Was it the full-service? It couldn’t have amounted to that much bigger an expense.

“There’s got to be a better way,” I looked up at the attendant. I don’t even know why I said it. I’m driving a car, I just had this guy pump my gas for me, what’s he interested in my complaints? Oh boo-hoo, you had to pay money for gas, you got sit there in your car and watch me pump it for you. And it’s freezing out here. And are you going to give me a tip? And I don’t even know, do you tip gas station guys? Sure, he’d definitely accept it, but is that a thing?

He was surprisingly sympathetic. He looked me in the eye and said, “There is a better way. You interested?”

“Of course I’m interested,” I said, and he told me to follow him inside the little gas station attendant’s booth.

“A gas station co-op?” I didn’t really understand it. I mean, I understand what a co-op is, you know, for food, for groceries. They have one a little further downtown, where people have to put in a little time at the grocery store, shelving boxes, running the register. I’ve never been, but I heard it’s something about organic produce, a lot of raw stuff … to be perfectly honest, I don’t get the appeal. But people love it.

“So you work the pump for like two hours a week, and then you get fifteen cents off of every gallon as long as you stay in good standing with the co-op.” He looked at me, he definitely had that look like, I got him, I’m totally getting this guy to sign up for the co-op. They must have had some referral program, because, even though this guy clearly wasn’t a natural salesman, I could still see that glint in his eye, the promise of welcoming someone else into the fold.

“I don’t know,” I was getting a little cold in the booth, “I’ll think about it.” Which definitely meant no, and he could see it too, because his face got visibly frustrated. I couldn’t tell if, you know, he might make one more play to get me to stay. He looked like he was about to say something else, but then his head turned abruptly and he ran out of the booth.

Apparently he must have forgotten to take the pump out of my car. And also apparently, I must have forgotten to shift the car into park. Because it started rolling, very, very slowly, backward. He fiddled with the driver’s side door, to get to the brakes, but it was locked, and that pump started stretching, a little bit more, I wasn’t reacting as fast as he was, and then it snapped, gas everywhere, they had to shut off the master pump to stop it from pouring out.

“What the hell man?” he said to me, and all I could see in my head was some owner coming over to the station, screaming at me, all of that lost gas, plus all of the lost sales from having to shut the place down for the rest of the day.

“What the hell to you?” I said in defense, “You were the one who left the pump in the car. You told me to follow you inside. That’s on you, man.”

And I could tell that he was angry, he was frustrated, but that same whatever it was that prevented him from really selling me on the co-op, it was also hindering him from really articulating any more of a fight. He just stood there, staring at me, he looked increasingly more pissed, I worried that he might do something desperate.

I said, “Hey man, you know what? I’m thinking about that co-op. Here’s my number. Once you get this whole pump business fixed, just give me a ring, I’m in.”

And yeah, that worked a little bit. His face didn’t get any more relaxed, but it stopped twisting into as big of a grimace. He didn’t offer any resistance as I took the pump handle out of my car, screwed on the cap and drove away. I could see him in my rearview mirror, holding that piece of paper on which I wrote my number.

But it wasn’t my number. I wrote down the number for the deli across town. Because fuck that, I’m not working for some gas co-op. That just sounds crazy. No thanks, I’ll pay the fifteen extra cents a gallon. Of course I can’t go back to that gas station for a while. And I’m never doing full-service again. I’m telling you, that’s bad news, all right? You just get out, or you wait for a pump, and you do it yourself. Unless you’re in New Jersey, where self-service is mandated by law. But fuck that too, get out of Jersey fast, you never know when Chris Christie is going to shut down another bridge and make it a real headache for you to get back to New York.

It’s not that I don’t want to help

It’s not that I don’t want to help, I do. I want to help. I just don’t feel like it. If only I felt more like helping out. Like, I wish that I were in the mood to lend a hand. So I want to help, it’s just, I can’t get past that internal inertia, dammit, if only that weren’t there, then we’d be good to go, because I always want to help out, in any way that I can really, it’s just, right now, I don’t think there is a way. Because I’m so tired.

ants log

And it’s not that I don’t like that shirt you gave me. I do like it. It’s only, well I can never figure out the right occasion to wear it. Like, yeah I guess I could have worn it out tonight, but then that would have been it. The first time you put on a new shirt, that’s something special, something you can’t recreate the next time. After that it’s just an old shirt. So yeah, I’ll get to it eventually, but it has to be the right time. That’s something you can’t force. If anything, it’s too nice of a shirt. I may never get around to wearing it. And that would actually be a good thing, get it?

Please, don’t mistake my not eating very much of this meal as any sort of judgment on your cooking, it’s delicious, really, it’s just that, I’m still full from lunch. That happens sometimes, you eat lunch but it kind of just sits in your stomach. Right? And your appetizers, I mean, they weren’t that big, but they were really filling. Even just that one bite that I took out of those … what was that, a celery stick, yes, but filled with what? Yogurt? Cream cheese? Mayo? I couldn’t pinpoint the tartness exactly, and, when you put chocolate chips instead of raisins, was that on purpose? Those were raisins? Right, of course they were. And they were delicious. Can I take some of this home? Because I’m totally going to wolf it down tomorrow.

And come on, I think you’re a great driver, but I couldn’t accept a ride home from you, it would be too much. Besides, I always walk home, it’s only like seven or eight miles, I’ll be home in no time. I know, I did look pretty anxious the last time you gave me a ride, but don’t take it personally, I’m nervous in any type of an automobile. Christ, you should see me on an airplane. And the constantly checking to make sure you looked when you turned, the grabbing onto the side handle, the violent flinching when you kind of ran that red light. Well, it was pretty much red. Yeah, well, just because you didn’t get pulled over doesn’t mean you didn’t run the light. But whatever, you nailed it. You’re a great driver. But I’m going to walk.

And, again, I’m sorry if I misunderstood the reason you had us all over. I had no idea you were trying to organize canvassers to help out on Election Day. And bravo to you, seriously, that’s very commendable, getting out there, providing a great role model for the rest of us regular citizens. It’s not that I don’t want to help … I told you this already, right? Yeah, it’s just, I thought you were just having people over to have people over, not to fundraise or organize, or … and yeah, I’m a grassroots guy all the way. Except for right now. I’m so tired. I think that huge lunch from before, it’s turning into an upset stomach. Good thing I didn’t waste that shirt on tonight, am I right?

Well, hopefully this long walk home will help everything settle down inside. But let’s hang out soon, OK? Next Monday? Next Monday I think I’m busy. Actually, all of next week, and the week after that, man, I can’t believe I was even able to get free tonight. But this headache. Soon, definitely soon. See, look, I’m writing you in my calendar, “soon.” I’ll see you soon, man. Later.

So you know what I did?

The other day I was driving in my car when this guy totally cut me off in an exit ramp on the Grand Central Parkway. Traffic wasn’t even that bad. I was maybe ten, eleven cars back, waiting for my turn to get off. And yes, of course I considered coasting along the left side of all of the other waiting cars, cutting in front right at the last second. There was plenty of room, and cops never pull drivers over on the Grand Central Parkway. But I waited my turn. And right when I was on deck, this guy comes out of nowhere and noses in front of me, very aggressively, looking back at me to make eye contact, like saying, “What are you going to do about it, huh?”

grand central parkway

So you know what I did? I gave him a big smile and waved him through, as if to say, “Go for it, friend. Please, help yourself to my spot.” Because, who am I to get angry? Maybe this guy just got fired from his job. Maybe he was a professional driver, but his boss called him in to the office today, he was like, “Listen, you’re a nice guy and everything, but this isn’t working out. You’re too soft on the road. We need someone a little more assertive. Sorry, but you’re fired.” And this guy’s driving home, he’s thinking, I’m not soft behind the wheel, I’m very assertive, aggressive even. And then he cuts me off and he looks at me and, what? What is he expecting?

So that’s me, giving him a thumbs up, I’m telling him through my body language, “Yeah man. You tell ‘em. I can’t believe your boss incorrectly pegged you as the passive type. You. You, my friend, are most certainly one of the stronger drivers I’ve encountered on the road. And that’s saying something, because I’m driving a lot. Let me tell you something, the way you saw that six inch gap open up in front of me, the attitude expressed as you inched your front bumper into a position that I was in no way capable of arguing with, that my amigo, that was some ballsy driving. In a good way.”

And then later in the evening I went to the grocery store to get something for dinner. I had a craving for Mexican food, and I always make this great sauce, you need smoked jalapenos canned in adobo, whatever that means, I found this recipe a while ago that called for smoked jalapenos in adobo. Anyway, this grocery store had just one can left. What luck, right? So I threw it in my cart and headed down the dairy aisle to pick up some eggs and milk and stuff.

chiles adobo

But I was looking at expiration dates, making sure everything was fresh, when I noticed this lady kind of shadowing behind me. It was weird enough that I was definitely picking up some strange vibes, but not entirely noticeable that I’d necessarily call her out. Besides, I had no idea of her intentions, if anything, it was my fault that I’d automatically assume something negative going on. But unfortunately, my instincts proved correct, because while I was opening up a carton of eggs to test the strength of each shell, I caught this lady in the corner of my eye reach into my basket and snatch my can of peppers.

By the time my mind registered what was actually happening, she had already shuffled half an aisle down, her head turned back just enough so I could make eye contact with her left eye, and without saying anything, I could read her, she was telling me, “Go ahead and say something. You want to make a scene? Let’s make a scene. I’m crazy enough to steal groceries out of your cart. You think I won’t scream? Or throw stuff? Try me.”

You know what I did? I flashed her a big smile, almost like I was in the middle of a good natured, sincere laugh. I opened my hands and raised them in the air while I shrugged my shoulders, almost like saying, “You got me! Yep, you certainly got me, you devil you,” and then I made a mock-squinty face, wagging my finger at her, like, “Oh you, I see you, but you got me!” because, why am I going to get so upset? Over peppers? She obviously needed those peppers, or at least wanted them more enough than I did, because I’d never steal groceries out of someone else’s basket, not unless I had a really good reason. Maybe she had a really good reason. Maybe her dad grew those peppers. Maybe those peppers were his most prized peppers, out of all of the other peppers he’d ever grown. And maybe when he wasn’t looking, the farm owners came over and harvested everything and put them in cans with adobo sauce, and he came running home to his daughter and was like, “Honey, you saved the big ones, right? My prized peppers? When they came for the harvest, tell me you saved my favorite peppers!” and she didn’t know what to say, she knew how much her dad loved those peppers, and seeing the pain it caused him, watching this once proud man fall to his knees, weeping like a child, she had no other choice than to follow the chain of production, to buy back every single can of peppers that she could get her hand on. Surely if she could present her father with all of those cans, he’d see how sorry she was, that maybe one of those peppers was in one of those cans, somewhere, somehow.

And that’s why I stood there in the aisle, still fake laughing at that lady, like I was telling her, “No need to be so sneaky, I’m not mad at all. Please, help yourself to anything you need. Can I help you with anything else? Maybe I have some old cans tucked away in the back of my pantry. Might those be of any help? Can I help you carry your bags to the car? Do you need me to find other cans of peppers in different groceries? I could ask the manager if they have any stocked away in the back.”

But she still looked really suspicious, still shuffling toward the register, still with that one left eye trained on my general vicinity. I couldn’t possibly know what she was going through, no more than she could know about me, about how while I was doing my best to let her know that I was OK, I lost the grip in my left hand, that carton of eggs, it slipped just a little bit, and I caught it, but the carton jolted slightly, and one egg fell out, it was open after all, I was checking all of the eggs, I don’t know why, it’s something my mother taught me as a little kid that you’re supposed to do when you buy eggs, and so this one egg fell right at my feet, egg everywhere, on both shoes, on my left pant leg, and I was just standing there shrugging and grinning and throwing my other hand in the air, like, “Whoops! What a klutz! Right? I can’t believe I dropped that egg on my shoe. Clean up on aisle six! Please, I’m fine, I can handle this. Give me the mop. I’d like to be the one to take care of this mess. No it’s fine, I insist. If this is the worst thing that happens to me today, then I’ll be A-OK, I’ll be in great shape, just terrific!”

I’m still pissed that I failed my first road test twelve years ago

If there’s one thing I’d love to go back in time and redo, it’s my road test. The first one. The one that I screwed up. It seems like a crazy thing to obsess over, but it was such a scam. There’s no reason why I should have failed that first time around. I think the whole system was set up against my passing.

Whatever, tell it to the judge, right? Yeah, well, find me a judge, get me a cheap lawyer, let’s go back into those DMV records, I want to find out just who administered my road test. Let’s get her on the stand and make her swear under oath that I didn’t deserve to pass it that time. Scratch that, if she was willing to lie the first time around, about my driving ability, she’ll probably lie to the judge anyway.

Nobody deserved his license more than I did. From a very early age, all I ever wanted to do was to drive a car. I have very vivid memories of me being a little kid, strapped in some car seat in the back of my parents’ station wagon, dreaming of the day when I’d be able to get behind the wheel and drive myself around. As I got closer to turning sixteen, time conspired against me, each day that passed felt like a year, ever closer to gaining my license yet infinitely further away.

Sometime in between my fifteenth and sixteenth birthday, I had everything set up, all of the paperwork filled out for my learner’s permit, my application for driver’s ed. All I had to do was wait for the earth to complete another partial revolution around the sun so that I’d finally reach that arbitrary age that our government decided was old enough for me to officially begin to learn how to drive.

I turned sixteen. Learner’s permit, check. All I had to do now was sit around some classroom every week for a couple months and watch boring educational videos on such compelling topics as, learning that you’re not supposed to play with the radio volume while you’re on the highway, or, understanding that getting cut off in traffic does not entitle you to pull a crowbar out of your trunk and start smashing the offender’s windshield in.

Even the instructor’s knew that driver’s ed was a joke. Our behind-the-wheel lessons consisted of us splitting our time between running errands around town for the teacher and going to get ice cream at various locations around Long Island. I think the final exam included a collage, magazine clippings glued to poster board like it was some sort of a rinky-dink teen-driving convention.

I didn’t totally mind however, because it was at least something to do, a reason to get out of the house. Plus, I actually got to spend time behind the wheel. It was a tease, sure, looking over at my instructor in the passenger’s side, he had this extra brake installed by his feet I guess so if I lost control or something.

After I accumulated the necessary classroom hours, I was able to set up my driver’s test. And this was where it counted. This was everything that I had been waiting for, the chance to prove to a representative of New York State’s Department of Motor Vehicles that I, Rob G., was ready to join the ranks of the licensed to drive.

So I showed up to take my test and the inspector pulls up in a Chevy Cavalier. “Wait a second,” I asked her, “I have to take my driver’s test in this? What about my car, the one I’ve been practicing on?” And she agreed, yeah, usually you do get to take it in your own car. But for reasons that she refused to divulge, I’d be taking it in the Cavalier.

I hopped in the front seat and tried to move the seat back. “Don’t move the seat back,” she snapped. “Why? I’m like six foot three, come on.” And she just glared at me. In that moment, while she was probably already deciding that she’d fail me for having the nerve to adjust my seat to an appropriate position, I got a good idea at what I was up against. I don’t think this lady had a soul. She appeared miserable, like the only joy she had left to hope for in life was denying a guy like me my right to the open road.

“Pull out here and go straight,” she mumbled. I pulled out. I started going straight. “Make a right at the light.” I made a right at the light. “OK, pull over, you failed.”

What? I failed? Why? What did I do? She wouldn’t tell me. She wouldn’t say anything. She made me get out of the driver’s seat and drove us the block back to the starting point. It was obvious to everyone standing around that I had failed. She handed me a yellow slip of paper that awarded me absolutely zero points toward my road test. What a bunch of bullshit. I had to wait like three months before I was allowed to even schedule another test, one that I passed without any problems.

Whatever, I guess I should get over it. I don’t even have a car anymore. Still, I can’t believe that I failed. Everybody else in my family passed right away. Do you know how pissed off I get every time a road test conversation gets going? Everybody pointing and laughing, talking about how I’m the worst driver in the family.

I’m the best driver in the family! Oh, how I wish I could go back and redo it. But what would I even do differently? I don’t know. This lady had it out for me. Maybe I’d just reschedule. Or I’d fake a seizure. I don’t know. Or I’d let the person in front of me go ahead while I pretend to try to find my permit, hoping that I’d get a different instructor. I have no idea. It doesn’t matter I guess. But I still think back and I get really pissed off. Because I am the best driver in the family, I swear!