Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Learning to Drive, Part 3

So my first attempt at car ownership in Japan didn't go as planned, but now everyone was motivated to help me get a car. Within a day of my disastrous driving lesson at the town ground, I was introduced to Mr. Shinohara, the only car salesman in town, and father to two of my students. Mr. Shinohara convinced me to pay $1100 for a "K" car with a year and a half left in the shaken period. So I bought one of these:

Though mine was much older and a bit more banged up.

This car was perfect for me (though literally painful for anyone taller than 5'10"). Only one thing, it, too, was a stick shift (I told you I was a cheapskate). After the hazardous lesson with my "friends" from the BOE, I decided I had to find another way to learn how to drive. And so it was, that Mr. Atsusaka, the 8th grade science teacher, was nominated to give me driving lessons.

Mr. Atsusaka was not only the most popular teacher at the school, he was also extremely funny, outgoing, and as it turns out, made with nerves of steel. Rather than driving on the town ground, he decided I'd learn quicker if I drove up and down the mountain. As he was teaching me, he was also taking a video of the lesson (since I had decided by that time to try to record my various experiences). Later, when my Japanese was better, I watched the video and realized just how horrified Mr. Atsusaka must have been. Besides the fact that I kept turning on the windshield wipers when I wanted to turn, I also pretty much did just the opposite of whatever he told me to do. "Turn left here," he'd say, and I would turn right. "Go straight," he would say, and I would turn into some stranger's driveway. "Stop," he would say, voice slightly panicked (a nuance lost on me and my intense focus on driving), and I would just keep going. Funny how he thought I did well enough on my first lesson that there was no need for another.

I am pretty sure that one lesson took years off of Mr. Atsusaka's life, but I did learn how to drive the car.

And though it took nearly a year for my BOE to explicitly grant permission for me to drive to school, I started zipping up and down the mountain the very next day. And, I mean zip. It's probably lucky I survived my time driving in those mountains because soon this became my new sign:

Twice I hit falling rocks (or possibly the side of the mountain--remember, no shoulders). The first time, I pulled into my driveway to discover that I was missing one of my rear-view side mirrors. The second time, the impact was a bit more noticeable. And ironically, it happened on the very day, nearly a year after I had started driving, that my BOE finally gave me official permission to drive my car to work.

After this second encounter with falling rock (the side of the mountain?)I had to turn my steering wheel 90 degrees in order to go straight, so I figured it wasn't good. Since I was alone on a narrow mountain pass far from other traffic (in the era before cell phones), I had no choice but to drive my severely crippled car back down the mountain to the junior high school closest to my house.

Sliding open the teacher's room door, I calmly said, "Umm, could someone take a look at my car? I may have hit something and it's acting funny," downplaying the situation as much as possible. Fortunately, it was summer vacation, so there were only three other teachers there. The vice principal took the initiative and went out to look at my car. He started it. He drove it in the parking lot. He got out and stared at it scratching his head. He walked around it a few times. More head scratches, and then he determined it must have a flat tire. (Now, I knew it didn't have a flat tire, but sometimes it's better to let these things work out on their own). The math teacher, the only other single person anywhere close to my age working at the school, was nominated to go with me to the filling station to put air in the tire.

Being quite a bit sharper than the vice principal, once it was just the two of us, the math teacher asked me what had really happened. I told him. He laughed and took me to the filling station anyway. And when there was no one there to help us, he made a half-hearted effort to change the phantom flat tire.

When our trip to fill the tire didn't solve the problem, it was determined that we should call Mr. Shinohara, the man who sold me the car, to see if he could fix it. He came to the school, popped the hood of the car (something no one else had thought to do), and burst out laughing. The battery was on the opposite side of the car, having been completely dislodged from its moorings. Then he got down on his hands and knees to look under the car, again something no one else thought to do. And again, there was laughter. Apparently, the shaft between the front wheels had a kink in it--a 90 degree kink--kind of like Zorro's Z. No wonder it wouldn't go straight. When he finally stopped laughing, what he said made me want to cry. Total estimated cost for repair: $2000 (or nearly twice what I paid for the car to begin with).


FMBMC said...

Ouch! I'm hoping there's a part 4. I can't wait to hear how this turns out!

Mom on the Edge said...

I was wondering if anyone was reading. There is indeed more to the story if you want to hear it....