I've never claimed to be a great driver. My high school hall-of-fame yearbook would confirm that, as I was voted "Craziest Driver" along with my old pal Brian- who was in fact an all-time crazy driver.
I was never in an accident- per say- going forward anyways. Sure my garage growing up expressed several dents on either side of the garage door from my backing up mis-judgements. But I have to say- the garage was built after I had been driving for a while and I had my "routine" down. I jumped in the car, threw it into reverse, turned it around, and drove off. Before the garage was there, it was a perfect turn-around area. Many times after, I had the tendency to forget the garage had been built. My mom planted raised flower boxes to mask the dents on both sides of the garage door.
Going in the ditch is just a right of passage when you drive on icy roads. I cannot count how many visits I have taken to the ditch. Life could not stop when there was a snowstorm, ice-storm, or gently packed snow waiting for your bald tires with a fresh coat of dusty snow on top.
It has been stated that I drive just slightly too fast. I would always deny this conviction, but left questioning my skills after the conversation was long over.
All of this came to my 'ah-ha' moment when I left MN and began driving in Florida. Turns out I was a great driver in Florida. Everyone drove as fast as me if not more! And THEY were crazy drivers. Same thing happened when I moved to Maryland. At a green light, the goal is to get up to the fastest speed possible and then slam on your breaks for the next red light. My dad would say- you sure are trusting your breaks there. Well, yeah, shouldn't you trust your breaks when you drive??
In Maryland. I learned you can totally get away with going 67 miles per hour in a 45 zone. (I got pulled over, and just simply warned that I'm going a little too fast & should slow down.) 70 is standard in a 55. You are holding up traffic otherwise- and who wants to be rude like that? At last, I felt I fit in. My fast driving skills were not only standard here, they were necessary in order for survival!
And don't even get me started on what happens to drivers down south when it rains. I remember the first time I drove in Maryland when it was a rainy day. Every store I went into I was warned as I left to 'be careful out there.' I mean, it was nice of them to be concerned, but it really had me worried as to what was going to happen here when it rains? Most people just cancel their appointments anyways on a rainy day.
Problem is, when I go home, I tend to forget the Minnesota-style driving. They are courteous drivers who only use the left lane for a passing lane- not a lane to hang out in for extended periods for a better view. If you do, you are not considered very courteous at all. No one is really in a hurry much- there is no reason to be. The scenery alone is just too darn pretty not to slow down and enjoy. Finally, you never know just when a deer could jump out in front of you- so you always need to slow down and be looking. My dad taught me to drive in the middle of the road so I'd have more reaction time. This is discouraged in the city.
Fast forward to this Memorial Weekend in Minnesota: I was on my way home to my dad's house. I had just finished early morning church service and was all dressed up nicely. (See what a good girl I am?) I was going along on the gravel cut-across road (there is always a short-cut on the gravel roads to somewhere- it's like a secret world of webbing & intersecting roads). Well, it had been a while since I'd driven on a gravel road. I seemed to forget that while you can go fast on a gravel road, you can't stop fast on a gravel road, and you sure as heck can't corner fast on a gravel road.
It just so happens the road I was driving on had three 90-degree corners before I reached my dad's house. I drove it like a Mario Kart racing game, as I sped up to make up time in the straight spots, and slowed way down to take the corners, fish-tailing slightly if I didn't slow down fast enough. Well, turns out, I had miscalculated. Just when I thought I was home free and began to make up some speed- the road about a hundred yards down appeared as if it just ended and a field of green stood in it's place. Two seconds later, I realized while it did not end, it continued- 90 degrees to the left. I was headed straight for the field at an alarming rate in my tiny little foreign rental car. (another sign that I was an outsider back home)
My effort to slow down failed me and I let off the break as I cornered, hoping the gravel would catch. I slid around the corner and the starboard side (passenger side) of the car's wheels went off the road and into the steep embankment- coming to an abrupt halt. I released my death-grip on the steering wheel and surveyed the situation. I remembered to breathe. My hands began to tremble, no doubt from the adrenaline that had just surged throughout my body. It took all of my weight to push open the driver's side door that sat at a nasty angle. As I climbed out and was instantly bombarded by mosquitoes (how they found me so fast, I'll never know)- I was instantly relieved that the little rental had decided not to roll, as judging from the steep bank it rest on, just a little bit more speed would have been enough to have sent it in that direction.
I hadn't stood there longer (in the middle of no where) than ten seconds when a van came into view, driving towards me. Two middle aged men sat in front and rolled down the window, asking if I was okay.
Me: Yes, I think so- I'm just going to call my dad. He should be able to pull me out.
Kind mini-van guys: Are you sure?
Me: Yes, I'll be okay. Thank you.
They drove off. I began dialing my dad's number. No answer. I dialed my step-mom's number. No answer. I tried to think of who had a truck around here. Then I laughed at the thought. Then I got bit by more mosquitoes and didn't think it was funny. I called my cousin, Jake. He didn't answer. I started to wonder if there was something wrong with my phone. I called his sister, Jenna. Finally I heard a human voice that was not the voice-mail lady.
Me: Jenna! What are you doing? Where's Jake?
Jenna: I'm just at the farm with my mom. Jake should be at home. Is something wrong?
Me: I just tried calling him. Couldn't get through. [Meanwhile another truck comes into view, heading my way.]
Jenna: Is everything okay?
Me: Yeah, I'm just sorta in the ditch right now. Don't worry- I just need to find someone with a truck. Actually, there is a guy in a truck stopping here right now- I'll call you back, okay?
Jenna: Are you sure- where are you? I'll try to call my dad.
Me: Okay- great [the guy is stopped in front of me now] I'll call you back! [I hang up the phone and the guy is getting out of his truck. He is a older gray haired farmer, overalls and everything driving a red Ford F-150- probably about ten years old]
Farmer guy: Hey there, Miss, you alright? [my white high-heels are sinking down into the gravel road now]
Me: Yes, I'm good. I just was driving a little too fast and slid off the road. I'm trying to get in touch with my dad who has a truck, but I can't seem to reach him.
Farmer guy: Well, I live just around the bend there, and I've got me some chains. If you hold tight here, I can run home and get 'em.
Me: Oh really? That would be great. Do you think the car will come out okay- it's a rental, so I'm really nervous about doing any damage to it.
Farmer guy: Oh sure. [he gets down on the ground to survey the situation] Yep, I can hook her up right here and puller out like nothing.
Me: [realizing I don't have a lot of options at this point and my skin is infested with mosquitoes at this point] Okay, sure if you think it would work. That would be wonderful.
Farmer guy: Okay, I'll be right back then. [leans in closer and voice gets lower] Say, you haven't called the cops or anything yet, have yer?
Me: Um... no.
Farmer guy: Okay, just checking. I've had a couple shots a whiskey this morning- just wanted to be sure.
Me: Okay... sure. [oh geeze!]
The farmer gets in his truck and heads back in the direction of his house before his truck disappears in a cloud of dust. Soon, another truck, this time a blue Chevy is headed my way, slows down and rolls down his window to talk to me. Next to him on the passenger seat is a chocolate lab perched with his tongue hanging out, smiling out his window. The dog also turns his head to look at me.
Man with dog: Hey there. Looks like you've got yourself in a bit of trouble. [Ah, nothing like stating the obvious when you're already down.]
Me: Yeeep. I guess I was just going a little too fast on these gravel roads.
Man with dog: You call a wrecker yet?
Me: Well, actually a guy that lives just up the road is going to help me. He's running home real quick to grab his chains.
Man with dog: Oh, that's not Bob is it? 'Cause you know he may be tippin the bottle a little.
Me: [great] Um, not sure. Do you think I should call a wrecker? I can't risk having any damage to my rental.
Man with dog: [getting out of his truck now to also look under the car] Well, then you best be calling a wrecker to be sure. [Just then, I could make out a red F-150 coming back down the road]
Me: Oh, this is him- [At this point I have no idea what to do. I can't risk the rental being damaged- but aren't sure what other options I really have. The truck pulls up and the man gets out and grabs the chains out of the bed of his truck.]
Farmer guy: Oh hey John!
Man with dog: Bill! What's going on? [Of course they would know each other.]
Farmer guy Bill: [Gets out and starts hooking up the chains under his car.] Just helping out this young lady. I figure I'm just gonna giver her a gentle pull. Probably won't even need to put her in four-wheel drive. [All vehicles around her are called 'her'.]
Man with dog, John: Well, are you sure there, Bill? You sure it ain't gonna bend that frame. It's just one of those foreign cars, ya know?
Farmer guy Bill: Oh ya. It won't be a problem. [He climbs back in his truck as all the chains are hooked up now. I climb back into the foreign rental and pop it into drive. I began to pray. John stands back but monitors closely. The dog tilts his head to the side and watches us. Maybe I'm feeling vulnerable, but I began to think the dog is judging me too. The chains tighten as the F-150 moves forward, and my little car pops out of the ditch like nothing. Farmer guy Bill was right. It didn't take any effort. We all get out of the vehicles.]
Me: Oh, thank you so much! [I shook his hand.] Can I pay you? My dad is Mr. Maki- and he lives just up the road.
Farmer guy Bill: Oh sure, Maki. I know your dad. In fact, think he hauled me some firewood there last winter. No ma'am. No money necessary. You just best be slowing down now. This ain't no city driving on these gravel roads.
Me: Yes, sir.
Boom- another shot at my driving skills by a complete stranger. I suppose I deserved this one. The next few days I was in Minnesota were full of receiving much grief and getting poked fun. Somehow, it was easier to take these days than it used to be growing up- because I finally knew the secret. Yes, they may be right. I may not be a very good driver. But I've personally concluded that while I may not be a very good driver in Deer River, I am an excellent driver everywhere else. At least that is the story I am sticking to. And thank you Bill and John. Wherever you are.