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

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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060853921
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/18/2007
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.37(h) x 0.89(d)
Age Range: 13 - 17 Years

About the Author

Naomi Shihab Nye is a poet and anthologist and the acclaimed author of Habibi: A Novel and Sitti's Secrets, a picture book, which was based on her own experiences visiting her beloved Sitti in Palestine. Her book 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East was a finalist for the National Book Award. She has taught writing and worked in schools all over the world, including in Muscat, Oman. She lives in San Antonio, Texas.

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?"


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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I'll Ask You Three Times, Are You OK?: Tales of Driving and Being Driven 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was only able to buy the sample but i am going to buy the rest of the book later tomorrow.! Thats how much i liked the sample. I mean, i usually dont like this type of book but i liked the sample a lot. My parents are split up and i live with my mom, my step dad, my half brother, and my half sister. I still see my dad and a lot of what i do is spending time in cars. When me and my dad go somewhere, whatever we say in the car is more memorable then what happens elsewhere. Car rides are a big part of my life and i highly recommend this book to everyone, no matter what age Sammi, age 15, MN
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had another dad and my mom had me with him.But apparently,he was already married and had five kids too!!!!!!!!!!!!!But now I live with my stepdad. He is like SUPER nice!!!!!! My mom and stepdad are married now!!! And my mom is nine months pregnant!"""