Tuesday, May 31, 2011

If You Leave Me Now

Exiting at Eden Canyon Road, the Driver’s Education instructor had her pull over in a dirt patch. She put it in park and got out of the car. The instructor looked at me and said, “You’re up.” I was in the middle of three students in the back of a Ford Granada. The car was outfitted with an additional break on the floorboard of the passenger side, for the sake of safety. The instructor used it liberally. I pushed way my way out and sat in the driver’s seat.

This was the last stop in obtaining our driver’s license. Our course work was over. We had already been scared straight with Red Asphalt; simulators taught us to watch out for old bag ladies who were prone to leaping into traffic and manuals explained the correct speed limit when approaching train tracks that were 40 yards from an elementary school. It was a long process, but it was worth it – the end result was a driver’s license.

It was winter of 1980, a dreary Sunday that leant more to depression than religion, a time when businesses still closed for the Sabbath and streets were relatively empty, due to a slower pace of life.

I turned left and followed the frontage road back into town. Driving under the speed limit, the instructor told me to speed up. At Foothill, a road that claimed at least one student a year, I made a right, passing my high school. Decades later, often on Sundays, I found myself driving this stretch of road, looking up at the familiar burnt East Bay hills and squat oak trees.

Knowing the history of the road, and being an inexperienced driver, I hugged the shoulder, wincing anytime a car would pass. When the sound of the tires went from pavement to gravel, the instructor would gently grab the steering wheel with his left hand and steer the car back on the road. With a ten and two death grip on the steering wheel, this road scared the shit out of me.

We drove around town, up near the church, then back to Foothill on our way to Sunol, the adjacent town where the cowboy kids at our school lived. I always liked Sunol and knew the streets were relatively free of cars. This was good for a new driver. I’d had enough passing cars on a two-lane road.

Clipboard in hand and writing God knows what about my driving, the instructor told me to make a left onto a dead end street. I figured I would be tested on a three-point turn. Instead, he said to pull over. This was not uncommon. There lots of starts and stopping, and changing of the drivers. I figured my driving time was up.

I sat in the driver’s seat waiting for instructions. The instructor glanced longingly out the passenger side window at a country house that was parallel to the car. The A.M. radio played “If You Leave Me Now” by Chicago.

If you leave me now, you'll take away the biggest part of me
No baby please don't go
If you leave me now, you'll take away the very heart of me
No baby please don't go

Without taking his eyes of the house, he broke the silence by dramatically turning off the radio and saying: “I hate songs like this.” Not knowing what to say, all of us sat stone faced and silent.

Seeing the looks on our faces, he attempted to explain why were parked, looking at a farm house in Sunol: “My ex-wife lives there.”

Even at 15, I knew this wasn’t right. He was a stalker, a man in a pain over bad love. It was moments like this that I started to put together that my charmed life could easily turn to shit and that it could be me driving by the ex’s house.

He turned around and looked at a girl with glasses in the backseat: “You’re up, Four Eyes.” His attempt at humor diffused the situation. Four Eyes took over and I moved to the back.


  1. I'm imagining n extended version with Four Eyes going ballistic about how her boyfriend and her love that song... squealing tires throwing out dust and gravel, scared passengers... and maybe even a little backseat urine.

  2. Strange synchronism. That terrible tune was assaulting my sub-conscious moments before seeing and clicking on the link. What's that mean?