The Narcoleptic Driver?

I was very late learning to drive. It was not until age 40 that I got my first driver’s license. Around that time, I was on some relatively ineffective blood pressure medications that had all sorts of nasty side-effects. Apresoline attacked my joints and made me averse to any sort of movement. Ismelin (which I called Dismalin) made me impotent. And Catapres turned me into a narcoleptic: Whenever I rode in an automobile or bus for any distance, I would quickly drop off to sleep.

Naturally, I was not taking all three medications at the same time; but I had at the time some major concerns about my health. When in 1985 my doctor took me off Catapres, I decided it was now or never. I contacted the Sears Roebuck Driving School and started learning to drive. My driving instructor, Jerry Kellman, was excellent. After a couple of months of driving under his tutelage, I took the driving test and got an excellent score.

No sooner did I get my license than I ordered a 1984 two-door Mitsubishi Montero. Like the model illustrated above, the color was “Dakar Sand.” I was eager to show my father my newfound driving ability, but unfortunately he died of heart failure around that time.

Way back when, he tried to teach me how to drive. But he was so hot-tempered that he would whack me in the head every time I made a mistake; so I decided I would learn on my own. Alas, shortly after I had my brain tumor operation; and everything was put on hold. For my first twenty years in Los Angeles, I depended on public transportation and the kindness of friends.

My Mitsubishi Montero lasted for ten years. Then I burned out the engine by driving up San Marcos Pass in Santa Barbara in low gear. And after replacing the engine (ouch!), my dealership made a mistake that wrecked my automatic transmission. On a trip to Sacramento to see Martine, I started leaking transmission fluid all over the I-5 midway between L.A. and Sacramento. The last straw was in Los Angeles, when an elderly woman driver who was afraid of being late to see her doctor T-boned my car close to home and sent it turning end over end in heavy traffic.

It was only a four-cylinder vehicle, but I grew fond of it.

The Dalai Lama and I

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso

The circumstances behind my seeing the Dalai Lama in April 1991 are indelibly etched in my memory. I arranged to first meet my friend George Hoole at his girlfriend’s apartment in Santa Maria, and then we would both go to the University of California at Santa Barbara to see the Dalai Lama give a speech.

I had only been driving for six years at the time, and I did something that killed the engine on my 1985 Mitsubishi Montero. Instead of staying on U.S. 101, I decided to take San Marcos Pass to Solvang, where I would have lunch before making my way back to the 101. Unfortunately, I drove up the pass in second gear. By the time I got to the top of the pass, my engine was a smoking ruin. I arranged to have the car towed back to Santa Monica Mitsubishi for repair, which was no easy thing as ’85 Monteros with automatic transmissions were a rarity.

George came to pick me up in Solvang and I was his passenger for the weekend. We heard the Dalai Lama give a great talk in his broken English … and this turned out to be the beginning of a difficult period for me. I teamed up with George to start a new company called Desktop Marketing Corporation, along with several of my co-workers from Urban Decision Systems, where I had been working since 1971.

It never took off, and I had to live on my savings for over a year, Ultimately, I left Desktop Marketing and managed to get a job in a Westwood accountancy firm called Lewis, Joffe & Company. Plus I had to shell out several thousand dollars for a new Montero engine.

Things don’t always tend to go your way. The early 1990s were a time of career change and retrenchment for me. But I never regret seeing the Dalai Lama in person. There is perhaps no religious figure I respected more, not even Pope John Paul II. There was something about the twinkle in his eyes which helped see me through a difficult period in my life.

I’d see him again if I could, but I would definitely avoid San Marcos Pass.