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"I glanced over her shoulder to examine the car in the driveway. It matched her; it was some kind of expensive looking SUV, and European, like her."

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11 – Instructor

Samantha was out of town for the weekend.  It was a Saturday afternoon in October and I was feeling adventurous so I accepted my mom’s invitation to accompany her to her favorite grocery store, Kroger.  With my social life on hold until Monday, it seemed like a good option. 

One of my pet peeves was to hear people refer to it as ‘Krogers’.  Did these same folks also go shopping at Targets or Wal-Marts?

I hadn’t been “Krogering” in forever.  I think maybe the last time I had, the cashier presented me with a small round “I’ve been Krogering” happy-face sticker, which I’d accepted with interest and pleasure.  This I would then affix to my hand, or the cart, or my mom’s butt if she wasn’t looking.

Mom was usually a solo shopper.  It was kind of her thing that she enjoyed doing all alone.  Even when I went with her it was like watching her on hidden camera.  She would forget that I was standing there and become deeply preoccupied with her decision-making and bargain hunting.

Sometimes I felt really sad that I had never known either of my grandmas.  But I was confident that my mom’s shopping technique must surely be reminiscent of her own mother or grandmother’s purchasing style and economic frame of reference, and so in this way I enjoyed a connection to my female ancestry after all.  

Instead of just buying the brands that were consistently good, she would switch around every week and purchase the items that were on sale.  Even twenty-five cents would be a deal breaker—disqualifying Jiff Peanut Butter in favor of Skippy Peanut Butter for the week.  Because even though my mom was a “Choosy Mom”, she didn’t always choose Jiff.   It seemed to me that the pricing manager at corporate headquarters was doing the choosing for her, and by extension, Hoyt and me.

Five minutes into the first aisle, with twenty more to go—aisles, not minutes—I remembered why this was something I never did with her.  And that I had misinterpreted my own mood.  Accepting her offer to accompany wasn’t adventurous; it was masochistic.  I decided to take my leave and head for the magazine and book aisle.  On my way there I passed the customer service desk which was flanked on either side by wide cork backed bulletin board material which was pricked with numerous advertisements and notifications.  Beside offers for kittens and babysitters and motor homes there was a posting that caught my eye—something that had been on my mind recently.

I pulled away at one of the few remaining conveniently perforated strips of paper on the bottom of the poster that contained the phone number and website for Green Light Driving School and put it in my pocket.    Then I grabbed a paperback and headed to the seasonal aisle, settling into a wicker outdoor furniture display for the long haul.

It was Wednesday afternoon, the following week, and I had just been dropped off by the Trevor Transit System.  I ran upstairs to my bathroom to freshen up, all the while listening for the doorbell because the timing was very tight.  The man from the driving school was supposed come any minute.

I had just finished redoing my ponytail when the chime of the bell broke through the silence in the first floor hallway.  I ran down the stairs and pulled open the door.  The person standing there was nothing like I expected, and this must have been plain on my face. 

The beautiful, exceedingly well dressed black-haired supermodel standing in front of me gave a reassuring smile and said, “You must be Ms. Mayne,” holding out her hand, which was apparently magnetic because my own hand drifted toward hers, with no command from me to do so, to shake it.

“I’m Lidia, your driving instructor,” she explained. 

She seemed genuinely pleased to be there.  Her accent was very slight, but possibly…Italian? 

What?  Since when do they send a model from the Victoria’s Secret catalog to teach kids how to drive? 

I glanced over her shoulder to examine the car in the driveway.  It matched her; it was some kind of expensive looking SUV, and European, like her.  She followed my eyes and understood the silent question there.

“Regular vehicle’s in the shop.  We’ll be using my car this week—unless you’d rather wait for the Hyundai?” she added, with a sardonic tone.

I shook my head, still staring at the car.  There was a brief pause.  Then finally she asked, “Do you have your I.D.?”

Wordlessly, still looking past her at the car, I held up the card where it was being stored in my left hand.

“Okay then…let’s get going.”

Her words were flavored with a mixture of uncertainty and amusement.  She turned and I followed, shutting the door behind me.  I felt a huge release when she made her way to the driver’s side.  This meant that she was going to take me to some place wide open and safe, instead of making me drive myself there. 

I got in the shotgun seat and took the opportunity to study, identify and familiarize myself with the various mechanisms and buttons on the dash.   I knew it would be infinitely harder to do that later while trying to drive at the same time.  She seemed to realize what I was doing and smiled with approval. 

Lidia reached up to grasp her seatbelt, and I copied her motion doing the same on my side.  After harnessing up, we just sat there for a minute, not looking at each other.  Then she turned to me and said, “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?  You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to,” with that subtle accent draped around her words in the most appealing way.

With raised eyebrows and a slight up and down tilting of my chin I indicated that she should proceed.  But what could she possibly want to know?

“Do you…speak?” she asked, gravely serious.

This jarred me back to my senses and I couldn’t help myself but to laugh out loud.  Then I replied, “Yeah, when I’m not being idiotic, I speak…I’m sorry.”

This answer seemed to please her and she gave me a huge smile.  Then she ventured, “You’re probably just a little nervous?”

“That’s an understatement.  I’ve never driven before, and I’m not…I mean…I don’t play video games so I’ve never pretended to drive either…”  I paused and then added, “Actually, I’m so nervous I think I might have a stroke.”

I laughed nervously.  It felt good to confess.

She started the engine and began backing out. 

“No. You won’t have a stroke, but I think you might have some fun.  Don’t worry.  I won’t let anything bad happen.  And by the time we’re finished, you’ll be the best driver you know, besides me, of course,” she assured me with a wink. 

I did start to feel instantly better.  Could she teach me to be awesome like her too?

We made our way to the old K-Mart plaza, now just empty retail space for lease, with its huge and deserted parking lot.    She guided the car to the center, far away from any obstacles like curbs or buildings.  Then she began with a verbal tour of the controls—explaining their names and functions—like the ignition, the gearshift, the mirrors, the turn signal and wipers, gas and brake pedals, and most importantly, the stereo.  Then it was time to switch seats and get down to business. 

My maiden voyage (no pun intended) at the helm was much less frightening than I had imagined it would be.  She was right, I had to admit, it was kind of fun.  After I had driven back and forth across the lot so many times I lost count she asked, “How do you feel about going live, on the street?”

“No main streets, right?  Just side streets and neighborhoods to start with?” I pleaded, too much desperation in my tone.

She smiled and said, “You’re the boss.  Do you know which way to go from here?” 

In fact I did.  We weren’t all that far from Samantha’s place.  I decided to head in that direction.  I knew a back way into her neighborhood from here.  I was taking it very slow and easy, and fortunately for my nerves, the streets weren’t busy.  Though I knew where I was, it was still oddly disorienting to be viewing things from behind the wheel.  My normal view of the world, while traveling by car, was almost always from a side window, in the back seat.

We were closing in on Sam’s street when I realized that there was a car on my tail, almost literally.  From my side mirror, I could see that it was uncomfortably close.  If I so much as tapped the breaks it would rear-end us. 

I looked in the rearview mirror for the first time and felt a spasm of embarrassment.  It was Trevor.  He was smiling hugely at the reflection of my frightened eyes in the mirror.

“Now what’s up with this jerk?”  Lidia clipped, as she turned full around to glare at him.

“Uh…it’s okay.  I know him from school,” I explained, trying unsuccessfully to diffuse her irritation at my favorite guy in the world.  She turned and looked at me.  

“You know him?” she asked, a little incredulous. 

I nodded and sped up a bit.  He backed off once he’d gotten my attention and whatever reaction he was hoping for.

“So is he late for his job at the circus or what?” she asked, still irritated.

I laughed.  Yeah, I guess he deserved that.  I’d have to tell him about it tomorrow at school…on second thought, no…I wouldn’t. 

“He’s on his way to my friend Samantha’s house, I think.  Guess I was holding him up.”

Samantha’s house was still several blocks away and apparently he’d had his fun.  He sped up to pass me on the left, looking my way the entire time, still grinning.  I could feel the waves of displeasure radiating from the passenger seat as he sped by.  I ignored them both as best I could and concentrated on the road ahead.

My driving lessons with Lidia continued on Thursday and Friday.  I advanced from side roads to main roads, and then on to Interstate travel.  When we reconvened on Monday, we worked on my downtown navigation skills including four-way stop etiquette and one-way traffic rules.  Then we hit a café for an espresso while we went over the questions on the State’s written driving exam.  Tuesday was devoted to vehicle maintenance and I finished our session having changed the oil and a tire on my Jeep from start to finish without any help.  My final lesson was to be on Wednesday.  I had mentioned the week before that she could come earlier on Wednesday, if she wanted, because it was a Teacher In Service Day and I didn’t have school.  She seemed to appreciate being given that option and made plans to pick me up early.

Wednesday morning was beautiful, cool and clear.  It was about time for her to arrive and I checked outside for the third time because I wanted to step right out once she arrived so she wouldn’t have to get out of the car.

As I was watching out for her I noticed a car coming down the street and laughed to myself.  It was a Corvette!  It was cherry red and sexy looking and way out of context on our street.  Every one of our neighbors was retired and drove Japanese sedans in metallic finishes of one sort or another.  It seemed that the driver of this muscle car was obviously lost—until it slowed in front of our yard and pulled into our driveway!

No way! 

But sure enough, I could see that it was Lidia, looking exactly right behind the wheel.  And then it occurred to me:  in the not too distant future it would be me sitting behind the wheel, looking exactly wrong!  It was a stroke to my ego, though, to realize that she actually trusted me enough to use a car like this to prepare for my driving test.  I practically skipped over to the passenger side and hopped in.

I was completely jazzed, yet feeling a little perverse as well, so as I was getting in I asked as innocently as I could, “Is this the Hyundai?” 

Her reaction was priceless.  I knew it was a terrible affront—that was the fun.  I could tell that something deeply sarcastic must have been ready on her lips, but in a highly controlled act of suppression she smiled, shooting me a sideways glance and said, “You’re very funny.” 

Apparently my acting hadn’t fooled her.  I was positive there was nothing that could.

“So, do you have to be back by a certain time today?” she inquired. 

After making a joke like that, she was still asking about spending extra time with me? 


“No, just in time for dinner, I guess.” 

It was 8:00 a.m.  I was delusional if I thought she’d spend all day with me.  Surely she had a photo shoot or a lunch date with a rock star to attend to at some point in the day.

“Okay, that should be enough time.  I’ve made special arrangements for us at a unique driving course.  But it’s a bit of a ride up Interstate 71.  Are you okay with that?”

How could I not be? 

“S-s-sure…I’m good.” 

Actually, I was better than good.  This was unbelievable.  During our time in the car over the last week, Lidia had explained quite a bit to me about cars and the differences between them.  Why some cars were more desirable than others, which were her favorites and the incredibly long list of makes she had driven.  She was definitely in a position to opinionate—having driven nearly every kind of car ever made.  She was a car encyclopedia and historian.  And as her worshipful protégé, I absorbed her enthusiasm for all things automotive like a sponge.  The drive north was entirely consumed with details about the specifications, features and benefits of the Corvette ZR1.

Lidia’s interpretation of ‘a bit up 71’ meant a drive that took us half way to Cincinnati.  As we finally exited the highway an hour later and turned onto a side road, we passed a sign that said “Kentucky Speedway”, and I felt a hint of nausea lapping at my stomach when I realized what she meant by ‘unique driving course.’ 

She must have been expecting that reaction because she quickly assured me, “We’ll be all alone except for the grounds keeper.  No worries.”  

Like I might be worried she would take me there on race day to test my newfound driving skills at 250 miles an hour!  

Truthfully, I don’t really know what I was worried about.  I pretty much knew how to drive now.  Some unnamed fear was still trying to break through my consciousness.   I turned the volume down on my mind and concentrated on the sound of the engine, imagining its sound with my foot holding the gas pedal all the way down…

We drove through the parking lot and up to the stadium.  There was an older gentleman in some kind of heavily patched neon colored jumpsuit standing outside the gate that led under the stands and onto the track.  Without a word he opened the gate and waved us through.  We never saw him again. 

We made our way slowly through an underpass that was carved out of the stands, pulling out onto the track and into the bright sunshine on the other side. 

I knew better than to bring this up, but I hadn’t gotten all the perversity out of my system yet, and I needed a distraction from the intense nervousness I felt about being in a car like this in a place like this.  So I dove in and asked, “Lidia, is the owner of this vehicle a middle aged man, by chance?” 

She looked at me like I’d grown another head.  When she recovered, instead of answering the question she asked, “Why would you ask me that?”

“Well, I thought that Corvettes were the official car of the male mid-life crisis.  If you actually own this car, then it’s just you and Malibu Barbie breaking the trend.” 

I kept my expression serious.

“Malibu Barbie?” she asked.

Now I must have been sprouting antennae.

“Don’t they have Barbies in Italy?” I prompted.

“You mean Barbie dolls?” and she did the hand gesture for Barbie’s figure, making certain, I suppose.

“Yes.  Well you know what she drives, right?” 

I was still all seriousness. 

Lidia shook her head, though I wasn’t sure if it was in answer to my question or a general physical manifestation of her internal thoughts about my sanity.

“She drives a hot pink Corvette.  And she’s the only other girl, or person under 40, that I’ve ever seen behind the wheel of one.  So you’re a bit of a rarity, you know; if it’s yours.” 

I couldn’t hold back the smile now, so I had to turn away.

She was obviously married.  She wore the largest diamond I had ever seen outside of a jewelry store window and it was flanked by a burst of sapphires, which were probably more costly than the diamond.  It was a stunningly beautiful and unique piece, and it seemed like the person who gave it to her must have been trying to match the ring with the girl.  He’d definitely gotten it right.

I was just curious if she was borrowing his car today, or if she’d acquired it before she’d met him.  I was certain of the answer, though, and I was starting to regret having asked. 

This is why it’s better when I don’t speak, I reminded myself.

It seemed like my savoir fair mentor didn’t know where to take it from there, so I helped her out by explaining myself more clearly.

“I’m just worried that I’ll be crashing this car today, and I wonder who I’m going to be an indentured servant to for the rest of my life.  So given what I know about Corvette owners, I thought I’d better ask.”

The explanation for my bizarre line of questioning seemed to release the mental pressure that had been building inside her head.  She gave me that therapeutic reassuring smile she was so good at and patted my hand.

“No worries, Bambina.” 

Then she slammed on the accelerator and threw me back in my seat like we were launching to the moon. 

I couldn’t believe how much force and speed I was experiencing.  It was far, far more intense than any amusement park attraction I’d ever been forced into riding.  I hated roller coasters with a passion, but my dad, Hoyt and grandpa all loved them, therefore I’d been goaded into my fair share of G force experiences.  This blew them all away.

The very best part was that the person in control, making it happen, was a lady!  I absolutely loved heroines!  I’d wanted to be one when I grew up.  Of course, as I got older I realized that I was more of the distressed-out damsel type.  Just knowing a heroine was going to have to be good enough for me.  And this moment, in this amazing car, at this amazing place with this amazing lady, was better than any heroine fantasy I could have ever dreamed up on my own.

I was afraid to look at the speedometer but I did any way.  On the straightaway we topped out at 210 mph.  I knew the car could go faster than that; maybe she was taking it easy, you know, for safety reasons.  At any rate, as soon as I got behind the wheel, I was driving so slowly, it felt like we were moving backwards. 

We covered all the aspects of the driving test I’d be taking at the DMV.  When I had performed all the maneuvers to her satisfaction, some on the first try, some several tries down the line, she pronounced me test worthy.  To celebrate, she suggested that I try my hand at speeding, but only if I promised that this would be the last time I’d ever do it.  I solemnly agreed and then mashed on the gas.  I could only bear to go up around 100 and then I chickened out.  There was no reproach in Lidia’s eyes for me, just quiet, radiating confidence.    It was the most amazing experience of my life, and I knew in my heart that Green Light Driving School was not involved in any way.  I was more than okay with that.

We were quiet as we headed south on our return to Louisville.  We had spent about two hours at the speedway.   I realized with a wave of sadness that this was my last day with Lidia.  In my mind, I scrambled for some way to continue my association with this incredible real life heroine. 

Should I ask her for Italian lessons?  She’d probably just suggest that I buy Rosetta Stone.  Maybe I could ask her to help me shop for school clothes?  That was asking for a makeover, and no matter how much I liked her, I didn’t want to go down that road.

Lidia interrupted my scheming. 

“I hope you don’t mind, but I went ahead and scheduled your test at the DMV for this afternoon.  I thought you might like to get it over with…and I’d really like to be there when you get your license.” 

I was speechless.  Because of that, first I shook my head ‘no’ (I didn’t mind) and then ‘yes’ (I’d like to get it over with and she should take me there). 

She smiled and continued, “Afterwards, to celebrate, I thought maybe I’d treat you to a late lunch at Outback,” the Australian Steakhouse, my favorite restaurant.  

How did she know that? 

This was followed by more enthusiastic affirmative head nodding from me.

Though the ride back to Louisville and to the DMV would be about 90 minutes, I knew that it would be over too quickly.   Sure enough it was, and we were pulling in to the crowded lot with a line out the door for everything vehicle related.  It was the last day of the month, the preferred day for all ‘day late and dollar short’ types to transact with the State of Kentucky on matters relating to their vehicles and driving privileges. 

This would probably change our celebration plans from late lunch to midnight snack.  Lidia was unperturbed.  She walked past at least 40 people to the end of the counter.  The lone male standing behind it had watched her walk in and was on his way to greet her before she came to a stop.  She handed him a letter sized envelope, turned and retraced her steps back to me at the end of the line, saying simply, “Let’s go.”  

And we did.

She had me take the driver’s side and directed me around to the back of the building.  The same gentleman who had accepted the envelope was there to greet us, clipboard in hand.  He seemed far happier and congenial than I had imagined someone like him would be.  It occurred to me that this was the first time I’d seen Lidia interact with someone and that she probably had that kind of pleasant effect on every male in her path.  Or maybe she just got priority treatment as a representative of Green Light Driving School. 


I took my driver’s test in a cherry red Corvette ZR1 and passed it.  I was so relieved when it was over that I nearly fainted.  It was funny to contemplate the irony of nearly crashing the car after my driver’s test in the lot of the DMV as opposed to crashing it at the Kentucky Speedway, while intentionally speeding.  No harm done, though.  I held it together long enough to get us to Outback.

I was feeling pleased and relieved about my accomplishment.  Apparently Lidia was too, because she insisted that I keep my newly minted Driver’s License out on the table, and she would return to looking at it from time to time as though it were some priceless and rare baseball card or the Crabby Patty secret recipe. 

Finally, I couldn’t resist teasing her and I asked, “Is it really that hard to believe I passed?”

She looked contrite. 

“Oh, no!  I’m just very proud of you.  For someone who’d never driven a car a week ago, you’ve done remarkably well.” 

I couldn’t help smiling with pleasure.  My hero was proud of me!

“Yeah, well, even though I have my license now, I don’t think I’m the best driver that I know, besides you…yet.” 

I let that hang out there, sensing that maybe I’d struck upon the path to more Lidia time…

It worked! 

Her eyes looked through me as she considered my comment and how that observation on my part might be remedied. 

She responded back with, “You know, we have an advanced course, where we teach defensive driving techniques.  Do you think you’d be interested in that?” 

Would I ever! 

I tried to play it cool, though.

“Sure, but I’ll have to ask my mom; she pays the bills you know.” 

In truth, it didn’t matter what it cost or what my mom said—though it would be interesting to see who the check would be made out to—I’d be there with bells on when the time came.  

On an impulse I interjected, “But I’m curious.  Will we use your husband’s car again, or do I finally get to drive the infamous Hyundai?”

Her eyes flashed with surprise, then something else…respect?  I wished.  Whatever it was, she smiled hugely, stopping conversation at the next table over, I noticed, and said, “Oh, we’ll take my car…and I promise you Bambina, it’s much better than his.”

It was now exactly one week after I’d emerged victoriously from the vehicle and licensing registrar’s office at the DMV with my shiny new Kentucky Driver’s License.   Trevor had just dropped me off from school—because even though I could drive myself, it was still way cooler to be chauffeured by the Goths. 

I spied a package by the door as I approached the porch, not quite sure what I was looking at.  It was a medium-sized cube shaped box, packaged in wrapping paper the color of bubblegum.  Though I had no doubt, I checked the label anyway, just to make sure it was for me.

If I was hoping the contents might reflect the theme of the packaging, I was disappointed, though not for long.  What was inside was much better than gum, and it was hilarious! 

Tucked neatly inside the box, cushioned and wrapped with what I realized were actual auto club road maps, was an authentic Malibu Barbie Pink Corvette!  And sitting in the driver’s seat was a Malibu Skipper.

Wow.  Who had I told about that? 

My first Barbie was actually a Skipper doll, the younger, shorter kid sister of Barbara Millicent Roberts.  I think this was probably because my mom wanted to avoid having to answer any awkward questions about the extreme differences in my body shape (or any female for that matter) and Barbie’s.

Skipper was a hassle-free alternative—still a Barbie, just not as grown up…kind of like me.  Except that even compared with a mature version of myself, Skipper’s figure was still better than mine. 

As a girl, I had loved my Skipper doll so much that she was my constant companion for a long chapter of my life—the doll-playing chapter, that is.  Grandpa picked up on that and had nicknamed me Skipper, in tribute to the doll I resembled. 

Inside the Corvette, which was complete with a tiny authentic looking metal Kentucky license plate, was a Skipper wearing sun glasses and a blue NASCAR jumpsuit with the legs rolled up.  She even had a tiny but very real looking bottle of Cherry Coke in her cup-holder.  Sitting next to her in the passenger seat was a Frodo Baggins action figure.  He fit perfectly, big feet and all.  It was funny to look at.  Even funnier was the tiny piece of paper taped to his hand with Map Quest driving directions, detailing the quickest route from Malibu to Mordor.

I laughed and then I laughed some more at the notion of Skipper and Frodo together on a road trip. 

Whoever sent this seemed to know me very well, but it was an odd combination of components and themes to be able to pair up its origin with any one parent or friend.  I had never spoken with Lidia about Lord of the Rings or Skipper, I didn’t dare drink soda in front of my mom, and though Sam shared my love of all things Middle Earth, she was famously anti-Barbie. 

Had it been a collaborative effort?  That seemed highly unlikely.  Well, whatever the origin, the fact that inside information and creative effort had gone into it was obvious and very much appreciated. 

I had never been this pleased over a joke.  I only wished I knew who the recipient of my adoring gratitude should be.

Musical inspiration for this chapter:

‘Suddenly I See’
by K.T. Tunstall

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1 Comment (Leave a comment »)

  1. Loved this chapter. <3
    Wish I could of been in Ellery's place when she was driving the sports car. XD

    Comment by Branden Dale — July 8, 2010 at 4:32 pm

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