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Diagonally Parked in a Parallel Universe

Freeways scared me.

Cars would go whipping
past, so close I thought they would take my hand off if I hung it out of the window. I don't know when the fear began, but I didn't drive on freeways in years once I finally got my drivers license. I went through 4 cars before finally getting on the freeway, and that
time was completely by accident.

I got my drivers license at 19 years old. I was already married by then. The written test was a cinch, I passed it with flying colors. Even the driving test was easy. I lived in a very small town at the time with a population of 163 people. When I finally moved away from that town they took a can of paint to the old wooden sign, painted over the 3 and replaced it with a 2. Well, it's a joke, but it's almost the truth. To take the driving test, I had to go to the next largest town with a population big enough to have a Sheriff's station and one driving instructor. That town, the biggest one close by, had a population of 6,000 people.

The driving test consisted of very few things. The instructor walked out to my own car with me. I unlocked the doors and took my place in the drivers seat. Backing out of the space was simple, and even putting the car into drive was a cinch. I pulled out from the Sheriff's station (that's where the driving instructor was based out of - it really was a small town) and onto the main street. He had me go to the first stop sign and come to a complete stop. I drove to the next. I drove to the next, and upon his instruction to turn left, turned on my blinker. I drove to the next stop sign, turned another left, drove two more blocks and pulled back into the same space I had backed out of in the first place. He checked me off of his list, walked back inside with me and handed me a slip of paper that simply said "Pass" on it. Then I had to go to the next biggest town with a population of 20,000 people, (and that was huge to me) to get a drivers license from the DMV.

Because of the extent of the driving test and the area where I lived, parallel parking wasn't necessary. I never got tested, and in all honesty there really wasn't anywhere to practice. I didn't learn how to parallel park for many years.

I often make jokes about the reason I own small convertibles is because they are easier to parallel park. Well, I'm willing to admit that this isn't just a joke, it's actually the truth. I can see everything around me if I have the top down on a convertible, and I have an extra 2 feet to work with in a standard parking space for parallel parking that way.

I drove only in those small towns for several years. When I did have to go into the city of Little Rock, the freeways were so empty that I wouldn't fear them. I just drove slowly in the far right lane. People would go flying past me, but I was ok with that. The drive on the freeways were never faster than 55mph, or 60 for the speeders, and I was never on them for very long at all. Everything else was back country roads or stop signs in my small town. The town with a population of 6,000 actually had one traffic light in it.

For my last year and a half in Arkansas I had a lot of very serious health issues and I didn't drive at all. I didn't have a car and R.W. drove me anywhere I needed to go. When I was well and I needed to go somewhere, I would walk or ask R.W. for a ride. By the time I moved to California in December of 2002, I had all but forgotten how to drive.

It was several months before I got a car once finally in California. When I did, it was a 1965 Mustang, cherry red. Oh, how I loved that car!! I would drive it everywhere. The clutch was so tight that hardly anyone else on the face of the earth could figure it out. It was a 3 speed stick shift, roared with the voice of a lion and turned heads everywhere I went. I took a plush gray blanket to lay over the black back seat, topped it with a couple of Mustang printed pillows and turned it into a show piece in the inside.

I drove all over the place in that car, but hardly dared go more than 10 miles from home for fear of loosing my way home. I couldn't parallel park the thing because it was too long, so I would sometimes have to drive for blocks to find a spot. Once or twice I was able to parallel park without backing up and driving forward a minimum of 20 times, and I was so proud of myself!

I had a friend that lived in Long Beach for a while, and one night I decided to drive over for a short visit. I took surface streets anytime I went over. The Los Angeles freeways still scared the daylights out of me. People would fly along at over 100 mph and get mad at anyone doing the speed limit. I had never driven on a Los Angeles freeway yet and didn't plan to, ever. I knew someday I would have to tackle the challenge, but I really didn't want to face the reality.

On my way home from my friends house that night, the street I was driving on was shut down for a shooting. A detour had been set up, and as I made the right hand turn I panicked. What if I couldn't find my way home? I drove the way I was guided to by the signs, hoping they would lead me back to the main road I had been on. Suddenly another reason to panic set in. I saw a sign that informed me I was entering the onramp for the 405 Freeway. At that point, it was too late. I didn't have a choice.

I goosed my poor little Mustang to get it up to speed, and just as I entered the slow lane a car came whipping out around me on the left, swerving wildly. They blared their horn at me, flipped me off and flew on past. My knuckles were white from my grip. Another car swerved and blared at me. Yet another car drove directly around me and slammed on their brakes right in front of me. I had to swerve to avoid hitting them, which caused yet another car to swerve around me.

Somehow in that storm of headlights and white knuckles, I survived the freeway and exited miles away from where I wanted to be. After another hour and a half more than originally estimated, I found my way to familiar streets and found my way home.I suddenly found myself in the center lane of the freeway, terrified out of my mind in the pitch black of night with cars going twice my own speed on either side of me. Headlights zoomed all over the road, this way and that, coming so close to my bumper on occasion that I braced for impact. I saw a freeway exit and floored the gas. I got over as quickly as I could, and just about the time I was going to exit, a car suddenly cut me off, causing me to swerve away from the exit as they took the off ramp themselves.

It was another couple of years before I got back on another LA freeway.

I've been in Los Angeles now for nearly 9 years. It's the longest I've ever lived in one city in my entire life. At this point, I drive the freeways like I was born an LAlien. They don't frighten me, but on occasion they frustrate me. I grew up in Los Angeles. I was just a kid when I got here, but Los Angeles became my home, and a big influence in my personality and upbringing.

I'll always have a place in my heart for the whole of Los Angeles - but I'll never forget the 405 freeway.

Sometimes I still feel like I'm diagonally parked in a parallel universe, but I know where I really fit in.

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