I had a harrowing experience the other day. It was a dramatic episode of continuous chaos and stress, in which I was left to my own devices to conquer. With no other choice but to use adrenaline-fueled presence of mind and unrelenting focus, I soon learned just what a true battle this would be. The task? I had to drive my husband’s stick shift to the Airport during rush hour.
You laugh, you snicker, but it is no easy thing. First of all, I am no wuss, okay? I’ve jumped from a military aircraft with 90 pounds of combat equipment in the dead of night. I’ve rucked 12 miles at a time with 40 pounds on my back. I’ve gone without sleep for 36 hours and still executed my duties with thoroughness and alertness. But if I’m ever asked to drive a 5-speed mustang through northern New Jersey traffic again, I’ll go AWOL. In the Army, you can expect Murphy’s Law, which allows you to take it in stride when everything falls apart, but I was not prepared for this nightmare ride.
I had to pick Eddie up from Newark Airport and my car’s engine light had just come on that day, leaving me no choice but to drive his mustang when my shifting skills are… not as proficient as I’d like them to be. Not a mile from home I found myself skidding on slippery, dark pavement and that’s when I remembered, his tires are nearly bald and it's raining, adding a new layer to my anxiety. At nearly every red light, I killed the engine. Once, I forgot what gear I was in and tried to go from second to fourth. The toll booths were the worst, inching closer and closer through the gate with angry cars behind me screaming and honking while I jerked back and forth, gears grinding. Not to mention, his plates are still fro Texas, so that made these New Jersey road-ragers love me even more.
I made it to the airport right on time. Eddie's flight landed at 6:30, and it was 6:45. He should be waiting at the passenger pick-up curb by now. I pulled over in the pick-up lane, but didn’t spot him. Airport security guards paced up and down the curb dismissing cars who abused the pick-up lane for too long. Other cars impatiently hovered beside me, trying to squeeze in wherever they could and paying no attention to the concept of safety, turn signals, or space allotment and the laws of physics. Soon I had about 3 cars angrily honking at me and one security guard screaming at me to leave, so I decided I better just go the parking garage. In my frenzied haste, I killed the engine again. Only, when I turned the key to re-start it, nothing happened.
Feeling the eyes of an ever increasing number of exasperated drivers, I fumbled with the key, pushed in the clutched, and willed the car to start. To no avail. I called Eddie’s cell to tell him to hurry the heck up and get out here, but no answer. He must still be in the air and have his phone off. I searched the unfamiliar dashboard for the hazard lights, but couldn’t find them. I was officially panicked.
Suddenly a blue light flashed and sharp siren blared behind to me. Great. Excellent. The officer walked to my window and bent down. Making a conscious effort to keep my cool and remain calm, I rolled down my window, “THE CAR WON’T START! It’s my husband’s car! I don’t know how to drive a stick shift! I can’t move it!” The officer smiled a little at my hysteria and offered to give it a try. After a few more minutes, we both gave up on trying to move it and the officer offered to call a tow truck for me. I reluctantly admitted that I had no other choice and patiently waited while the angry mob glared at me and the mustang, occupying coveted space in the pick-up lane. Finally the tow-truck arrived and we discovered that the car only needed a jump.
When Eddie finally found me, he explained that he had an unexpected delay. No kidding! We threw his suitcase in the trunk and I handed him the keys. This was a battle I willfully surrendered, “You’re driving home!”