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MARTHA SEZ: It’s drive time; put the pedal to the metal

August 18, 2017
By MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

Nothing is as annoying as other people's driving. Road rage probably predates the horse and buggy.

Don't you hate it when you're in a no-passing lane and someone pulls off a side road into traffic right in front of you so that you have to brake hard, and then just crawls along as if there was all the time in the world? Maybe you would pass this vehicle, except that it keeps wobbling from one side of its lane to the other. You're just not sure where it will be from one moment to the next, which makes passing tricky. I always try to ascertain how elderly the driver is in cases like this.

"Don't roll it, Grandpa!" I think to myself when the car slowly turns off onto another side street a block or so along.

My mother's cars all had automatic transmissions. Nevertheless, she preferred to drive with both feet on the pedals, alternately pumping the accelerator and the brake like a church organist. Her driving method, a constant balancing act between extremes, required deep concentration, and must have been physically as well was mentally tiring for her.

In the case of some untoward event which necessitated even more braking than usual, she would fling out her arm in front of whatever child happened to be riding in the front passenger seat to keep it from hurtling into the dashboard.

Every week or so for what I remember as years and years, but may have been only six months or so, my mother used to drive me to visit an ophthalmologist in Detroit, a distance of about 30 miles from our home. This was very good of my mother, now that I come to think of it, especially as she didn't like to drive. Of course, at the time I took her selfless maternal act entirely for granted. Even had I been a more appreciative child, it would have been difficult for me to feel much on these trips except nausea. Stop, go, stop. Go, stop. Go, go, go! Sudden stop.

Jerk start, lurch stop-I am making myself sick. How are you feeling?

When I was in my late teens, my mother coasted into a self-serve gas station in her Pontiac Le Mans, which had run out of gas, and asked the attendant to fill it up with regular, please. Gasoline cost about 30 cents a gallon then, about the same as a pack of Luckies. Usually she had good success with special requests, but this fellow-I think the name Glen was embroidered across his shirt pocket-was remarkably churlish. He refused. The station was self-serve, he said, and clearly marked as such.

My mother lifted the nozzle, threw the lever, and held the hose with two hands above her head as if it were a giant anaconda. As gasoline doused the pump area, Glen rushed up, grabbed the hose and filled the tank.

"Let's not tell anyone at home about this," my mother said as we drove away. Somehow she had escaped unsplashed.

Yes, I was in the car, and you might be wondering what I was doing all this time, while my poor mother was trying to get help putting gas in her car. The sorry truth is that I didn't know any more than she did about filling a gas tank. I didn't get my driver's license until I was 30 years old, a delinquency even rarer in the Motor City than in other parts of the country.The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

There is a car culture in Detroit, like wine in Napa Valley and snow in Lake Placid. Drought has threatened Napa, global warming is looming over Lake Placid and the loss of industry has decimated Detroit, but the local personalities are still there. In the Detroit area, at fairs and concerts and political events, brand new Fords and Chevies turn slowly on huge pedestals. People decorate with automobiles in Metro Detro, just as in Michigan's Upper Peninsula they decorate with large fish and dead animals and in west Texas they like to use cowboy hats and longhorn steers and old boots.

I was driving my friend Margaret to a party a while back. A Tom Petty song, "You don't Have to Live Like a Refugee," was playing on the radio, and Margaret-objecting to my using my turn indicator a mile or so early-blurted out "You don't have to drive like a re-tiree!"

Have a good week.



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