a friend asked me to drive his Prius once a week while he flew home for Thanksgiving.
i stayed in town, he lives down the street, and the car’s not stolen, so i said sure, how hard could it be? besides, he was leaving the next day and his alternative was to drive it to Encino and leave it with someone there, an experience no one deserves.
as car custodian, my duty was to drive it around the block a few times because its touchy battery is temperamental and needs exercise. when i arrived for my orientation session, the car was parked in a small garage—a hut, really—outrageously close to the apartment building. even worse, the hut was propped up by pillars wrapped in carpeting. that doesn’t bode well.
we got in and he told me to push the power button to turn it on. ok, i’m about to drive a blender. weirder still, the gearshift is mounted vertically and resembles a joystick. another fun fact: the Prius beeps like a bomb about to detonate the entire time it’s in reverse.
to heighten the entertainment quotient, the area dedicated to car moving was miniscule. un-American, really. all Old World angles and narrowness, backing out of the hut necessitated what felt like a 63-point turn.
and hopping out of the car a billion times to ensure i wouldn’t knick a bumper on any obstacles: the garage wall, the neighboring car, the back of the building, the side of the building, random poles along the narrow driveway.
“we’re going on an adventure!” my friend cried once i pulled into traffic, in an effort, i suspect, to warm me to the deal i was getting into.
“mmmm,” i responded, trying not to hit anything as i inched down our narrow street.
my panic began on the walk home. oh, god. what have i gotten myself into? this is terrifying. what if i destroy his car? it’s too hard. i failed geometry, i’m not equipped. he made the garage sound normal and well situated in his text. when will driverless cars be ready?
and yet, a consequence of dispensing advice is heightened awareness of when you should heed it in your own life. thus, the pep talk began.
it’s just a dopey little hybrid. i’m the human. the Prius can’t even reverse without calling attention to itself. why the hell not me, huh?
there was nothing stopping me from succeeding except my thoughts. a silly little favor became a chance to talk myself into achieving something that seemed too difficult, that i lacked the confidence for.
inspirational realization aside, i still had to, you know, move the car.
i went in the afternoon to have daylight on my side and, i prayed, zero spectators. fortunately, no one was around and the spot next to my friend’s car was empty.
as i prepared for the maneuver, i discovered a final Prius absurdity. its engine erratically kicks on and off, creating what seem like commentary about your driving.
engine on: i would’ve made that turn differently
engine off: you aren’t cutting the wheel enough
weird engine gurgle: check your mirrors!
is there a problem, car? i asked aloud.
it was as though an organism, like your mother-in-law, regardless of whether you actually have one, observed your driving and channeled her critique via the engine.
pretend you’re in Europe, Julia. if you were in Italy, you’d be having fun right now. that’s a fun bumper sticker…
i began. backing out at a glacial pace, i obsessively checked the mirrors, leapt out to confirm bumper clearances, and lost track of how many times i readjusted and started over from the top.
eventually, i got past the “optical illusion” section, where i had to drive between two poles so close to one another, i wished my eyes could check each simultaneously to be sure i missed them.
it was a hero’s journey, through the forrest of carpet pillars, past bizarre challenges one never expected, to the delightful outcome. in my case, this realization: