Straying From My Lane

I’m going off the road, I think, my heart pitching to the beat of a noise I can’t identify. “Knock, knock, knock, knock, knock”, so loud it drowns out all rational thought. “Do you hear this?” I shout into my phone, shoving it towards the window. “Yes, I hear it,” Bob answers, “Calm down so I can ask you a few questions.” I fill my lungs and the call is dropped.

The morning had started out normal, except that I’d noticed the rear tire on the passenger side was squishy. I aired it up on the way to work and saw it was down to sixteen pounds.

Bob and I are in transition again. We made a big decision one day last month and that night we slept like babies for the first time in a while. “We get to have another adventure!” I said the next morning. Bob grinned sleepily. “And this time, we don’t have to move!” A nation of two.

No lane traffic in Kumasi, Ghana

Transitions suck. I have trouble letting go. My tendency to overdo kicks in big time, and I cannot keep my nose out of other people’s business. Witnessing my struggle, Bob sends me an article.

I glance at the title and recall a conversation with Amy and Shelley. We take long, early-morning walks and talk about everything. We three are what you call “pleasers,” anxious to be of use, quick to over-commit, and liable at a moment’s notice to get all tangled up in someone else’s problem. Enabler’s Anonymous, we jokingly call our weekly outings.

Last week, Amy brought up the very same article. Staying in Your Own Lane is about accountability and Paris’s no lane traffic circle at the Arc de Triomphe. Okay, I think, reading the article. Advice from the cosmic sphere.

Now here I was, hands tight on the steering wheel, trying to stay in my lane as if my life depended on it. The Gum Springs Road has soft shoulders, steep drop offs, elevation changes, and a lot of curves. The car begins to wobble and I fear I won’t make it all the way to Performance Automotive. I notice a sheriff’s car parked at the Robeson Creek boat ramp and consider pulling over. I have never felt more like a damsel in distress than right now. But I keep creeping along, unwilling to admit my absolute loss of control to a stranger.

When I see the cell service bars return, I call Bob. “I’ll meet you at Johnny Burke.” I make it to our rendezvous destination and leap from the car.

My heart surges when I see the zebra-striped hood of Bob’s Mercedes wagon. He slides behind the wheel of the wounded car and takes off, faster than I think prudent. The problem is immediately obvious. The right rear wheel is flopping like a flounder. Gesturing wildly, I run toward the car. Bob gets out, crouches down, sees a big screw stuck in the tire, and then we gape at the two remaining lug nuts. He fishes the jack and lug wrench from the trunk while I stand by, useless and shivering in the suffocating heat.

We drop the car at the shop and Bob takes me home to bake cookies. Because we drive old cars, we are prone to making unscheduled drops. Years ago I started baking cookies to show my gratitude. When the problem is small, a loose gas cap triggering the check engine light or a flapping wheel well liner, they often say, “No charge Mrs. Armantrout.” “Are you sure?” “You just keep baking us cookies.”

The next day I return to the shop with a heaping plate of peanut butter chocolate chips. The owner smiles and asks, “How’s Christine?” “Oh, she’s enjoying retirement under a tarp in the back yard,” I say of our 1994 Ford Escort. We named her that after finding the lights on several times like the car in Steven King’s novel, Christine. “You have names for all of your cars, don’t you?” Pleased that he knows this I answer, “Yep, Oliver is the olive green Outback, and the white Mercedes is Blanche, an aging southern white lady who sometimes depends on the kindness of strangers.

And so I get back on the horse. I climb into Oliver and nose my way out of the crowded lot. I have heard the message loud and clear. Play your own part, don’t over reach, stay in your lane, and always check your lug nuts.

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