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Driving Miss Lupe

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Just from looking at my car, you can tell that I’m not a native Vermont driver. How many bright red SUVs with Puerto Rican flags and Vermont vanity plates that say “LA LUPE” do you see in the North Country? As a displaced Latina New Yorker, I never claimed to fit in seamlessly, behind the wheel or otherwise, but I really disagree with my Vermonter husband that my New York City driving skills transfer so badly to New England driving.

I learned to drive in Manhattan’s lower west side. My high school was on 33rd Street and 9th Avenue, and the most deserted spot for driver’s education was underneath the West Side Highway. It was quite a training ground, and I learned my lessons well. A homeless man jumped in front of my car during my driver’s test. I think my quick reaction to his dive was the reason I passed as I had made several serious mistakes during the test (which I emphasized with an audible “Oops!” thereby eliminating any chance the examiner missed them).

Needless to say I learned to drive defensively and offensively from the get go. When I was 30 years old, I moved to Stowe, Vermont, and with the drastic change of scenery came a change of driving style.

I met a native Vermonter not long after moving to Stowe who would become my husband. While we were dating we spent many an afternoon touring around the area, and often I would drive. On those occasions, if we passed a beautiful view of Mount Mansfield, I would gape and point, “Look honey! Isn’t that lovely?” At that moment he would scream, “Look out for that fence!” or something equally as inconsiderate and dismissive.

Why was he so uptight, anyway? There were no homeless men to avoid and no hoards of rush hour psychotic drivers; just miles and miles of postcard material. Who needs to drive defensively in such environs? There were times when I had to admit, though, he might be right.

There was the time when I was delivering a computer to a client in North Wolcott, Vermont in the dead of winter. The directions were classic Vermont: “Take a right at the heifer, and a left where Benoit’s barn used to be.” I was so distracted by the beauty of the unspoiled countryside that I took a wrong turn and ended up on a logging road that, I was told after the fact, had not been traveled on in about ten years.

Halfway up the hill I realized my mistake just as the tires of the massive company van got hopelessly stuck in the ice on the edge of the road. I got out and cautiously walked around the van to determine the severity of the situation and examined the tires. As I stood up, I glanced up across the road to see two very large beef cows snorting at me. Seems the sound of the spinning tires had really ticked them off, and at that moment they proceeded to charge the van.

I skittered around to the driver’s door, and hid in the back until they calmed down and returned to their field. I then realized I had better get walking if I was ever to get help. I quietly slid down the hill, doing my best not to disturb my irritable bovine neighbors, and then walked the three miles to my client’s home. After she pulled me out, I installed her computer and returned to the computer store in Burlington with my tail between my legs. I was greeted upon my return with a round of applause, uproarious laughter, and, “Ann, those cows pegged you for a flatlander the minute you stepped out of the van!”

Over time (and with much spousal coaching) I have learned to pay better attention to the act of driving and less to the stunning Vermont scenery. There are still times when my old New York City skills come in handy. When we make occasional trips south, the minute we hit the City’s border and the use of turn signals, speed limits, and manners vanish, my husband has me take the wheel.

He might be better equipped to dodge Vermont moose, but leave the leaping transients to me.

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About Ann Hagman Cardinal