Driving Me Crazy

I’ll never ride in a car again when my grown children are behind the wheel. This is a good thing. It may save the family. The last time I rode with my daughter, I kept pumping an imaginary brake as I sat up front in the passenger’s seat. I nearly hit myself in the chin with my knee. Finally, I pressed one hand to the roof and the other against the glove compartment. Funny, but when you’re terrified like that you think of the oddest things, as in who wears gloves anymore?

Inevitably, things were said. How could they not, especially on a winding, mountain road that started out generations ago as a lazy route to the seashore but has become a Le Mans speedway? It’s impossible not for things to be said, although I now put everything in the passive voice to diminish my personal responsibility. You know, things happen. That’s just how life works.

Ironically, this same daughter can apply makeup, enter an address on the GPS, adjust the music for her kids, and carry on a conversation while driving a GM Yukon the size of an ice cream truck. But when I drive the Yukon, I can barely back up without hitting something, and that’s giving it my full attention. That reminds me of the time when, as a three-year-old, I parked my tricycle behind a Lincoln Continental only to have it crushed when the owner backed out of her driveway. What did I know? I thought that’s where you parked things with wheels.

I once drove with another daughter from Los Angeles to San Jose. We took turns driving. Despite the fact that she is a lot like me, we did not kill each other, which, if you spend any time thinking about it, is impossible to do anyway. But the point is that being in close quarters for hours at a time on an interstate highway doesn’t exactly bring out the best in people. I remember at one point in my life advising engaged couples to commute together to see if their marriage would work. I told them it was like a free version of psychologist John Gottman’s “Love Lab.” Gottman is able to tell whether a couple will stay together based on the number of times they (she) roll their (her) eyes at each other (him). And he does so with freakish accuracy.

My Love Lab is the car and, although I can’t offer empirical data, I bet my results are comparable to Gottman’s. I’d say give it three months. If a couple can commute together over the time it takes for the Fed to issue a quarterly report, chances are they’ll make it. I did the same thing with dancing (see Love Hurts). If a couple can survive dance lessons without coming to blows, their marriage will be as solid as Carrara marble. Then again, don’t ask why I was giving relationship advice in the first place. According to some people with inside information, I couldn’t even spell the word with a dictionary and Dr. Phil in the room, let alone actually be in one. But that’s best left for another post.

I have a third daughter who is better than the others but has a problem with speed, mainly because she has a foot made of that same Carrara marble. The difference is that she listens to me when I yell at her to slow down. Even so, I have to yell. The other day her gum melted on the console and got all over her. The rest of the car looked like a homeless encampment, but at least it was a safe encampment. This is the same daughter I once let drive home from her summer job making corn dogs. She hesitated at a yield sign and we got rear-ended by another motorist, which sent her corn dog hat flying.

Then there’s a friend of mine who drives like Mister Magoo, the cartoon character from the 60s played by Jim Backus of Gilligan’s Island fame. He veers into other lanes, cuts people off, and stops in the middle of the street if he gets too excited or distracted by something. The other day he did that trying to get me to listen to Ozzy Osbourne on his iPhone. He seems oblivious to people yelling, flipping him off, and near misses.

I am not oblivious. I think my sensitivity stems from an incident that occurred when I was a teenager in the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey. I was stuck with a friend and our only way out was to ride with another teen who was drinking heavily because his girlfriend had dumped him. He was so despondent he talked about killing himself. It was either that or walk for miles at night through swampy, Jersey Devil country. I can sum up that experience in one word: harrowing.

Maybe, you say, I’m not being fair to my daughters. I’ll give you that, but they’re still not driving me to the airport.

Image credits: feature by Chase Fade; steering wheel by Peter Kasprzyk. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.” Happy birthday to Russell David Brancatelli.

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