Finally, I Found Ricardo
“You’re my only female client who hasn’t cried,” my driving teacher said, “most girls cry when they fail.”
I considered what Sam just said while waiting to make my entry onto a high-strung motorway. Cars whizzed past, completely at ease with the feat they were accomplishing, oblivious in their speeding tin cans.
Earlier that day, when my driving examiner jammed the brakes as I drove into a roundabout in the wrong lane, I did want to cry. But I didn’t. When he asked me to turn the car around and go back to the centre, that was the second trigger. The largest one was when he handed me my report, stating poor judgement as the cause of my failing. It hit a nerve far deeper than the one that corresponded to driving.
“Do you know why we came back to the driving centre?” He asked, like a doctor would ask you if you had a dry cough or phlegm.
“Because I failed,” I said blandly, gazing through the windshield.
But I didn’t cry. And my driving instructor Sam came up to the window with his nose scrunched up in pity, and made note.
“Men usually get aggressive, women cry,” he later told me through his routine gum-chewing.
I pondered on the sexist implications of that statement. I wasn’t up to an argument, so I let it be. There was a comfortable gap in the motorway traffic and I shakily made my entry.
Driving in Australia was new to me, with its road markings & rules, orderly conduct & lane discipline. In India, driving is much like our wedding buffets, a free-for- all for large appetites and egos. But I don’t think that’s the entire reason I failed.
Thinking and acting fast has always been a problem.
One of my strongest memories from the days when I was learning how to drive is having a breakdown while entering the parking lot of a movie theatre. The slope, perhaps at the incline of 10 degrees, was too much to take for my embryonic understanding of gearing. One or two, I kept asking myself. One or two!
My car stalled loudly. Mom and her sister furrowed their eyebrows in unison, offering hurried pledges of faith in my capacity to turn this situation around.
I gave up, got out and walked over to the car behind me.
“Can you please help me?” I asked the middle-aged man with the crescent hairline.
He drove my mum and aunt to safety, while I waited in the sun contemplating my life choices and shortcomings.
Then came Randy, my second driving instructor in Australia. Long limbs and a seventies vibe were his strong suits, teaching unfortunately wasn’t. He let the windows down, soaking up the winter air and casually told me,
“You see, you’re clutch coasting. Try not to do that, ok?”
That was the first time I was hearing that term. Over the little time that I had been here in Australia, I had gotten used to atypical colloquialisms. Bathing suits are called Togs, your sulking dog/ friend is a Suk and Granny Flat is where your granny stays, literally.
“Your foot is on the clutch when it doesn’t need to be.” Randy said in nonchalance, “See, you’re doing it again. You don’t need to put your foot on the clutch so much before your reach your traffic light”
I was about 50 meters away from my red light.
In the next hour, I tried to understand this radical concept. Back in India, bumpers are touching bumpers, 4th gear is a unicorn and the clutch is your trusted ally.
“You should get a manual license.” Sid had told me before I called Randy, the only instructor teaching manual.
“Why! Most cars here are automatic,” I had replied in high-pitched panic.
“But with an automatic license you cannot drive a manual. But with a manual you can drive either”
Easy for him to say. He’s the guy who learnt to drive in an hour when he was, what, 10? I lost the argument and called Randy.
Subsequently, I also lost at my second attempt at an Australian drivers licence – Because of, wait for it, clutch coasting.
Then finally, I met Ricardo.
My first lesson with Ricardo was not peachy. He asked for my Indian drivers licence, and after frantic searching in my can-fit-a-country tote, I realised I forgot it in my apartment. It was 37 degrees and I was in a pair of skinny jeans, the kind that are so tight that they hobnob with your DNA. I went upstairs and tore my apartment searching.
Lessons here cost $60/hr and I was unemployed. Turns out, my license was with Sid, who was in a conference in the city. We drove there, me in my molten jeans and Ricardo, unwilling to take a virtual copy of my license as proof.
I lost 30 minutes, and he, didn’t lose his cool.
In the 30 minutes that I did have though, I started to learn finally, in a language that made sense.
Ricardo was like a teacher of Chinese medicine. He was precise and meticulous, and had an ancient vibe about his youthful appearance. He specifically explained my scrambled brain about road signs. He told me about little tricks he uses to reverse in a straight line or curve into a flawless parallel park with panache.
“This is the traffic light, alright?” He would say at the end of the lesson, having pulled open a blank sheet to draw hypothetical situations that I might face in the real world. “You are here. Who should you give way to?”
“When should you indicate?”’
“What should the distance be between you and the car you parked behind?”
“Enough so his bumper reaches this mark on my dashboard,” I would reply, like a trained parrot of great posture, proud of her new ability to speak, to have a voice. To finally know!
Over the next few lessons, Ricardo taught me how to drive in Australia. He taught me that you cannot reverse park when there is vehicle travelling in the opposite direction.
“You have to wait for it to be fully clear.” He would say
He taught me to be confident.
“Sometimes you feel nervous because you just don’t know the reason behind something,” he said to me while teaching me how to deftly change lanes, something I thought I knew after 7 years of driving.
Ricardo’s structure and pedagogy brought calm to my anxiety. He told me exactly how to do things, he gave me a method to overcome my fears - Real methods; not concepts, not assumptions.
In between his coaching, we chatted. He told me about his daughter and I told him about my impending move to Perth later that month. He told me about his Taiwanese wife and in turn, I taught him how to pronounce Cardamom.
“Card- da-mom” he stuttered
We spoke about politics and corruption in our home countries. I taught him what black money meant and he told me about entire drug cartels that operated out of prisons in the Philippines.
And then, it was the day of my third driving test. I had spent my morning meditating and eating peanut butter out of the jar to remind myself of all the work I had put in. By the afternoon, I was much calmer. Layered with sunscreen and daytime makeup for my driver’s license photo, I met Ricardo in our usual spot.
“Can I see your license please?” He asked me this every time, and insisted on seeing the original. He then proceeded to sign off at a box that I suspect meant that the student has the legal right to learn.
Then he took a sip from what I presumed was an iced-tea bottle he always kept in his door pocket. It could have also easily been magic herbs steeped in rainwater, but who knows.
When at the end of my thirty minutes with the examiner, I was granted a license, I looked at Ricardo while gritting my teeth in excitement. He nodded like a parent and waited for me to finish the payment and other formalities. I noticed my score was better than Sid’s and made a mental note to gloat.
When the lady behind the counter, a chirpy but forgetful septuagenarian, asked me to go take my place in the little picture booth flooded with white light, Ricardo offered to hold my handbag.
He watched with pride, my brown tote on his shoulder, as I gave my awkward photo pose.
Later, I drove us back, nervous but ready to explore this large new country with legal approval.
Finally, I had found Ricardo.