Twice, he's managed to back out of his driveway and somehow hit his lawn instead of the street. Twice. And I don't mean just brushing his lawn with a single wheel; he backed right straight across its lovingly-maintained greenness and dropped into the street off the curb with a resounding, car-shaking thump. And that's just what we've seen, and it's not like we watch him every minute, or even most minutes. (I will admit that I've thought occasionally that a webcam pointed at the front of his house would be bound to yield interesting results.)
It has reached the point where, if we're anywhere on the street and we see him getting into his car, we retreat at least fifty meters and try to put a solid barrier between him and us. And then we watch, because we know it will be good. (On Sunday, we had a 5.0 Richter scale earthquake. When it started, we were bathing the earthling, and as the house shook we looked at each other and said, "Either it's an earthquake or the neighbor just backed into our house.")
Best Beloved finds this pathetic. He's a nice man, he's successful, he has nice kids and a nice partner and a nice life, but when he goes into reverse, he takes his life and his insurance premiums in his hands. I, on the other hand, am entirely sympathetic, and here's why.
When I took driver's ed, I had never been behind the wheel of a car. I couldn't be covered by my parents' insurance until I had a learner's permit, and I couldn't get that until I had driver's ed, and to my parents, that meant that I could not so much as sit in the driver's seat. Which, fine. I doodled through several boring lectures and averted my eyes through many gruesome movies. And then came my big day. I showed up at the "range," which was an old motocross course the driver's ed people had bought and used to break in their students before they inflicted them on the actual public streets. And I expected I would learn how to drive.
Except. What happened was, we were all put in cars and told to just - go. No instructor in the car; he sat in a little tower and shouted at us through a radio. No instruction in, you know, how to drive. And everyone else was fine with that; they climbed into their cars like old pros and went. So I tried to, and I did fine. Until we were ordered to put our cars in reverse. Everyone else backed neatly and efficiently from one orange cone to another. I backed the car straight into a ditch. And I mean into that ditch. I couldn't get it out. The instructor couldn't get it out. Later, they had to bring a giant crane in to get it out. I am totally not kidding.
As I got out of my butt-down, teetering car and walked in shame back to the waiting area, the instructor yelled at me, "Why didn't you TELL me you didn't know how to drive?" And I didn't know what to say. It was my first range session. Of course I didn't know how to drive. I couldn't figure out how all those other people did. Didn't their parents worry about their insurance?
Anyway. Several years later, I was in college, and I was relating this story to a group of friends, as I have done many many times because it's one of those humiliations I cannot stop replaying in my head (especially, oh god, the jump down from the elevated driver's seat, and the long hot walk while everyone stared at me from their non-ditched cars, and the half-hour miserable wait while everyone else drove), and one of the people in the group sat bolt upright. "That was YOU?" he said. "They told us about you! You're FAMOUS!"
He took driver's ed two years after I did. They were still telling the tale of the girl who didn't know how to drive and backed into a ditch and they had to get a crane to get the car out. For all I know, they're telling it even now. It was yet another time in my life when I got to be the Horrible Example.
So I can relate to our neighbor. I haven't backed into a ditch in many years - really, it was just the once - but I still flinch every time I shift into reverse.
And the thing is, as we were talking about it, Best Beloved disclosed her own reverse shame story - one she had not previously told anyone, not even me, even though we've been married more than fifteen YEARS. I will not relate it here on the extremely off chance that the owner of other car reads this. (Also, she would hurt me.) And I shared with her a story I had never told anyone before, about how I hit the mailbox and knocked the whole thing into the street and didn't notice and a neighbor picked it up and put it on our lawn and my parents thought it was the victim of mailbox baseball (a popular pastime where I grew up) and cursed a little bit and then my father put it back up. And I never told them otherwise.
So we shared these stories, and then I started wondering how many other people have driving shame stories to share. (By "driving shame," I don't mean "I never use my turn signals." I mean, like, "I forgot to put the parking brake on and it rolled into the street and sat there for hours, forcing all our neighbors, as they returned from work, to drive into someone else's driveway to get around it.") I'm hoping it's not just Best Beloved and me and the guy across the street who have these stories. I mean, I can think of five of them right off the bat, including one that scares me more now remembering it than it did when I did it.
And the thing is, these are all more terrifying now, because we have the earthling. It's one thing to look back in shame; it's entirely another thing to be looking ahead in horror.
So: do you have any driving shame stories? I want to hear them! Not only will I feel less like an idiot (I backed into the ditch oh my god); I will also have a great resource to show the earthling in about 16 years, when he asks why he can't get a license.