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#1 Jul 29, 2018 12:05 pm

New Historian

A crash course in driving

When I was just turned 18 I stayed for two weeks in New York, with Dad’s old Trinidadian friend Otway Culpepper and his European wife Lena. They lived in a brownstone apartment building just a stone’s throw from the Brooklyn Bridge, and every day I would walk across the bridge and explore the Big Apple: Lower Manhattan, Greenwich Village, the Bowery and Central Park. Otway and Lena were a cosmopolitan New York couple and took me out with like-minded friends, where the conversation ranged from Vietnam, Dylan, Nixon, civil rights, Lenny Bruce and always back to Vietnam – mind expanding stuff.

For the second week the three of us drove in Otway’s Citroën up to their place in upstate New York - a geodesic dome he was building on a lakeshore. We went canoeing, fishing and hiking. Late one night I awoke to the sound of Otway screaming out in pain – my mind raced: is this a bear attack? I went charging into their room - to find Otway lying on his bed, grasping his chest in agony. He was having a heart attack - oh God! This was deep in the boondocks far away from civilization; and they had no telephone. Lena and I carried Otway - not a small man - into the back of the Citroen. Lena threw the keys at me.


I protested: “I can’t drive; I’ve only had a couple of lessons!”

“Vell I can’t either, so you I hope you learn fast. Now drife!”

The 1970 Citroën DS was an advanced car for its time, with aerodynamic styling, hydraulic suspension and a semi-automatic gearbox. It was also very expensive. With the pain in his chest getting worse, Otway gave me a crash course in driving.

“Step on it!” he commanded from the back seat, cradled in Lena’s arms. Vroom! I shot off, skidding on the gravel and narrowly missing a tree. I was scared shitless; scared of this wonderful man dying in the back seat; scared of damaging his lovely car; never mind that – scared of killing all three of us! With Lena shouting “Fasster! Fasster!” and Otway’s wheezing in the back seat, I finally made it onto the road proper and sped to the nearest town under Lena’s frantic directions; twice we had to turn around. Finally we arrived at the hospital, with Otway having calmed down somewhat. Phew!

As it turned out it wasn’t a heart attack after all; it was a “spontaneous pneumothorax”, better known as a collapsed lung. To treat it the emergency room, doctors had to insert a tube into Otway’s chest cavity – without anesthetic. The sound of his screams was bone-chilling, but I’m happy to say he made a full recovery. Strangely enough, two years later I would bear witness to my father having exactly the same attack; but this time I knew how to handle it – and how to drive!


#2 Jul 29, 2018 3:36 pm


Re: A crash course in driving

OK,THATS a new one.

How did you manage to fit so much life onto such a young person... you said you were 21 right.... smile


#3 Jul 29, 2018 5:13 pm


Re: A crash course in driving

First, Expat, I smiled at your comment, as to NH, "OK, THATS a new one." It is, indeed!

Second, it is another gripping, well-written contribution from NH. No surprise there.

Third, sometimes we are thrust into life-changing circumstances ready or not. NH passed the test that he described so very well.

Last edited by gripe (Jul 29, 2018 5:14 pm)


#4 Jul 29, 2018 6:14 pm


Re: A crash course in driving

Try and figure out the shop, without NH writings.  Again I love his stories.


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