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The Life of Charles

Braking and Eggs

This man has a license. Scary.

Until recently, I hadn’t driven since I was 16. Well, that’s not entirely true. I had been behind the wheel a couple times (more on those two later), but let’s just say those instances didn’t end well – at all. On second thought, neither of those times included anything remotely close to driving. I’ll stick with my original statement: Until recently, I hadn’t driven since I was 16.

The scary thing is that all this time I’ve had a driver’s license. The state ofIllinoisapparently has some pretty low standards. In fact, every time I have to renew, I get the red carpet treatment from the DMV and can simply re-up my driving privileges without much effort. No time on the road equals no tickets equals a perfect driving record. Oh yeah!

Actually, I may want to retract the “no tickets” statement. Post-adolescence driving experience number one goes like this… It was after work during my first year working at Cramer-Krasselt (my first agency job after owning my own business for a year). I was out with a couple friends – Emily and Galite. I forget where exactly we were headed, but Galite was driving and Emily needed to make a stop at “Wolf Camera and Video.” At the time, there was a store onWabashnear Macy’s (or “Marshall Fields” for us real Chicagoans). Emily got out while Galite and I sat in the car double parked. After about 15 minutes, Galite and I were getting a bit anxious. This was supposed to be a quick stop. What was taking Emily so long? Nowadays one of us would have fired out a text, but to give some context, this was 2001 – known, to me, as the year before “everyone” had a cell phone. Gailite and I hadn’t joined that club. So, she got out of the car and walked down the block to the store.

A few minutes passed as I sat in the car alone. Suddenly, there was a tap on the window. It was a meter maid. “You need to move this car,” she said, “if you don’t I’m going to write you a ticket.” I politely nodded and flashing my million dollar smile, figuring the girls would be right back. None the less, I slid over into the driver’s seat – for some reason, thinking that act in itself may sway the meter maid. I sat there for a few minutes incessantly checking the mirrors waiting for my friends, when, once again, my new “friend” popped by the drivers-side window. “This is your last chance to move the car,” she commanded. “My friends should be here any second,” I chimed back. “Time’s up. You can either move the car or get a ticket.” Well, I didn’t want Galite to get a ticket. So, with the keys in the car, I thought to myself, “What the heck. So it’s been a few years. It’s like riding a bike. I can drive around the block.”

So, I turned the key in the ignition and “tried” to get the car started. I attempted to move the gear shift to drive but it wasn’t budging. “What the heck?” I turned the key and still wasn’t able to get anything going. After watching this whole ordeal unfold over a couple minutes, the meter maid said, “Clearly, you don’t have a license. I’m writing you a ticket.” Which she did. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a license, I did. Later I figured it out, I had forgotten about the whole brake thing. Yeah, I’m an idiot… When Galite and Emily returned, I shared the news about the ticket. They laughed and surprisingly understood. Actually, Galite was quite confident she’d get out of the ticket – which, to her credit, she did. I’m still not sure how, but Galite was quite attractive. I never heard the story, but I’m convinced that played a role somehow…

Here's a current photo of Galite courtesy of Facebook. She's married with children now. Sorry, guys... On a separate note, I wonder if I should have got her permission before using.

Now, for years, I’ve enjoyed the novelty to saying, “I haven’t driven since I was 16.” I certainly have gotten some mileage out of that one as conversation starter or a “fun fact” about Charles. Even the story I just shared was one that I loved telling. Often times, when I’d reveal this unusual personal detail, people would be shocked I hadn’t driven and look at me as if I had some sort of disability. The reality is, as a life-long city kid, there never was much reason to drive anywhere and owning a car was by no means a necessity. One might think my successful career in advertising, which included miles and miles of client travel, might have required me to drive. But, somehow, I got by with a bunch of cab rides as well as the kindness of co-workers. Go figure.

Now, as I work on making a living as an actor – more specifically a film actor – I realize and have accepted that moving toLos Angelesis part of my future. In fact, I plan to visit for an extended period of time later this year. Now, if there’s one thing LA is known for, it’s definitely not its public transportation system. One needs to have a car and, in my case, one needs to drive.

I saw this first hand when I visited my buddy Nathan in LA a few years ago. He was living out there at the time and I paid him a visit. We spent a ton of time on the 101 in his “2007 Lexus” (I’d simply say car, but there’s quite a story there – another time). During this trip, a couple monumental things happened. One, Nathan introduced me to a girl he just started seeing – Rachel – who later became his wife (and just recently became the Mother of his first son). The other big event was post-adolescence driving experience number two. Here goes…

We just got into Nathan’s “2007 Lexus.” While parked in the garage of his apartment building, Nathan turned to me and asked, “Can you drive at all?” I quickly responded, “Nope.” To which Nathan turned away and got out of the car. It was kind of a curious question and, as he exited the vehicle, I wondered what the heck was going on and watched him go into another car. Ah ha! He had to move his roommate Izzy’s SUV in order to get out of the garage. It all made sense. As Nathan returned, I enthusiastically said, “All you needed to do was move your roommates’ car? I can do that. Give me the keys.” Realizing that we were about to make history, Nathan happily obliged and we walked over to Izzy’s SUV. He told me to have fun and went back to his “2007 Lexus.” The big “lesson” from the last time I was behind the wheel was the whole brake thing. I wasn’t going to forget this time. I was ready. Or was I? The SUV was a bit different than Galite’s car or even Nathan’s 2007 Lexus. I sat there for a couple minutes – unable to find the gear-shift. Probably baffled why the car hadn’t moved, Nathan rushed back to barked at me. “You turn the key, move this thing to D and go.” As he said “this thing,” he gestured towards the gear-shift which was on the wheel. “Ah ha!” I exclaimed, “That’s what I was trying to figure out – the gear-shift. I couldn’t find it. I’m good.” Or, so I thought. As Nathan walked back to his car, I prepared to “make history.” It kind of felt like my own little moon landing. As I turned the key and shifted to D, I suddenly couldn’t remember which pedal was the gas and which was the brake. Yes, even though, clearly, I “just” had my foot on the brake. In my head, I was trying to remember the old short hand, “Gas right. Brake left.” “Wait, am I confusing that with the screwdriver shorthand?” This whole thought process happen in a split second as I started accelerating towards a pole in the parking garage. Once I realized what was happening, I quickly slammed my foot on something which was luckily the brake. Frightened and a little embarrassed, I watched Nathan sprint over towards the car laughing hysterically while screaming, “Timeout! Timeout! Get out of the car!” The next 15 minutes consisted of the two of us rolling out of our seats, laughing at what just happened. Driving fail.

Here's the absolute best picture I could find of Nathan...

Now, that’s another story I love sharing, but, with the City of Angels soon to be a part of my reality, I recently made a big decision. It’s time. Time to learn how to drive again.

That leads me to the third and final act of this post as well as my inspiration for writing it. “Braking and Eggs” comes from my Friday morning adventures with Frank Leydan. Frank is one of my good friends who performs with me in my improv group Electric Lunchbox. I’ve known him for a little over a year and a half – since the inception of the Box. Frank’s a few years older than me and a former military man (Air Force). As you might expect, he’s got a good sense of humor, and more importantly (at least in terms me learning how to drive) he own a car and has a ton of driving experience. As Dustin Hoffman might say, “He’s an excellent driver.”

Frank was gracious enough to offer his help in terms of me re-learning the ropes. His tutelage could not have come any sooner as post-adolescence driving experience number three happened just before we started getting together. I was in Charlotte shooting a short-film. I won’t go into great detail, but there was a brief scene in which I had to drive (and act). Oh boy. It wasn’t pretty. While I was successful in getting the car started, let’s just say there was a bunch of stop and go driving. Thankfully, it was an open road…

Since I returned, Frank and I have been grabbing breakfast (at a host of different restaurants) nearly every Friday for the past few months. I thoroughly enjoy getting together with him. We’ll trade stories about what we’re dealing with in life, open up about the things we’re going through with the Box, have philosophical conversations and generally just enjoy each other’s company. Personally, I appreciate being able to help Frank. He’s trying to make some positive changes in his life. I am grateful to have the opportunity to listen to him, learn from his experiences and offer him some occasional perspective or words of encouragement. I’ve spent a great deal of my life mentoring and coaching people. It’s one of the things I loved about the time I spent in advertising and I don’t have as many opportunities to do it these days. While that’s not the relationship I have with Frank, it still feels good to be able to, at least on a small level, play that role. All that aside, the thing I appreciate most about Frank’s is his friendship.

I'm not sure why, but this is the expression Frank always has whenever I'm driving...

Frank has, of course, been a great help to me – both on a personal level, and, of course, as my de-facto driving instructor. After breakfast, we go driving. For the first handful of weeks, we’d hit the open parking lot near the “DiverseyDrivingRange” and practice. The first lesson was actually in the lot behind the “Container Store” on Clybourn. Let’s just say I’ve come along way since then. That day included: (1) Herky-jerky driving; (2) my hands on the wheel, spinning it like a turn-table; and, (3) Mini freak-outs when another car would approach. Frank had no clue what he was in for and, once he witnessed this trifecta, decided he needed to film this experience – which he started to do. “Charles Rasmussen: Licensed Driver!” Coming to an online video destination near you.

As the weeks passed, I started to get more comfortable behind the wheel and even graduated to a giant cemetery up north. “Giant” is an understatement – it takes up like three city blocks. I’d look up the name, but I guess I’m lazy. It’s filled with paved roads – much like the busy city streets (minus all the cars, of course).

I’ve now gotten to the point where I’m starting to feel competent in the pilot’s seat. Driving at the cemetery or “funeral home” (as I often “mistakenly” call it) has truly been a difference maker. I’m starting to look forward to the day I can, with confidence, joke, “I’m an excellent driver.” Tom Cruise will be so proud.

So, as I reach the end of this tale, what you should realize is that, in a matter of time, thanks to Frank, I’ll be out on the open road.  Maybe I’ll even redeem myself and take Galite, Nathan and that meter maid on a road trip…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Look, Mom. I can park!


One Response to “Braking and Eggs”

  1. Nice man! You’ll be on the open roads in no time. And once you start driving more, you’ll begin hating meter maids instead of having funny anecdotes about them. Trust me.

    Posted by Ryan Ben | July 7, 2011, 8:14 pm

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