An OLD YORKSHIREMAN IN NEW YORK. (4) My Driver from Hell

On the way to New York I first stopped off for 6 years on the tip of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

I’d originally arrived in the United States as the Pilgrims did; their first landfall was not
Plymouth, Massachusetts, as most people think, but the very tip of Cape Cod where a curl of sand bends around to create a sheltered bay. That’s where the Pilgrims dropped anchor and came ashore in search of supplies. Eventually whalers and Portuguese fishermen congregated and built a small town called Provincetown. Later artists and writers arrived and the preferred name of locals for the place became ‘P’town’.

P’town is known for its’ exceptional light and its’ tolerance. It’s the gay center of North East of America and not an easy place to live if you are straight and single, as I was after my divorce. My marriage to a P’town woman had broken down. I lost her, but I was still very much in love with the Cape and the crazy and beautiful place I found myself in. So I decided to see if I could make it there on my own.

After several winter months of non-intentional celibacy, I got very lonely, a dilemma indeed as there were only three single straight women who came into my range of possible female friends, who were also year rounders. I managed to meet and arrange dates with all three during the winter of 2002-3. At different times of course, I am not that lucky.

But the fates weren’t having it; not one of them was for me, or me for them. One was still married (as I soon discovered) to a large and weathered Portuguese fisherman, and I didn’t fancy being used as tuna- fish bait off the Grand Banks. One was lovely, but turned off me when we had our first ‘From here to Eternity’ clinch in January on a freezing beach during which my capped tooth, the one I couldn’t afford to get fixed, fell off into her up-to-that-point passionate mouth. (Don’t try that at home or anywhere else, it’s not good for your love life). And the last one, who wore a leopard-skin leotard in the supermarket, which was great, lit one cigarette from another constantly and all night long, which put me right off, even with the leotard.

So I’d gave up on women and relationship prospects all together and decided to spend the rest of the winter in deep hibernation and meditation to pass the time and keep me out of trouble.
I was flat broke and the winter of 2003 was cold and long, so I spent at least an hour a day in my personal meditational off-world colony, where it seemed at least to be warmer.
Then one day I came across a book about ‘Manifestation’ through meditation. I read that anything in the Universe is yours to have, if the thought is pure, untrammeled by doubt, and you trust the universe as to what form it might take when it finally shows up in your life. So naturally I thought I’d manifest a nice sexy, humorous, intelligent lady. I already spent a great deal of time in a non-meditational state thinking about ladies anyway.

So I did the manifestation meditation thing and sent out a message to the Universe from my chair by the window that overlooked Cape Cod bay. I’d even tacked onto the end of my message to the great out-there that the human package once it arrived would be even more perfect if it she showed up in a mid-nineties Volvo Estate car (because I’d always wanted one) and in white if possible (the car not the lady, any hue would do).

Two weeks later I met a lovely lady late one Friday night in one of the few bars that stayed open year round, ‘The Squealing Pig’. Kathy was introduced by mutual friends and hailed from New York. She’d come away for a break from her businesses in New York. We didn’t have much time to talk that first night as I was getting a ride back and it was snowing outside, and so we arranged to meet up the next day.

In truth the next morning I had low expectations that she’d show up. In my experience things arranged in late night tristes in bars often didn’t make it to the light of the next day. However I should have had more faith, because that afternoon she showed up and right on time. It wasn’t going to be much of a date though I had not much to offer, only tea and digestive biscuits from England, and before she arrived I wasn’t sure if I would even get the packet out of the cupboard; it depended how we got on.
Then at four o’clock there was a knock on the door. I opened and there she stood, looking lovely and with a bag of supplies. As she walked in, I went to close the door and looked around. Guess what? Outside in the snow parked in the drive, was a white Volvo Estate 240, circa 1993 with 175,000 miles on the clock. And what’s more she and the car both looked pretty good for their mileage.

Fast forward, eighteen months. We’d decided to move in together in New York. She was growing tired of the six-hour weekend drive up to the Cape. I wasn’t at all keen on moving to the city, even if it was New York. But I was crazy about her, so one weekend we packed up my few bits and pieces into ’Lulu’ (her name for the Volvo) and headed South and West the three hundred and thirty miles to the Big Apple and a new life together.

Kathy drove all the way as I hadn’t yet got the appropriate driving license or insurance. Still like most chaps I drove vicariously from the passenger seat, offering, I thought, good driving advice when required or imagined, none of which was requested or welcomed by the driver, who in fact told me to “shut up or drive ”. I unwrapped two sticks of spearmint gum and concentrated on chewing rather than speaking.

All the way, and it’s a long way, her driving was safe, secure and steady; very becoming of a lady of later middle years. But then, just when I had been lulled into a false sense of security, as we got on the outskirts of the big city, we went over the Triborough Bridge.
Beyond the bridge Manhattan island spread out before us all lit up like a vast Christmas diorama. It was about then, after we’d been mobbed by a racing swarm of yellow taxis skirmishing for lanes, that something elemental changed in her as some self-defense switch had tripped to ‘on’.

The sweet and demure lady driver in the pristine antique Volvo, suddenly became ‘FemDeath Monster’ on wheels. I couldn’t believe it. Talk about road rage; she must have been the original inspiration for the term.
She swerved lanes, froze out other drivers, raced lights and swore in a way that was enlightening and darkly poetic. Everyone else on the road was a threat, a moron, a friggin’ idiot or a taxi driver, whom to Kath were all three of those things personified.

As we screamed into Manhattan, I have never been so scared as a passenger in my life. Just as well my fingernails are my own or else they’d still be stuck in the dashboard. The old Volvo was no longer the reliable workhorse useful for moving antique wardrobes and second–hand washing machines; it too was transformed into the ‘Lightning Chariot of Volvus the Destroyer’.

No one on the street was safe, on or off the sidewalk; pedestrians were lumped together as the enemy with all the others and of course at the time I had no idea that you can turn across a zebra crossing even if the light is against you. Clever rule that, for keeping the number of pedestrians down that is.
Within minutes she’d become the original Death Race 2000 contestant. I expected bodies, buggies and wheelchairs to come flying over the windscreen, but I couldn’t watch and couldn’t speak or utter a scream, never mind offering advice on her driving, which as far as I could relate to it, was a panic attack on wheels.

Then as we headed to the Williamsburgh Bridge, and raced a fifty foot long truck to the squeeze point where the road narrows by about a third, in my fear-crazed brain I said to myself, “I shall have a heart attack in a week if life here is like this” and truly believed it.
And I thought something else too, maybe New York life wasn’t for me after all and maybe the woman I’d fallen for had just revealed a side of her that wasn’t for me either.

We survived the drive into Brooklyn, where she lived. Once outside the apartment and after my pulse had slowed to something like normal and I got used to my new white hair and recurring incontinence, I thought I would stay on anyway and give my new situation a chance. And whenever possible I’d travel by foot, bike, ship, balloon, submarine or subway, anything but by car.

Of course the day came around when I just had to go into the city in the car with Kath. I wanted to wear my sleep mask, but Kath said it made me look like a bank robber who was holding her at gunpoint, so I took it off.

She drove her own inimitable New York way, but mercifully, the journey to the East Village where her café is, was short. When we’d arrived in the proximity she began looking for a parking space and executed several unusual u-turns maneuvers, which set lights flashing and horns honking amongst the traffic on Avenue B, as well as in my nervous system.
It really did look like I had just got engaged to Ms. Starsky and Hutch.
However by now my shredded nerves felt no fear or anything actually. And I’d accepted that someone manifested as miraculously and as wonderful as Kath, had come with small print which I hadn’t read. I mean she was almost too good to be true, hence the driver from hell bit.

Back on the street she was getting frustrated with the parking space search, and cursed other drivers fifty yards and more away who’d pulled into spaces she’d mentally claimed as hers. Then she spotted one and fortuitously, it was just opposite the cafe. As we slid past and came to a halt, it looked about seven feet long to me; the Volvo has to be at least fifteen.

“There’s no way you can get this into that,” I said timidly.

She gave me a confident smirk and a look from the corner of her eye and then reversed, at speed. And with one deft turn of the steering wheel she was in.

I got out and crossed the road. I swear there was no more than three inches free space at either end of the car. I couldn’t understand how she’d managed it; it was physically impossible, unless she was able to bend space and time. Just then, a taxi with a fare in the back, pulled up across 10th street. The driver pulled down the window and turning to Kathy who was locking the car-door shouted,

“Lady, if I hadn’t seen that with my own eyes I would not believe it. That was outstanding.” Then he began applauding.

That was the moment, when I stopped being scared and realized that my lady was probably the best damn driver in New York City. Something after five years I know for a fact to be true.

An OLD YORKSHIREMAN IN NEW YORK. (4) My Driver from Hell

John Sunderland

New York, United States

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