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My brother picked me up (for the LAST time I told myself) in his Datsun 280-Z and together we zoomed over the Bay Bridge to purchase my new set of wings. Once we hit Angel Island we drove around the military parking structure – lost for a while, and then I saw him, the Naval Officer. He was standing next to my car, and it was cuter than I ever imagined! An uncontrollable squeal passed through my lips. I looked at my brother excitedly, but he just said, “Rae be cool.” Between his teeth.

There’s a lot to be said about buying a used vehicle from a person in the Navy. This car looked virtually brand new. It was freshly waxed, the paint was perfect (the benefits of a covered parking garage), the vinyl seats sparkled, none of the piping was ripped, and you could practically eat off of the rubber floor mats. I couldn’t believe he wanted to sell her – then he proudly showed us his brand new sports car, black, with sunroof.  I remember thinking what an odd contrast his two cars made. As I think back, he was probably about 45…”mid-life.”

California Street in San Francisco..."gulp!"

After my brother looked under the hood and drove around the parking lot, he gave us the thumbs-up. I stood shaking as I handed him my money, “Will you take $800?” I smiled, blinking innocently. One side of his mouth went up, “Sure. But promise to take good care of her.” I nodded, afraid to speak. I could feel another squeal building up in my throat.  He took my hard earned cash, we signed the pink slip, shook hands (ouch) and he was gone. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to buy such a big item.

Now, you must remember that it was my brother who test-drove around the parking lot, not me. I was busy ogling the overall splendor of my new wings, when I noticed a long stick with a ball at the end, between the two front seats. “That’s a strange looking E-brake,” I whispered to my brother. He just gave me another wide-eyed look, which meant, “Be cool.” I said no more. Now that we were alone with MY car, I sat in the drivers seat and asked, “What the heck is this stick?! And why are there THREE pedals?!”

“Dude, it’s a manual transmission, a stick shift.” My brother said and started laughing, wickedly. I began to sweat. My mom’s Toyota was an automatic; I’d never driven a stick before. I must have turned bright red because my brother quickly said he would teach me. “Where?” I asked. “We’ll drive around the City together until you feel comfortable enough to drive home alone.” He said, reassuringly. I was still sweating, but it was my brother who taught me how to drive a manual. Besides, how hard could it be?

After a quick lesson around the parking lot we headed onto the freeway, with no plan at all except taking the first exit off of the freeway – Fremont, and into San Francisco. All went exceedingly well and even my brother was a little impressed at how calm I was, but we were still on the freeway. As I took the Fremont exit I almost drove us into the bus terminal. I was downshifting for the first time, grinding the gears trying to find third when my brother yelled, “Get over!” I did immediately, without looking. Thank goodness no one was there. I began to shake. “Turn left here,” he said casually, so I did. It was California Street. I was beginning to feel a little uneasy about all this stop and go clutch, brake, clutch, gas, break, clutch. Then I looked up. “Why did you tell me to turn? It’s straight up!” I yelled at him, tears springing from my eyes. He started laughing, having the time of his life. “Dude, you’ve got to learn how to drive up and down hills using your clutch!” He was right, but this was definitely a crash course in manual driving. Peter always did like torturing me…

Like the time I was nine, sleeping peacefully in bed when I heard a muffled, “Rae. Rae, wake up.” When I opened my eyes I was nose to nose with the devil’s skull, or Peter wearing a Halloween skull mask, complete with dark, hollow eyes, white boney features and black sackcloth. I screamed, and then I fainted. He was nice enough to shake me conscience, and was holding the mask in his hands when I awoke. I think he let me strike him, then he apologized and his eyes were sincere so I forgave him. He can’t help it, he’s a boy I thought, plus I always knew that deep down my brother truly loved me. He just had a hard time showing it in healthy ways…like now.

As we drove UP UP UP California in first gear, then second, I could feel all the weight of the car pulling me backwards, it was a horrible feeling. Also, I saw cars building up behind me, and the car directly behind me was a shiny black limousine. “PETER!” I screamed, looking in my rear view mirror. He looked back and his smile went away. Long story short, I must have burned 1/2 ” of rubber off of my tires that day, but I mastered California and I became an exceptional parallel parker.

As I followed my brother back over the Bay Bridge I blinked my lights at him in gratitude. When he took his exit off of the freeway I kept going. I was alone, in my own car, destination unknown. I began to weep, then I quickly stopped because I didn’t want to crash my new car. I thanked God for protecting my brother and me while we terrorized our fellow drivers.

I drove all around the beautiful city of Oakland – Piedmont, Montclair, Rockridge, Broadway then Jack London Square. I parked in the staff parking lot and ran into work to show my best friend, Keith, my new set of wheels. “Dude! Awesome!” He said excitedly. I told him the whole story and we both laughed.

Thus, began my life…