Andrei Braves the Ultimate Test of Citizenship

ANDREI CODRESCU

January 06, 1992|By ANDREI CODRESCU

New Orleans. -- My driving teacher is Mr. Carney.

Yes, I've gone ahead and done it. After 25 years as that rarissima of advises in America -- the pedestrian -- I am going to be a driver. I'll drive a car and I'll have an ID to cash checks with.

Mr. Carney says, ''Being a good driver is like being a good Christian, you have to practice every day.''

OK, I'll be a good driver. I will signal before I turn. I will look before I pass. I will stop before the sign. But I've got problems. Mr. Carney says, ''Turn right,'' and I turn left. ''Left,'' and I turn right. Years of anarchism will do that to a man.

I cheated a little. Before going to Mr. Carney's Safe Driving School on Tulane Avenue I had my friend John Clark let me drive his car a little. John is an anarchist. He thinks I'm a surrealist. So when I was gone a piece down the street he said, ''Hmmm, Anarchists don't believe in rules and Surrealists believe in making them up. We might need a third party to get us through this here stream-of-traffic-consciousness.'' We did -- but not before I clipped an object on the right and lost the side mirror.

Mr. Carney says, ''Be polite. Don't turn your brights on a guy just because he's turned them on you. That's like Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles.'' He knows wherefrom he speaks: Most drivers in New Orleans are like Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles. They can sing but they don't look where they are going.

But what I'm afraid of is bigger changes than the lights. Thoughts at 50 miles per hour. Rubber dreams, glass words, metal malaise. Jack Kerouac. Hard shell around soft flash. The man who ate a car. Cadillac Ranch. UFOs. Mustang Sally. Working at the Cadillac plant. The VW that killed friends of mine.

Mr. Carney says, ''Get good tires. A tire is like a sneaker. You want it to last more than a week.'' He's right. I want my tires to last. I want to last.

Meanwhile, I'm adjusting my notions of left and right. Slowly. And getting ready to be one of you. And when I am I'll drive a red car across the USA, and I'll send you fresh reports from behind the nouveau wheel.

Andrei Codrescu, no longer a pedestrian, edits Exquisite Corpse.

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