Loved to shift the “four-on the-floor” when I was around six, adored perching fearlessly high on the seat of a John Deere at maybe eight, and jumped at the chance (without permission and illegally) to tool around town in my dad’s ’37 Plymouth while he was at church. I was 12. Knew not to ask.
Didn’t get far, hooked the bumper on the garage on the way out, and spent the entire evening banging away at both bumper and garage so that my dad would never know. In the driver’s seat meant: being grown up, getting to go when and where I wanted. Driving a convertible around had me feeling like a big deal.
The bank and I co-owned a car in 1966. Practical, a Dodge Dart, which featured a folding-down back seat. Feeling like an adult I’d drive from midwest to east coast. I would drive straight through, and if exhausted fold that seat, grab a nap, and continue on. In my own driver’s seat.
Not a “silk road,” but Interstate 90 smoothly glides cross-country. It crosses the Hudson somewhere near Poughkeepsie, and has a long beautiful suspension bridge that allows ships to cross under it. It was my usual rest stop. I’d stretch out to catch a few “zzzz’s” just shy of the bridge.
A loud crack of thunder woke me after only a few minutes. Back on the road the rest of the trip was quick and easy. I poured coffee from my thermos, pulled out of the rest stop, and and was on the bridge just as the storm really hit. It was as if I was in a nightmare. The storm produced thunder, lightning, and gusts of wind. The car shook. “Safest place a lightning storm is in a car,” I mumbled to myself. The wind was so strong that I felt the entire bridge sway. Scary, but just tightened my grip and on I went.
I had my destination in mind, no desire to stop in the middle of the damn Hudson River. The storm and I got to the other side at about the same time. I promptly forgot the whole episode.
Fade to black. Years later I worked in San Francisco. There was problem, I had developed a phobia about heights. Going over the Oakland Bridge, or the Golden Gate, would cause heavy, full anxiety. San Francisco’s a great city, I would tell myself, no need to go to Oakland.
I had equal thoughts about not going to the upper peninsula of Michigan, nor taking the bridge from Detroit to Windsor. Take the tunnel. Don’t go to the U.P. Turns out there are bridges over the Chicago river, and of course the “Skyway” crosses to Indiana. I would make tricky adjustments, strange detours. In the driver’s seat, sure, but where do you go without bridges?
Have I mentioned that I had forgotten about my Hudson River crossing? Swaying bridge? That had turned into a secret, even from me. I ransacked my mind for the basis for my phobia. Then, as if in a flash of lightning, I finally remembered being half-awake in a storm.
If there is a “talking cure” and this was mine. After remembering I could go back to be fearlessly in the driver’s seat even when crossing bridges. Unless I go somewhere with my wife, then she drives.