Grinding my teeth in frustration, I carefully depressed the clutch (carefully, because the pedals had been designed for feet far smaller than mine) as traffic once more slowed and stopped. Normally, I enjoyed driving. But the evil combination of annoying rental car plus heavy traffic and hot weather were steadily sapping my patience. I was also still pretty keyed up about other things—it’d been a most stressful day. At least the car's motor ran smoothly and its air conditioning blew cold. Focusing as best I could on life's small blessings, I set the emergency brake and waited among the now-stationary vehicles, engine idling. Then the inevitable happened. A child riding in the van I was trapped behind noticed me and pointed. Soon an entire pack of five and six year-olds had their faces jammed up against the rear windows. I waved back, my newly-altered hands still feeling odd to me. I always tried to make time for kids, even on bad days. They were curious, was all; it came naturally to them. The children laughed in glee and waved back. Then traffic began moving again. Eventually the van rolled forward, and I let the distance between us increase until there was a large gap in front of me. A grateful semi driver ducked into the opening. He waved at me too. But this time the gesture was merely a ‘thank-you’. He didn’t stare, something for which I was deeply grateful.
Traffic sort of froze in place for a long time after that, and the back end of a tractor-trailer offered little in the way of entertainment. So, rather clumsily, I switched on the unfamiliar radio. In doing so, I finally discovered something bad about my rental that I could legitimately blame the car’s maker for. The left-rear speaker had an awful whine to it! It was probably far above the frequency range of most people’s hearing, but to me it was a painful dagger in the skull. I tried to mute the thing, but my new hands and I still hadn’t gotten to know each other very well yet so at first I made it louder. The racket was agonizing; I almost had bail out of the little car right in the middle of the highway. Finally I grabbed the key and twisted it, shutting off the radio along with the engine. Traffic still wasn't going much of anywhere, so I sat and practiced my deep-breathing for a minute or two until my heart slowed a bit—my therapist would’ve been proud of me. A horn blared out, but I ignored it for the moment. Only when I was certain that I was feeling better did I carefully turn the radio’s switch to the “off” position. Then I fired the little vehicle up again. The truck in front of me had advanced all of ten feet. I didn’t allow myself to grow angry at being honked at over such a trivial thing. Instead I nestled up close behind the big trailer again, then set the brake and toyed with the radio’s tiny controls. This time before switching it on I turned the balance knob all the way over to the right, effectively killing power to the screaming speaker. By now I was no longer in any mood for music, but every big town had a talk station that covered traffic problems.