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MARTHA SEZ: Revving it up with some road rage

February 16, 2012
MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

Road rage probably predates the horse and buggy. Don't you hate it when you're in a no-passing lane and someone pulls out right in front of you and then goes about 5 miles per hour? That's annoying, but the little habits of those we love best can be even more irritating.

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 required deep concentration, and must have been tiring physically as well as mentally.

In the case of some untoward event which necessitated even more braking than usual, she would throw 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.

I went through a phase when I believed that I was a delicate child. I was able to entertain this view of myself, rather romantic in a gothic Victorian way, on the grounds that one, I was thin and pale, and two, I suffered a lot from motion sickness. Looking back, I think that, under the circumstances, motion sickness was normal, appropriate, and probably unavoidable.

About once a month for what seems like years and years, but may have been only six months or so, my mother used to drive me to visit an eye doctor in Detroit, a distance of about 30 miles from our home. This was very good of my mother, now that I think of it, especially as she didn't like to drive. Of course at the time I took her selfless maternal act for granted. And it would have been difficult, even had I been a grateful child, to feel much on these trips except nausea. Stop, go, 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 LeMans and asked a man who worked there to fill it up with regular, please. Gasoline probably cost about 30 cents a gallon then, the same as a pack of Luckies. Usually she had good results with special requests, but this fellow-I think the name Biff was embroidered across his shirt pocket-must have been remarkably churlish. He refused, stating that the station was self-serve, and clearly marked as such.

My mother lifted the nozzle, threw the lever, and then clutched the hose with both hands over her head as if grappling with a giant constricting serpent while gasoline spewed all over the pump area. Biff rushed up, grabbed the hose from her hands and filled the tank.

"Let's not tell anyone at home about this," my mother suggested as we drove away.

You might be wondering what I was doing all this time, while my poor mother was trying to get help from a gas station attendant. The sorry truth is that I didn't know how to fill the tank either. I didn't drive until I was 30, a delinquency even rarer in the Detroit area than in other parts of the country.

There is this whole car culture in Detroit, like wine in Napa Valley and snow in Lake Placid. At fairs and concerts and political events, brand new Fords and Chevies will be slowly turning on huge pedestals. They decorate with cars 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, steer horns, old boots, mounted taxidermied jackalopes and the occasional Confederate flag.

Of course, every time I drove with my daughter in the car, I knew another story could be in the making.

"Mom, you're going five miles under the speed limit." Or, "Mom, is your blinker on because you think maybe you'll be making a turn in a mile or so? You don't have to drive like a retiree. According to Tom Petty, who for some unknown reason you love so much."

"You don't have to live like a refugee."


"That's how the song goes. You DON'T - HAVE - to DRIVE like a ..."

"Mom! you're veering off again."

Maybe some day Molly will have a daughter to ride with, so that she can carry on the fine Detroit motor vehicle traditions of her maternal line.

Have a good week.



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