Baby Driver, The Prequel

It was early evening on the first Friday in September of 2005, my 16th birthday. I had snagged my driver’s license earlier that day and I was living the American Teenage Dream, hitting the open road in my 1995 Chrysler Town & Country Minivan complete with tape deck, second row bucket seats and approximately 58 cup holders.

I was making a left turn onto the main drag of my town, heading to the first home football game of the season when I made a terrible mistake. There was a car coming from the left and I misjudged how much time I had to turn. Now, there were three possible outcomes at this point:

1. I could have just completed the turn. I would have made it, though it wouldn’t have been super smooth.

2. I could have literally stopped moving completely in the lane of the oncoming traffic. They were going slow enough that they could have stopped before we collided or just swerved around me.

3. Gun it across the road and into the empty field across from me. Which is what I decided to do.

I lived in one of those semi-rural places where they don’t have sidewalks, just deep drainage ditches on the sides of the roads. In my mind, what would happen was I’d somehow dukes-of-hazard fly over this ditch in my ten-year-old minivan and land neatly on the other side. Incredibly, this is not what happened.

Instead, I floored it, the engine revved loudly and a tenth of a second later, I slammed to a stop, nose stuck in the ditch, perfectly perpendicular to the road with my rear wheels just a few inches off the ground. The car was actually unscathed and so was I, but I’m screwed. I had literally only had my license for like, six hours and I had already landed in a ditch. The experience of my two older sisters with motor vehicle accidents and my dad had taught me that I had made a terrible mistake.

I had borrowed my mom’s cellphone for the night, so I flipped it open and stared at the green glowing screen, wracking my brain for a solution that didn’t involve my dad ever knowing what happened. Meanwhile, the entire town is driving by. The traffic is constant, and I watch while people slow down to stare. There are the cool senior girls driving in their new VW Passats, there are the soccer moms in their current-model-year minivans…then there’s Ms. Petite, my calculus teacher and a family friend who pulls over, killing my hopes of taking care of this without my parents finding out.

She asks me if I’m okay and I respond “yeah, I’m fine, except you’ll probably tell my mom” at which she laughs. She asks me if I’ve called the police or my parents and I say no, that was my last resort. And so, she pulls out her phone and the police arrive in minutes. While we wait she makes me call my dad. Normally I’d call my mom in these situations, but I have her phone and she’s running errands. When I tell him what’s happened, he’s furious. More than anything, he’s mad that I took so long to call him.

The police arrive and call a tow truck, before they start asking me what happened. I’m terrified and visibly shaking while I tell my story to the officer and try not to sob. He, on the other hand, seems to be trying not to laugh. He asks why I didn’t just finish turning or stop to which I reply defeatedly “because I’m a world class idiot.” By this point, I’m so shaken and embarrassed that I would happily leave my car in that ditch and never operate another motor vehicle again.

Then my dad shows up. Here’s the thing about my dad: he’s a very rational and fair man so when he’s mad, he’s terrifying. He has this quiet, intense anger that makes everything hold their breath to listen. Imagine Vito Corleone but in standard issue dad jeans and white new balance sneakers. And nothing makes him angrier than dishonesty. I once watched him dress down a lying car salesman who was 4 inches taller and 200 pounds heavier than him until the poor man shrunk down into a scolded schoolboy with a goatee. I swear when he arrived at the scene, the cars passing by silenced their engines and the late summer cicadas froze to watch. I thought I could not possibly feel worse, but in the ensuing minutes, without so much as a curse word or a loud tone, my dad proved me wrong.

After my dad finished with me and went to inspect the car, the officer sheepishly approached me and said that he was going to give me a ticket for reckless op, but he figured whatever punishment my dad had in store would surely be more effective and severe so I was being let off with a verbal warning. After I got the minivan back to my house, I didn’t drive again for six months. When I finally was allowed behind the wheel, I would arrive at any destination with white knuckles and a sweaty brow. By the time I graduated high school, I was so sufficiently terrified of driving that I was more than happy to go to college on foot.

Once my brain had a chance to develop further and my decision-making skills improved, I finally got the hang of the driving thing. So much so that today I make a living picking up strangers from the Internet and driving them around for Lyft. And I’ve learned that it’s better to tell my dad the truth straight away. But now over a decade has passed and we all have our own cellphones, so when I need to give my parents bad news, I call my mom and let her relay the news. I may be older and wiser, but I’m not a masochist.

*Originally told in October 2017 at Writing Out Loud presented by Story Club and Literary Cleveland