Monday, August 17, 2009

A Degree of Independence Returns: Driving

Well golly, I can drive again.

Mrs Elliott got a hankering yesterday to pick some blueberries, so we took our 84 VW camping van over the just-opened McKenzie Pass down toward Leaburg where she had heard there were blueberry trees a-waiting for the picking.

We got stuck behind a line of cars right over the top of the pass and waited for about 45 minutes until a flagman let us through -- ODOT was striping the new pavement and we had to wait until the paint dried in the cool temps before they'd let us down the other side.

Watched a mess of small orange butterflies on the black lava rocks warm up their wings in the sun and take short test fluttersby for the duration. Mrs Elliott drummed her fingers and muttered imprecations, visions of nimble-fingered early-arrivers stripping the trees bare of fruit.

When the flagman eventually released us we drove down the steady, winding, hair-pinny downhill cruise of about 20 minutes. Mrs Squirrel rarely touched the gas pedal. The auto tranny (84 Vanagon) was in 2nd, the engine rpm-ing at about 3,000 so as to save the brakes; the smell of scorched brakes from cars ahead of us suffused the morning air.

Mmmm . . . hot brake pads.

We located the blueberry orchard and while Mrs Elliott was filling a bucket with the fruit, I sat in the van eyeing the layout of the pedals behind the steering wheel. I scooted across the gap between the two seats and quickly determined that I can't use my right foot for driving yet: the ankle does not bend, nor will it ever again, and it takes more pressure than I am presently allowed to put on the joint to depress the brake and gas pedals.

So I tested to see if I could use my left foot to do the job. And, yes, my left foot can fit over there and operate the controls.

So I drove us back home, or at least as far as Sisters. The left foot's a little spastic on the accelerator and needs some training, and after about an hour the ankle got a little fatigued from the awkward angle. That's why Mrs Elliott took over in Sisters.

But by gum I can drive the van.

Good thing it has an automatic transmission, most have a four-speed tranny, and two-footed driving is presently beyond my capabilities.

The only really awkward part is getting up and down from the driver's seat. It's pretty high off the ground and usually requires a big step up, not a move I can presently do (try stepping up onto a chair one-legged). But by using a little plastic footstool I can get up high enough to get my butt on the seat. Then I simply haul up the stool with a rope lanyard I have fashioned, and I am good to go.

It's like dropping and lifting anchor.

So -- ahoy. First port of call: doughnuts.

Yes, it's true: I have had a hankering for doughnuts for a couple weeks and Mrs Elliott finds the tasty little artery-stiffening globs of fried flour and sugar anathema, so if I ever expect to get a doughnut* again I have to do it myself.

Richard's, I hear, has the good donuts, but they've been closed the two times I checked them out a few months ago. I'm gonna give them another shot.

Why? Because I can. For the first time since early May, I can drive myself. And that's a good thing.

So is having a freezer full of ripe organic blueberries.

* Doughnut = dough + nought (i.e., dough made in the shape of a zero, or "naught/nought"; a circoletto di pasta). Websters, IMHO, has its head up its ass when they say that that the word comes from dough + nut. Anyone wanna fight about it?


  1. Ahoy Jack,
    Sure, fine, I'll take your offer for a bout. It sounds as if, some time in the past, you may have exceeded your limit with the Missus for catered doughnuts. She couldn't bear to see you get stuffed anymore maybe, so you got cut off from doughnut delivery, is that how it happened? I was just wondering if you fueled the anathema solo, or if Mrs. Elliott swore off doughnuts herself and you got included in her personal diet restriction by proximity default?

    My Random House supports your claim that Websters has some heads up asses.

  2. I'm so proud of you! I'm so happy you can drive now--that's fantastic!

    So, your right knee will never bend AGAIN? Is that the case? That's pretty awful...

    Well, this is a start to your new life. Driving left-footed--sounds awkward.

  3. @ Jim: It's Mrs Elliott's personal distrust of the more tasty portions of the food-like pyramid that makes it pretty darn unlikely that I can talk her into getting me to a doughnut shoppe. (Later I will rant about the matter of the pretentious and superfluous "trailing e," as used by property developers -- things like "pointe," "centre," etc. Such things cannot go uncommented-on forever.)

    @ Bethileptic: Hi sweet daughter. It's the right ankle, not the knee, that is now and forever inflexible. Standing on tip-toes or twisting the ankle to view and scrape the bottom of the foot are no longer options.

  4. Congratulations on driving again! Looking forward to buying you that drink. A blueberry martini -- mmmmmm!

    BTW my father lost his right leg due to diabetes (many years ago) and had his car fitted with something called a "relief pedal" that allowed him to use his left foot to operate the gas. It's a simple and inexpensive device.

  5. @ Blackdog: A "relief pedal" sounds most intriguing. However, I can't find anything like that with The Google. Can you pry up a little more information, maybe?

  6. Here's one place that sells them:

    I searched under "left foot gas pedal."

  7. Thanks, man. Looks like a nice gadget, but $280 seems kind of spendy. The bits look to be custom made for it, doubtless in small quantities, but still.

    It's a good idea, and the picture might give someone on the Vanagon mailing list I subscribe to an idea how to bang together something like this from parts found in a hardware store. I'll post the results if anyone comes up with something.

  8. I don't remember it being that spendy when my father bought one, but then that was 1963.

    Considering that it sounds like it's going to be permanently difficult if not impossible for you to work the gas and brake with your right foot, it might not be a bad investment. I also think it would be easy to transfer it to another vehicle if you got one.

    But of course if you can find somebody with a machine shop who can cobble one together that'd be a better deal. Looks pretty simple.

  9. Oh, well, 1963. The dollar bought a bit more then. Of course, it was also harder to come by.


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