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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Driving without Reverse

On a recommendation, I recently downloaded The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler to my Kindle. I’m only three chapters into the book, so I don’t have much to say about it yet, but I did come across this passage that totally brought back some long buried memories:
Macon often recalled that director. Jim, his name was, Jim Robinson or maybe Robertson – a burly, white-whiskered man with a crew cut, wearing a suit coat, as if in respect, over a Redskins T-shirt. He’d seemed uncomfortable with silence and did his best to fill it with abrupt little fragments of chitchat. Macon hadn’t listened, or he’d thought he hadn’t; but now all the fragments came back to him. How Jim’s mother had been a Baltimorean herself, born the year Babe Ruth was playing for the Orioles. How Jim’s tomato plants had been acting queerly, producing only tiny green marbles that fell off the vines before they ripened. How Jim’s wife was terrified of driving in reverse and avoided any situation that required it. Macon gave a lot of thought to that now, lying in his bed at night. Could you really drive a car without reversing? What about at intersections, where a bus driver pokes his head out his window and asks you to roll on back a few yards so he can turn? Would she refuse? Macon imagined her, staunch and defiant, glaring straight in front of her and pretending not to notice.
In the late 1980s, my dad let me use a car he owned after my car died. It was an orange, boxy looking Fiat (it looked a lot like the one in the photo below, except I think it was a 4-four door – photo used under Creative Commons license. Credit: Stuart Caie).


It had a stick shift and that was okay. I had already owned a car with a stick, so I didn’t have any problems driving another. Except, this car didn’t have reverse. The gear was broken and I didn’t have the money to get it fixed.

So I improvised. I did everything Macon imagined and more. I pulled into parking lots, always looking for either (1) a slight incline I could park on so the car would roll backwards automatically when I put it in neutral or (2) a parking spot that wasn’t boxed in by another spot in front of me.

If I visited a friend, I couldn’t pull into his or her driveway unless the driveway was inclined toward the street. If I parked on the street with a hill, I had to make sure I parked facing down hill. And I had to make sure I parked somewhere that another car couldn’t box me in.

It led to some rather comical parking situations. A couple of times I didn’t think all of my options through, so I had to put the car in neutral and push it backward just so I could get out.

So, to answer Macon’s questions – yes, you really can drive a car without reversing. I did it for more than a year. And I never encountered a bus driver who needed me to back up at an intersection, but I could have pulled it off if necessary by simply putting the car in neutral, opening the door, and pushing it back a few feet – unless of course I was at an intersection that was facing uphill. I guess the bus driver would have been out of luck in that situation.


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