Thursday, April 29, 2010

First Time Around The Block

My brother's first car - and he has had many since - was a 1976, I believe, Chevy Camaro RS. It had a 305 V8 engine, two-tone gold and primer paint and must have been made out of steel because this thing had the longest, heaviest doors of any car I've ever seen. I would describe it better but I've never been much of a gear head (I had to Google the engine size). In 1981 when he bought it, the only thing I knew was it was loud, fast and cool.

I enjoyed riding around in my brother's car but never had any aspirations of driving. I've always been one to get information first, then try something. (Unless information is not available in which case I will thoroughly screw things up with no outside assistance.) I was content to sit in the passenger seat (or the back) and just enjoy being with my brother in his loud, fast, cool car.

One weekend he had been working on it (as he often had to do) and ended up letting a friend, who had come over to help (or maybe just drool over the car), take it for a spin. Later, he and I were heading out on an errand and he pulled over and stopped just after turning the first corner on the route away from the house. He instructed me to get out and come sit in the driver's seat.

I was... confused would be a good word. I had no idea what he was trying to do until he told me he was going to let me drive his car out to the main street. I was... still confused would be an accurate description. My brother told me he didn't want me to be jealous because he had let [insert name of unremembered friend] drive the car and was going to let me take the wheel. I thought what the hell and got in the driver's seat.

Up until this point, my only experience in control of a motor vehicle was limited to an incident with a malfunctioning school bus and the bus driver asking me to give it some gas (the parking brake was on) while he gave the engine a magic stare that would presumably accurately diagnose the difficulty and allow him to repair it without tools or duct tape. I pushed down on the pedal and what happened next broke his concentration, thus rendering the magic stare useless. I didn't mash the pedal down to the floor - I knew that would be too much - but I did give it a firm press and the engine revved up so quickly that it startled me and I removed my foot very quickly.

Recalling this incident, I knew I had to be cautious with the gas pedal. It wouldn't do to go barreling down the street only to ruin someone's manicured lawn and begin a lengthy and costly renovation project by rapidly installing a new, wide doorway directly into their living room.

I put the car in gear and pretty much let the idle carry me to the end of the short street. I signaled right and gave it some gas to make the turn. Being a V8, the engine accelerated more rapidly than I expected so I reacted by removing my foot almost completely from the gas pedal. The effect of this was to squish us gently into the seat backs then hurl us forward to be impeded by the shoulder straps.

I rounded the corner on inertia but had to correct our course when I almost drove it into the curb. Of course, I over-corrected slightly so immediately following the forward lunge was a lovely bi-lateral jolt.

I eventually managed to orient the giant, steel projectile I was strapped into relatively on course and on the correct side of the street but we were on a slight upward grade so idling to the corner wasn't going to happen. I pressed the gas pedal again and my brother and I were treated to a repeat performance of the squish-lunge maneuver. I wanted so bad to do this well but each time I tried to accelerate smoothly the vehicle informed me that I was seriously underestimating the power of its 305 engine.

I made it about half way up the street and decided to give up before I gave one or both of us whiplash. I pulled over, said "thank you" to my brother and let him take over from there. It wasn't until I took driver's education that I took control of a vehicle again. I wasn't afraid but it was nice to have someone next to me telling me to gently press down on the gas pedal.


Edit: I have been notified by my brother that it was a 1971 Camaro with a 350 V8. He doesn't remember the incident but he let me know that I got the car wrong.

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