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Actually it was East Elfinwild Road, Glenshaw, Hampton Township, Pennsylvania, and it was a hell of a place to drive–or learn to drive–a stick shift. A windy two-laner east up the ravine from the river bottom, East Elfinwild Road was lined with trees, so a sunny day threw quick, blinding shafts across a driver’s eyes: sun and shadow, sun and shadow, sun and shadow. Elfinwild was slick with ice and snow in the winter, so you needed to take it at a consistent pace with a steady foot on the accelerator. A false move could land you thrashing and smashing down over the side through the trees. Once you got to the T intersection at the top, you had to ride the clutch or the emergency brake, ready to rocket into first gear once you were pretty sure the coast was clear to make a left onto Middle Road. Elfinwild wasn’t particularly unique to the Pittsburgh area’s twisty ravine-and-valley roads, but it was the convenient ravine-and-valley road in my neighborhood.

Elfinwild should have been closed for the winter, or maybe the township could’ve installed a monocline. Winter Elfinwild was Sleepy-Hollow dark with threatening leafless trees; it was snaky and narrow; and that steep left turn onto the street at the top with poor visibility was a test for a confident driver, let alone a new or cautious one. Many a time, I wouldn’t have been surprised to look in my rear view mirror past the bags of Giant Eagle groceries in the back seat to see a headless horseman.

And don’t we all have our own private Elfinwilds? The tricky relationship? The narrow, windy career? A neighborhood full of bright sun and dark shadow where you don’t exactly trust the knock at the door over a barking dog? Or the family situation that could benefit from getting closed off from Thanksgiving through Easter just to give everybody an emotional break? The tricky, the serpentine, the alarming, the painful: the situation that wears out your clutch.

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