Excerpted from John Kawie's column "Life At The Curb" in the July/August 2006 issue of Stroke Connection Magazine.“This is a problem John,” proclaimed Gary, the attending mechanic, as he poked the underside of our 16-year-old car with a screwdriver. Particles of rust were appearing on the floor below the lift like little anthills, or rust stalagmites. This definitely was not an exploratory examination. Our car was in the automobile equivalent of Intensive Care.
I didn’t want to watch, but Gary wanted me to see the problem firsthand. “I was planning on getting the car detailed. Can I still do that?” I asked, half hoping, that if it were shiny and clean it would make it better.
I knew I was in denial, but I was still thrown when Gary recommended that we should start thinking about getting a new car. The ’87 Honda was comfortable, familiar and perfectly broken in like an old pair of shoes. I didn’t want a new car. We didn’t use it that much anyway. We don’t really need a car in the city. We keep it at a railroad station upstate to visit family.
“Get an automatic so you’ll be able to drive,” Gary suggested. I always bought standard shift cars, and I’m not going to change now. Hey I don’t even walk with a cane anymore, so I don’t need an automatic. I hadn’t driven any car since the stroke eight years ago, but I was sure I could do it. I persuaded Marilyn to let me prove it.
Once we got to the empty parking lot we switched seats. This looked a lot easier from the passenger seat. Before starting the car I tried the clutch with my affected left leg. Okay, so far so good. Finally the moment of truth… I pressed the clutch to the floor, and started the car.
The title of Ralph Nader’s book “Unsafe at Any Speed” flashed in my mind like a bright neon sign outside a seedy hotel room. My left foot unintentionally slipped off the clutch. The car lunged forward like I was at a drag strip trying to break the quarter-mile speed record. The only thing in my mind now was the lyrics to “Dead Man’s Curve.” The car bucked so violently Marilyn and I felt like Debra Winger and John Travolta riding that mechanical bull in the movie “Urban Cowboy.”
The Honda was apparently as drained as we were and mercifully stalled. We both just sat for a while and savored the stillness before we looked at each other, and in unison said, “Change is good. We should get an automatic.”
We eventually ended up with a new Honda Civic… automatic, of course. Marilyn now complains that I drive very slowly. What fascinates me is a whole other brake and gas pedal grew on the passenger side of the car. I may drive slow compared to other cars, but it’s fast compared to a wheelchair.
Hey, I’m back driving. I can participate in that great American driving tradition – “road rage.” Nothing can top that wonderful feeling of accomplishment when you can flip someone the bird with your affected hand. Now that’s therapy.
For information on booking John Kawie's one-man show about stroke
recovery,"Life At The Curb", contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org