The Zen of Driving with Mind and Body
by Bill Cushing

Taking Driver’s Ed in New York City, one lesson our instructor emphasized and revisited concerned driving in rain, icy conditions, or snow.

“Never forget: always turn into the skid and pump the brakes,” he would preach to all of us smug “trainees.” This oft-repeated evangel always had us trade confident smirks.

I should have listened.

The winter after earning my license, my parents agreed to let me take their 1967 Chevrolet Bel-Air station wagon to visit a girlfriend in Pennsylvania. Anticipating a fun weekend, I piled my bags in back, changed the radio to WABC’s Cousin Brucie, and began my first road trip. This was it: the big time. I was on my own. With a motor vehicle too.

Before hitting the highway, I decided to stock up on sodas and Slim Jims for the road. Driving downhill, I suddenly realized that the car’s ass-end was catching up to the front, sliding in the recently fallen and packed snow. I didn’t panic, though, drawing on my driving “knowledge.” The only problem was that muscle memory sometimes overrides intellect.

I had been driving for nearly a year; to stop, I stepped on the brake. If it was a sudden stop, I stepped on the brake harder and longer. So here I was thinking, “Just turn into the skid and pump the brakes.”

Got the first part perfectly: the car straightened out wonderfully although not completely, which led to the problem. While my mind repeated “pump the brakes, pump the brakes,” my leg locked against the brake pedal and I watched as—in slow motion—a parked car closed the distance between us. I smacked right into its front fender. My first accident—because I allowed reflex to override theory.

You can bet from then on, I pumped them brakes religiously.

PHOTO: “Snowy road” by Sky Line, used by permission.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Like most writing, the work comes from one’s life. In this case, the narrative comes from two experiences: the actual event and my present occupation as an English instructor. When I discuss the inherent and adaptive personalities within characters in fiction, I use this event from my past to illustrate how our inherent personality influences our adaptive one while the adaptations we make alter the ensuing inherent personality.

bill cushing

Born in Virginia, Bill Cushing grew up in New York, attended school in Pennsylvania, began college in Missouri, but found himself back in Virginia and New York as well as Florida, Maryland, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico before moving to California. He earned an MFA in writing from Goddard College in Vermont. He now teaches at East Los Angeles and Mt. San Antonio Colleges and lives in Glendale with this wife and their son. Bill has been published in Another Chicago Magazine, Brownstone Review, the Florida Times-Union, Metaphor, Newtown Literary Journal, and the San Juan Star. He has poems in two recently released anthologies, Getting Old and Stories of Music, and a short story about his youth in New York in the latest issue of Newtown Literary Journal.