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LIFE THROUGH THE REAR VIEW MIRROR:

BEHIND THE WHEEL: LESSONS LEARNED (PART IV OF IV)

In honor of the fact that my driver’s license is finally expiring after what seems like ages and since they didn’t just mail me a new one again like last time, I actually have to brave the DMV and a camera for a new photo (two of my least favorite activities) . Over the remainder of this week I’ll be sharing some of my adventures and lessons learned while behind the wheel. For Part I, which focuses on first car accidents and lessons learned, click here.  For Part II, which focuses on the anticipation and impatience associated with the time right before you legally obtain a driver’s license as a teenager, click here.  For Part III, in which you will learn that I have no sense of direction when it comes to driving, click here.

To wrap up this “Behind the Wheel” series, that has kept in line with the standard of over-sharing personal information that is the norm for this social-media ruled day in age, I’ll leave you with my lessons learned up until this point in my driving career.

LESSON #1:

Car Talks – The best (and sometimes worst) most honest conversations seem to happen in a car.  There’s something about the feeling of privacy that the enclave created within a vehicle leads one to lose their inhibitions and make confessions or declarations that we might not usually be able to so easily impart upon others, were we to be in any other location or setting.  Whether the car is in motion or at a standstill doesn’t so much matter; secrets are spilled, frustrations are released, and relationships are terminated (and/or sometimes salvaged)— all before either party exits the vehicle.  Some of the best conversations I’ve had with friends have been late night car chats lit only by the blinking hazard lights (flashing to warn the other vehicles that it may be a while before the car will be hitting the road again).  In fact, with some of my closer friends we sometimes make a habit of ending the night with a long car tête-à-tête.  Some of these conversations can be credited for re-storing sanity or keeping friends off the figurative “ledge,” while others are of a more light-hearted variety that usually result in a re-capping the night’s (or day’s) events.


LESSON #2:

Vehicle to Vehicle Flirting – I rarely pay attention to other people in surrounding cars while I’m driving.  Although I’m aware of what’s going on around me, I’m very often either working in my head or lost in thought.  If you want to get my attention while I’m driving you’re either going to have to yell my name and/or wave frantically, or do something outlandish and hope that I happen to glance in your direction to see it.  Just like every other girl who has ever been behind the wheel, I’ve been hit on by guys young and old at one point or another while in my car.  The worst is when you are stuck at a light and all you can do is roll up your window and/or turn up your music, and yet they still persist. I’ve even been serenaded a few times by someone in a neighboring car.  Those that know me know I really don’t like being hit on and will usually ignore it. I always wonder if that ever works on any girls?  I don’t think any of my friends have ever made a love connection from one car to another at a stoplight/sign or while driving.  If you have I’d like to hear about it.

Anyhow, the lesson I learned came in the form of a beautiful sunshine-y day in Long Beach, Ca. I was in college and as usual had a car full of my girl friends with me.  We were heading back to campus, when one of them told us that the guy in the car next to us had been staring into the car for a while.  We all turned to check him out and he was actually kind of cute.  However, being about 19 and 20 year olds we decided it might be fun to mess with him and decided to all give him our sexiest glances.  We weren’t ever those girls, but for some reason we all went with it.  I think we were more silly than sexy (I really don’t think I even know how to be sexy), however because I was the driver he was concentrating on me, so I kept it up just to mess with him. I figured that after the light changed, I could speed up and be done with that and never see that guy again.  The light changed and we entered into the Long Beach traffic circle.  Now for those of you familiar with that traffic circle you probably know that it can seem a little intimidating the first few times you are in it, but after a while you get used to it.  However, it’s still an area where you have to pay attention to the vehicles around you.  Long story short, the poor guy ended up rear-ending the car in front of him because he tried to maintain eye contact with me while driving.  I saw the whole thing and felt horrible.  We all did.  I wanted to go back and apologize, but we all figured that might make it worse and he’d had the choice to look away.  I still feel awful and guilty anytime I think of that story.  I hope the damage wasn’t major (it didn’t appear to be), I also hope that that incident taught that guy to keep a better eye on the road.

So although it’s not something I’d do anyway I will never ever flirt in a vehicle ever again.  It doesn’t lead to anything good based on my own past experiences.

LESSON #3:

Chivalry – While this could refer to opening of car doors, etc. (which is in some cases alive and well), I’ll stick to providing some examples that revolve around car troubles.   Be it the fact that I’m a female, or perhaps the fact that you will almost always find me in dresses and heels, or maybe I just look like I really need help in these type of situations? I can’t say that I’ve ever had car troubles without having people around who were willing to help, whether I needed their assistance or not.   Yes, they are primarily male, but that’s who seems be better acquainted with the automobile.  I’ve pretty much always had roadside assistance plans for all of my vehicles, so although I’m usually covered when it comes to qualified help with car troubles – we all know how long that can take at times to arrive, so the generous act of a willing-to-help-passerby is sometimes immensely appreciated and welcome.

Here are three examples where I encountered an abundance of this willingness to assist.

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Example #1Cracked Transmission:  While I was still in college, I ended up cracking the transmission in my car while backing out of a driveway late one night.  I fell off the curb, and hit the pavement pretty hard.  All of us in the car figured I’d done some sort of damage, but none of us were sure what it was.  The next day when I went to drive it, it was fine initially– but the longer I drove it, it began to get a little jerky.  I had no idea what it was, so of course I called my dad (either he or my brother usually end up being my first phone call when it comes to car issues out of habit, even before boyfriends) to tell him what the car was doing and what had happened.  He was in a different city so there wasn’t too much he could do other than tell me to take it to a mechanic and not take it to the dealer so that we wouldn’t get ripped off.   So, in the meantime at school word had spread that I was having car issues and some of our guy friends and other guys I didn’t really know made an attempt at trying to diagnose the issue.  I don’t know how familiar any of them were with car repair (they were quite the eclectic mix of creative types, surfers, regular college guys, etc.) , but I did appreciate the fact that they were trying to help.  A couple of them did accurately say that it was the transmission that seemed to have a leak.  I ended up taking it to Pep Boys which was down the street and having them diagnose it and sure enough it was the transmission.  I ended up having to learn how to properly put in transmission fluid to keep replenishing the fluid that had been lost until the issue had been resolved.  It was highly entertaining to have my guy friends trying to give me crash courses on common car problems and how to solve them during this whole experience, and this was obviously one instance when I really appreciated their efforts even if they really weren’t sure of what they were doing.

Example #2 - First Flat Tire:  I think I’ve only had one real flat tire incident in my life (knock on wood) and I recall it vividly.  I was driving on the freeway and all of a sudden, the road started feeling a little bumpy.  My thought at the time was somewhat insolent and along the lines of, “Geez, they seriously need to re-pave this lane.”  Then it got worse and all of a sudden I saw a stream of what looked like smoke trailing my car, and I realized my car was the one with the problem not the road.  So, I had to maneuver my way from the fast lane to the shoulder of the road.   I proceeded to call my dad and let him know what happened so he instructed me to get out of my car since I was next to the freeway, he didn’t want me to be in the car if anyone hit it and to call my roadside assistance. On that day we happened to be in the same town, so he said he’d head there as well.

I did as he said, getting out and proceeding to step to the other side of my car to a safer area to call roadside assistance.  No sooner had I dialed the number when I turned around to see that 2 cars had already pulled over to see if I was ok.  One was a car with three guys about my age  (the driver thought he knew me and it turned out we did have friends in common as some of them rode motocross bikes together, but I didn’t know them), the second car belonged to a middle-aged gentleman.

They all volunteered to stay with me until roadside assistance arrived, as unfortunately none of them could safely change the tire as the flat was on the driver’s side and that was dangerously close to the freeway.  So, wait with me they did.

A police officer pulled up to determine what the issue was, after this a series of events worthy of inclusion in a “Three Stooges” episode ensued.  First, as the policeman approached us he ended up falling in a gopher hole and we all tried our hardest to hold back our laughter as he attempted to regain his composure and re-establish his sense of authority.  As I was explaining that it was just a flat, and that I was waiting for roadside assistance to arrive a second policeman arrived, thinking maybe his buddy needed back-up.

Thankfully, the roadside assistance arrived finally followed immediately by my dad.  Everyone else started to leave, since they weren’t really needed.

I can still remember the concerned expression that my father wore on his face as he approached me and my car.  First asking if I was ok, and then asking what happened and why so many people were with me?  Who could blame him?  He’d walked up to a scene where his 22-year old daughter was surrounded by 2 police officers, three guys in her own age range, a middle aged man, all of their vehicles, plus a tow truck and it’s driver.  All of this for a flat tire? I remember him saying more entertained than chastising that of course I “would start a party” on the side of the road just because of a flat tire.  So now I refer to this incident as the day I started a roadside party.   I honestly didn’t mean to, I told everyone that I was fine (it was broad daylight) and help was on the way, but they wouldn’t leave.  So then the tow truck driver towed my vehicle off of the shoulder and to the next exit’s gas station as my dad and I followed in his vehicle.  The tow truck driver was having trouble removing the lug nuts and ended up breaking his jack.  My dad ended up pretty much having to change the tire, but thankfully that has been the only time I have had to deal with a flat tire—I think that one incident should count at least for two or three flats

Example #3 – First Unresolved Car Issue:  This is the most recent incident which later this summer will have happened two years ago and occurred here in Los Angeles on none other than busy Los Feliz Blvd. on an abnormally hot day .  My ex-roommate, a friend, and I were on our way to do some girl bonding and shoe shopping.  Plans that were to not reach fruition as my car broke down before we made it to our destination.  The cause? I’m fairly certain that I ran out of gas, but the issue became bigger than that.  Let’s just say I’ve run out of gas before, getting gas is one of my least favorite activities –I always feel that although it’s necessary, it’s such a waste of my time, never convenient, and is kind of like a speed bump meant to slow me down when I don’t want to.

So, there we were.  Three girls in dresses and heels stuck on Los Feliz Blvd. in traffic.  However, all three of us can probably agree that on this day had any of us ever had any lack of faith in the charitableness of others our thought on this were completely reversed.  We had one guy (a Marine, I think he was?) quickly try to help us push the vehicle out of the way of other cars.  Another gentleman saw he was struggling and also jumped in to help him.  Another guy gave us his parking spot so that we could maneuver my car into a safer spot.  A couple of nearby residents and those who were walking by asked if we needed any more help and attempted to help us. I called Roadside Assistance and had them head out and then we proceeded to wait in the shade.  In the meantime, my ex-roommate had called one of our friends (Lady Di) who lived very close to come get us (which we really didn’t need her to, not yet anyhow).  So Lady Di, showed up in like five minutes in shorts and hair still wet from a shower.  I had no idea she’d been called, so when I saw her I thought she’d just happened upon us while driving by until she’d informed me that she was here to get us.  I then sent her away none-too-pleased telling her that I had to stay with the vehicle as roadside assistance was on the way and I couldn’t just leave it.

As we continued to wait for roadside assistance many more good Samaritans continued to walk by and ask if we needed help, we became a sort of attraction waiting on the sidewalks of Los Feliz.  I had been under the weather and still wasn’t 100%, so combine that with the stress of a broken down car I wasn’t really in a conversational mood.  My ex-roommate decided that she was going to walk to the nearby gas station (the gas station that we were trying to make it to when I ran out of gas) to get some bottled waters, and I think one of the guys accompanied her and along the way proceeded to ask her about the “driver” and if she was single.  When they came back, that man was super attentive towards me and followed me everywhere I went, telling me his mechanic could fix my car.  I was pretty much ignoring him as I was not in the best mood, but he persisted.  My ex-roommate later told me about the conversation she’d had with him on the way back from the gas station and that she’d told him that he should “court” me.  Court me?  I was at a loss for words, and wondered what was wrong with her that she would encourage such behavior. I’m glad she told me after the fact when I could laugh about it and not during it as I don’t know what I would’ve done had I known as the “courting” was occurring.

So with all of the unrequited (on my part) “romancing” underway (I swear this stuff only happens to me), the tow truck finally got there to my relief.  Temporary relief as then that tow truck driver proceeded to hit on me as well.  I was seriously fed up at that point, and my irritability was only increased when he couldn’t get the car to start after putting gas in it and then attempting to jump start it as well and because he didn’t have the right type of vehicle to tow my vehicle (which was just a small SUV/Crossover – Infiniti FX35), we had to wait for yet another tow truck to come out to tow it to my house.  So we called Lady Di again (even though we feared she might kill us, after we’d sent her away the first time) to come get us and have her drive us to my house following the tow truck, leaving my potential suitor behind never to be thought of (until today) again.

Even though the costs and trouble associated with the repair of this vehicle quickly made me not want to own a semi-luxury vehicle again for a while, the kind acts did continue from the initial mechanic who attempted to fix my car and failed, but didn’t charge me anything to the dealership manager who allowed me to keep the super-nice loaner vehicle for a lot longer (over 2 weeks) than they typically do.

So, you can say it took a village to get us through this incident and I learned many lessons from just this one.  Lady Di dropped us off at our friends house as we’d decided we were going to get something to eat after the draining experience we’d just had.  When we got in her car, I found a small notepad.  I grabbed a pen from my purse and handed it to my ex-roommate who was riding shotgun and told her to write me a note.

This is what she wrote (I can’t believe I actually still had this):

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Reliving these incidents via written form actually has made me not want to drive anywhere at all today.  Unfortunately, that is not an option.  Cross your fingers that I don’t have another example to add to this column any time soon.

Illustrated Image originally published here

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