I'll Ask You Three Times, Are You OK?: Tales of Driving and Being Driven

I'll Ask You Three Times, Are You OK?: Tales of Driving and Being Driven

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by Naomi Shihab Nye
     
 

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"I am a poet," I said. "It is my destiny to do strange things."

My father gripped the wheel of his car. "I am the chauffeur for foolishness."

We said no more.

Foolhardy missions. Life-altering conversations. Gifts—given and received. Loss. Getting lost. Wisdom delivered before dawn and deep into the night. Love

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Overview

"I am a poet," I said. "It is my destiny to do strange things."

My father gripped the wheel of his car. "I am the chauffeur for foolishness."

We said no more.

Foolhardy missions. Life-altering conversations. Gifts—given and received. Loss. Getting lost. Wisdom delivered before dawn and deep into the night. Love and kissing (not necessarily in that order). Laughter. Rides on the edge. Roses. Ghosts.

As a traveling poet and visiting teacher, Naomi Shihab Nye has spent a considerable amount of time in cars, both driving and being driven. Her observations, stories, encounters, and escapades—and the kernels of truth she gathers from them—are laugh-out-loud funny, deeply moving, and unforgettable. Buckle up.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Nye brings a keen curiosity and a poet's sensibility to this smooth, anecdotal collection that amplifies the notion that the journey itself is the destination. The most memorable characters are taxi drivers, such as the Syracuse, N.Y., cabbie whose conversation gives the book its title: driving her to the airport before dawn, he warns Nye that he will ask three times if she is okay, "Just to make sure you feel safe and secure. We're living in strange times, and I want you to feel very comfortable." In other highlights of Nye's tour, she re-creates the voices of a rickshaw driver in India who tries to talk her into visiting a rug store instead of the Taj Mahal; the Glasgow driver who invites her to sit in front with him and bids her farewell with, "Okay then, be safe to the other side of the sea"; and an Egyptian driver in New York City who boasts of trafficking in counterfeit handbags. Nye muses on what she learns on specific travels and shares stories about driving other people (among them, possibly senile strangers, distinguished visiting writers and her own son). Aside from some name-dropping and some mildly self-indulgent moments, Nye's prose flows fluidly and evokes any number of different settings. She makes her case that "what happen[s] in the margins, on the way to the destinations of any day, might be as intriguing as what happen[s] when you {get] there." All ages. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
VOYA - Laura Lehner
In this collection of essays on drivers and driving, poet and novelist Nye chronicles her travel experiences and not with stories about the places she has been but instead about the people who have delivered her there. A cab driver in Syracuse, New York, concerned about her comfort, asks repeatedly if she is okay as they converse about the changes taking place in his city. An Arab driver in Jerusalem threatens to throw her and her companion out of his car if they do not stop kissing. Nye herself is sometimes in the driver's seat, telling stories of some of her first experiences as a teenage driver, as when a strange old woman climbed into the back seat of the author's car and would not get out. Nye engages everyone with whom she sits in a car or rickshaw-whether in Scotland, Florida, or India-in a conversation about themselves, about their hometowns, about Bruce Springsteen, or about the Loch Ness Monster. Some rides are life affirming, and others are horrible. She writes honestly about them all. The result is a humorous and poignant vision of the world as a journey, ongoing and ever changing. The author's mother once asked her, in awe or exasperation, "How full is your head?" The dozens of stories in this collection will fill the heads of the author's teen fans and anyone who loves the open road.
School Library Journal

Gr 10 Up Nye describes real-life experiences that she has had in her middle and high school years, and as she has traveled as an adult. Most tales center on brief encounters with strangers. These relationships vary from intimate connections, as in the ride with a fellow Bruce Springsteen fan to general dislike, as in the strained car ride with a rich elderly couple. But what they all have in common is a change in perspective as a result of the encounter. The pacing is quick and lively, and Nye's accessible voice is entertaining. Despite the brevity of the pieces, the people are well drawn and settings are well crafted; the descriptions and interactions conjure up a clear mental image of both personality and place. While most of these pieces seem tailored to appeal to adults, teens will identify with the immediate connections that can occur among strangers.-Lynn Rashid, Marriots Ridge High School, Marriotsville, MD

Kirkus Reviews
"A late night driver in Pittsburgh said, �I dream about staircases under the bed going down to other worlds. Do you?' �No,' I said. �But it sounds interesting.' " Nye has hailed cabs from Seattle to Delhi and everywhere in between, and in this moving collection of 31 essays, she conveys how, for her, a taxi ride is truly "the central human experience." Though cars drive the theme here, they are just, well, vehicles to express the author's contagiously enraptured sense of the beauty and wonder of living on planet Earth. In casual conversations with taxi drivers around the world, the self-proclaimed nomad finds jewels of wisdom and new perspectives that she presents in thoroughly engaging vignettes. While the essays relating childhood memories of car-related incidents and accidents sometimes ramble, the overall collection is inspiring and has moments of real magic. Nye not only tells us, "it's the journey, not the destination," she shows us how, again and again. Go ahead, take a cab . . . there's sure to be a radio station blaring that you would never have heard otherwise. (Nonfiction. YA)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060853938
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
09/18/2007
Edition description:
Library Bound Edition
Pages:
242
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.50(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
13 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

I'll Ask You Three Times, Are You OK? EPB

Chapter One

Fabric Thrown over the City

He says, "You could call it a shawl or a scarf-I call it a fabric-but it's thrown over the city and only a few pinholes of light get through."

"Excuse me?" This is before a cup of coffee or anything. Six-thirty A.M. on a Saturday morning in New York City and the driver, staring up out his window, is pausing at a stoplight in a yellow taxi en route to Columbia University.

His voice is butter smooth and soft. "I think about the light, how it's always been there, when the Indians were here and the old-time people and everything. And they thought their time was the real time and we think our time is the real time and no one's time is, really."

"Have you been up all night?" I say.

"No, why?"

"Just wondered."

He turns his head to the side and smiles. "I prefer morning to night. Do you?"

"Sure do. More energy."

I feel as if a certain mesmerizing fabric has been thrown over . . . our car.

There's hardly any traffic. The streets are ripe with that pre-buzz emptiness, pre-crowd, pre-everything. The streets feel like childhood, like our lives before things happen. There's so much that belongs to no one and to all of us, and mornings are rich enough to remember this.

The driver's damp blond hair rolls back in long waves. Odd how, with taxi drivers, you know the sides and backs of their heads. Somehow this feels very personal.

And he just keeps talking. "Occasionally the light seems like a strong, straight beam, and other times it's very faded and drifty. You know? There's a whole mood, the waylight is. It's hard to know how a day will be when we first begin it. Like, we really don't know about today at all. Do we? We just hope. We have ideas. And we think we're wise, but we're not. We just want to be. The world is not your oyster. It is not mine, either. The world is not an oyster, period. The world is the world. Whoever said it was an oyster, do you know?"

"I do not."

"Why are you going out so early? Who are you going to see at Columbia? Smart people with big opinions?"

"Teachers at a conference."

"Oh. People you know or people you don't know?"

I have to think about it. Then I say, "After a while, everyone seems a tiny bit familiar, even if you've never met them before, don't you think?" His style is contagious.

He peers at me in the rearview mirror. "Do I seem familiar?"

"Yes, you do, sort of, but I don't know why exactly." I don't want to say James Dean. I have always missed James Dean in the world. I have caught him in shadings of a stance, a posture, an eyelid, a hand in a pocket, a tip of a head. I feel the same about Jack Kerouac. He died before I found his books. Then I started looking for him everywhere in the world. This taxi driver has James and Jack both, and he's not even standing up.

He says, "We are dreamers in a windy sky, see? Floating among buildings and schedules. All a dream. Like that 'Row Row the Boat' song. We're rowing right now, feel it? The whole world is rowing through the sky."

I stare out the window at pretzel carts and old men in faded raincoats and women with small sacks in their hands that might be a single bagel or a single muffin and ladies walking tiny nervous dogs on leashes. The stoplights click in predictable and comforting patterns. I think of that moment before a car starts up again after idling, how well we come to know that moment as passengers or drivers, either one. We are so accustomed to anticipation, being on the brink, pitching forward.

The driver never stops talking no matter what the car is doing.

He says, nodding his head slightly, "Today you will say things you can predict and other things you could never imagine this minute. Don't reject them, let them come through when they're ready, don't think you can plan it all out. This day will never, no matter how long you live, happen again. It is exquisitely singular. It will never again be exactly repeated-ouch! Did you see? That woman dropped her bag on the sidewalk and swooped it up again, did you see that? She will never again drop her bag in exactly the same spot. Don't ever forget it. Precious, precious, precious-oh. "

"I do know," I say to him, feeling a swoon overtaking me in rhythm with his words. "I know it and I care about it. Thoughts like that have occurred to me for a long time already, but I really like hearing you say them. I mean, it is so beautiful how you say them. I wish you were talking to these teachers today, not me. Seriously, and thank you."

We're driving past a park lined with overflowing trash cans. My driver sighs, staring through the wide-open window with his left arm dangling on the outside. He says, "Isn't it amazing how much garbage accumulates from one day to the next-just through the course of the hours? I wonder sometimes how cities hide dump sites so well. You'd think there would be more of them and we would see them everywhere, wouldn't you?"

"Yes."

Then he says, "Look, look up! Oh, how I love that. Early sun streaks. So beautiful. If you look up right now, the fabric cracked a little."

I'll Ask You Three Times, Are You OK? EPB. Copyright (c) by Naomi Nye . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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