A Blind Woman Revels Behind the Wheel of a Mustang

June 3, 2009

Download Story
Photo by Mike Maez.
As a blind person, contributor Beth Finke has depended on public transportation or rides from friends to get around. That was, until she was invited to handle a brand new mustang as part of a test drive for the press. Beth Finke is author of Long Time No See. 

Finke will present a seminar on how to write your own memoirs on Sunday at the Chicago Tribune's
Printers Row Lit Fest.

Back in 1967, my sister Cheryl bought a Mustang. I was mesmerized by it and I still remember its lime green sheen. Now, here I was, invited by Ford reps who encouraged, but didn't force me to drive a 2010 ford mustang. What did they think I was going to say, I wonder? I'm behind the steering wheel. The motor is running. My foot's on the brake. My instructor – his name is Tommy Kendall, a former racecar driver – tells me to put my right hand on the column. He talks to me as if this is the most normal thing in the entire world, a blind woman sitting next to him, about to take him for a ride.

Tommy the instructor tells me to pull back on the column until I hear four clicks. That'll mean I'm in drive. From the sound of his voice, I can tell he's smiling.

I lift the ball of my foot off the brake. The car inches forward. I turn my head to my right one last time, just to make sure Tommy is serious about me pressing down on the pedal…all the way down. I floor it.

Tommy put me through a safety drill before I hit the gas. If he called out “left,” I was supposed to turn the wheel just a few degrees in that direction. If he said “left' again, I should turn it just a few more degrees left.

The safety drill continued. If something did go wrong, Tommy would shout out the word, “abort!” At that point I should pull my hands off the wheel and bring my knees to my body – that way my foot would come completely off the pedals. Tommy didn't have any controls on his side but he assured me he could reach the parking brake if he needed.

Tommy started to yell out my speed. 40…60…80!

My cheeks got hot — blood was rushing to my face. It was absolutely thrilling.

Then, came the command to brake. I slammed on the brakes. Tires shrieked. Rubber burned. The ABS kicked in –I could feel it in my foot. The steering wheel shook in my hands.

And then, as quickly as it started, it was over. all was quiet. The car was still. So was I. Speechless. Thrilled.

I put my palm up, expecting a high five from Tommy….Instead, HE grabbed my hand and held on. A triumphant hand-to-hand embrace.

Congratulations over, Tommy asked if I wanted to do donuts now.

“Well, yeah!” I said, without one moment of hesitation. As if this was the most normal thing in the entire world, a blind woman sitting next to a racecar driver, about to take him for a ride.