Miss Driving Disaster

Sept. 30, 2005, midnight | By Natasha Prados | 15 years, 8 months ago

A handbook for coping with car trouble

Every driver looks forward to the day that they will get their provisional license and drive alone for the first time. For many Blazers, (or maybe just me) these first days of freedom are, unfortunately, marked by mayhem and mishaps. That is why I have valiantly taken it upon myself to ridicule my own mistakes for public amusement in the hopes that Blazers will benefit. The result is this comprehensive guide to dealing with automobile related emergencies, from leaving on the parking break to locking your keys in the car.

Emergency: Locking the keys in the car

I park beautifully, flawlessly and effortlessly sliding into the exact center of the space with perfect ease and smugly walking off to hang out with a friend, pleased with my driving expertise.

It isn't until I get back to the car several hours later that I realize I had locked my keys in the car.

Being the logical, cool-headed, practical person that I am, I do the reasonable thing: I panic.

Wild possibilities race through my addled brain. I'll have to hitchhike home, sneak into the house with my highly honed covert ops skills, stealthily obtain the spare car key and somehow get my idiotic self back to the car. Or, I could wander around till I find a nice handsome locksmith to somehow barter with (I'm broke) until he helps this damsel in distress. Or, I could call home and face the wrath of my mother, who would potentially revoke my driving privileges and force me into involuntary servitude (worse than usual) for a week or more.

Fortunately, I have my trusty friend and fellow online staff member Meaghan Mallari with me, who actually is pragmatic and reasonable. She proposes just as viable an option: fish out the keys. Fortunately, I had left the windows down a couple of inches so the car didn't turn into a toaster oven hotter than the underworld.

Despite this saving grace, our task seemed impossible; there are seven keys on my chain, and it must weigh a pound or eight.

First we try to lift the keys out with sticks pulled off a nearby tree (this in itself was dangerous, as we were in the heart of tree lover territory: Takoma Park). The keys, in cooperation with our brilliant tactics, fall under the seat.

Next, we try to unlock the car doors, but not even Hugh Jackman could have done this in X-men when he had adamantium claws, what with the horizontal motion needed to unlock the door.

We set our sites on one last ray of hope. The button to unlock all the car doors could possibly save us if only we could apply enough pressure. In a crowning moment of glory, Mallari manages it. She is like Superwoman the Carjackess. She is my hero. Ecstatic, shaky and relieved, I sit down in the car and take a long, deep breath, considerably less cocky than when I sat here just a few hours ago.
Lesson: Make friends with Meaghan Mallari.

Emergency: Parking Ticket

I drive to Rite Aid to run a simple errand, but the parking lot is packed. Behind me are insane people honking as though they have some sort of rapidly degenerative illness and must get to Kinkos before they die, which, judging from the amount of noise they're making, will be some time in the next few seconds.

I must admit, I buckled under the pressure. I make it a policy never to purposefully aggravate obsessive compulsive honkers. In my experience, they tend to be nervous caffeine addicts, both very twitchy and very unpredictable.

So I pull off onto a side street and park right below a sign proclaiming that only those with legitimate permits can park there. I don't happen to have an applicable parking permit, but I figure this is a minor detail, seeing as how I have a friend who parked here recently and he escaped unscathed by the demonic parking patrol. Besides, I rationalize, I'll only be gone five minutes.

Five minutes turns into twenty, and when I return I see two creepily official men with clipboards eyeing me critically. "Hahaha, wouldn't it be funny if I got a parking ticket?" I think to myself.

Several hours later, I am driving home and it starts to rain, so I turn on the wipers. A small, square, pinkish piece of paper flies away and suddenly I can't breathe. Oh, expletive!

I pull over into a nearby bank parking lot (one which doesn't require a permit) and get out to frantically search for the piece of paper. I must look like a crazed drug addict searching for a dollar bill. After realizing I'll never find it, I get back in the car and do the mature thing: call the parent who doesn't control my driving privileges.

After listening me gush faster than Niagara Falls for several minutes, my father tells me to calm down. As it turns out, parking tickets aren't connected to your actual license. What a shame I don't believe in God -- this is the perfect miracle. Not only that, my dad assures me that the fine will probably be closer to $20 than the millions I anticipated.

Breathing less like a rhino on speed and more like a normal human being now, I make my way home, careful to be at least 5 mph under the speed limit the whole way. I am not tempting fate (any more) today.

As soon as I get home, I make the appropriate Google searches and find several phone numbers. I also find out that parking enforcers ticket with a vengeance. It must be compensation for having such a crappy job.

Five minutes after various frantic calls, during which the operators assure me that there is no way they have my ticket in the system already, I am thinking how great my father is when I realize that his parking garage puts slips under the wipers of cars.

And they are pink.
Lesson: Keep in mind that most official documents are yellow or white rather than pink. And, of course, follow all parking rules and regulations (in Silver Spring, at least, which my dad says is especially strict).

Emergency: Leaving the parking brake on

This wouldn't be an issue if my mother didn't think the parking brake was important. But she does.

It was a historic moment when I first set out all by myself in the car to go from my house in Outer Mongolia (Bethesda) to get to my friend's house. I had never even driven this car before.

So, naturally, I was being extra-careful to do everything correctly and show my mom how responsible I plan to be with this car. I was still being extra-careful as I cruised down River Road (where the speed limit is 45 mph) and realized that the little red brake light was, well, bright red. Meaning the brake was on.

I had thought I heard a funny noise coming from the car.
Lesson: Little red lights are always important. Any red lights, really.

Emergency: Getting lost and running out of gas

Being one of those brilliant people who has a map in her car yet gets lost anyway makes me truly special. Really. I should go on tour.

I must have pulled over at least five times to look at this blasted map of Montgomery County, each time positive that I knew exactly how I should go and each time feeling like I was going the wrong way.

This was no minor detour, either. I went at least 20 miles out of my way and ended up vaguely near Rockville.

I am never, ever going anywhere near West Gude again. Not that I would know how to get there, or even if it is a street, boulevard, avenue or whatever.

All the while I was watching my gas tank creep steadily downward from a quarter of a tank to an eighth of a tank to.lower. Oh dear. However, one benefit to ending up in the middle of the desert (also known as West Gude) was that I found gas for $3.10. This was soon after the hurricane, when gas was around $3.50 in most places I had seen. I also got a great deal of practice on U-turns, lane changing, pulling over, and putting on those special double-blinkers. I could drive in NASCAR now.

As long as it doesn't require a map.
Lesson: Well, have a map. And be able to read it. I swear, it's harder than you'd think.

Emergency: My mom reads this
Lesson: I'm sure I'll find out.

Natasha Prados. More »

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