I consider myself a good driver. Competent, anyhow. I may never get the driver-of-the-year award, but I’m not as bad as the woman I watched at the post office one afternoon. She slammed her back fender into another car three times before she stuck her head out the window and asked, “Oh my gosh! Is that crashing noise me?”
I’m most comfortable when I am driving my own car. On the rare occasions when I drive my husband’s pickup truck I make sure that I don’t have to back up. I’m good at driving; I’m bad at backing up. I’m bad at turning left, too. So when I drive his truck I simply avoid situations that involve reverse or lefts. The truth is, if you plan ahead, you can live your entire life without ever having to back up. And if you make enough right turns, eventually you get to that spot where one left turn would have put you.
My reluctance to step outside of my driving comfort zone was what kept me from getting behind the wheel of our 10-foot-wide, 34-foot-long motor home that also tows my car when we take trips. Every now and then — especially during those gazillion miles to and from Alaska — my husband would ask if I wanted to drive the RV. But before I’d have a chance to consider, he’d rescind the invitation, probably remembering the times I’d driven our car into the side of the garage, or the time I made a left turn in Japan (where one drives in the left lane) and pivoted around a telephone pole, denting the entire left side of the car. (However, it should be noted that the pole was too close to the road and anyhow, I did get the dent out by using a toilet bowl plunger, so I’d call that little incident a “non-event” on account of that “no harm, no foul” thing.) Anyhow, I’m sure that’s what went through his mind when he’d ask if I wanted to drive the RV, then would quickly distract me by changing the subject.
But one day I said “Yes!” before he had a chance to say “Oh, look, a cow!” So we switched seats. He helped me adjust the side mirrors. There’s no rearview mirror in our RV because who the hell can see that far behind you? Anyhow, I sure can’t. Instead, there’s a camera on the back of the RV and the monitor is built into the dashboard.
“This is fun!” I said after about 10 minutes on the road.
That’s good, my driving instructor told me, then suggested that I go a little faster than 20 mph. Faster was scarier. I clutched the steering wheel in a death grip and tried to remember the rules: Stay in your lane, watch your speed, glance in your side mirrors, check the monitor to make sure the towed car hasn’t detached itself.
I got the RV to highway cruising speed and was doing great. It was like driving a bus, a bus pulling a car. I was king of the road and I liked it! Then I saw three words that made me freeze: TOLL BOOTH AHEAD. I screamed “Toll booth ahead! I can’t drive through a toll booth!”
“Sure you can,” said the man who’s always had way too much confidence in me.
Obviously, toll booths were invented by a person who didn’t drive a 10-foot-wide RV, which is why they are about 10-feet, 5-inches wide, leaving a generous 2 1/2 inches of wiggle room on either side.
I was sure I couldn’t do it, but like the air-traffic controller who helps the passenger land a 747 when the pilots have passed out from food poisoning, my copilot talked me through that toll booth. I was still screaming “I can’t do this!” as we got to the toll taker who pried loose the quarters that had embedded themselves into my palm during the final moments of our approach. Somehow I got us through that skinny space. It did take me about 40-45 minutes, and it was noisy because the drivers behind us weren’t as patient as my copilot. But when I saw that we were fully through, I felt fantastic! I had done it! It was as if I had just helped a camel pass through the eye of a needle. A 35-foot camel. With side mirrors.