Any parent of a teenager with a learner’s permit knows the fingernails-in-the-dashboard terror of riding as a passenger in one’s own car.
Our daughters have had their licenses for years, but with my accelerator foot in a post-surgical boot for a few weeks recently, I was swept back in time as they taxied me to and from work and around Alameda on errands.
The stitches are gone from my toe now, but I may need tongue sutures from biting it every time I wanted to scream out, “BRAKE! NOW!”
Don’t get me wrong — both girls are good drivers and seem to get around just fine on their own. (Ok, there was that about Sarah totaling her little red Miata, but it wasn’t her fault and she walked away in one piece, thank heaven.)
Way back when she had her learner's permit, Sarah drove me to a family birthday party at City Beach, an indoor volleyball venue in Emeryville. We were heading along busy San Pablo Avenue in evening rush hour traffic, and Sarah made a left hand turn in front of two lanes of oncoming cars.
She didn’t have a green arrow. It was NOT her turn to go. I was strapped in the passenger seat, staring wide-eyed into two sets of blinding headlights. Bracing for inevitable impact, I screamed something unprintable. (All I can tell you is that Mary’s blessed son seems to have a middle name, and it begins with an “F.”)
He must have heard my desperate cry, because it was indeed a miracle that those cars stopped in time and no one hit us. Sarah completed the turn, immediately pulled over to the curb, then burst into tears and said, “Mom! Why did you yell at me like that?”
After I could speak again I said, “Sweetheart, I couldn’t help it. It just came out. But now you don’t have to guess what my dying words will be, because I thought I was a goner.”
In truth, I was relieved my own mother wasn’t in the car with us, because I can tell you that she would have washed my mouth out with soap, right after she spanked me. When I was a teenage passenger in her 1965 Buick Skylark convertible, a group of antagonistic juvenile delinquents crossed in front of our car at an intersection. One of them called my mother an “old bag.”
I loved my mother. No one was allowed to call her names but me, and then only out of earshot. So I stuck my forearm out the window and flipped him off.
My mom’s arm came across the bench seat in a blur and clipped me hard across the chest. I was shocked — not that she smacked me, but that she didn’t understand that I was defending her honor. I saw my hand gesture as an act of love.
To this day, I can still feel the sting of injustice from that slap. And although she taught me it wasn’t ladylike to extend your middle finger in traffic, she didn’t succeed in breaking me of the habit completely. If I can’t cap my road rage, I just make a “stealth” gesture — below the dashboard where the other driver can’t see. As I see it, it’s a stress reliever and therefore good for controlling hypertension.
(Ok, fine, regular readers. I admit to that , but ever since I am very good about keeping cool on the Island. Alameda is a small town.)
But I digress. My accelerator foot is back in working order again and I am no longer bumming rides. I can drive myself to in the morning while everyone else is still asleep. (My coffee shop buddies and my Weight Watchers buddies applauded when I returned to my morning routine. They missed me. I like them.) I can go to work when I want, and not when it’s convenient for someone to take me. And then I can go home when I want, and not when (and if) someone remembers to fetch me again.
I am sure my daughters are relieved to be “off duty” as well. No one likes a back seat driver. Just last weekend I discovered I have my own personal nagger. I was on my way to a craft fair in an unfamiliar Oakland neighborhood. I plugged in my new GPS unit and the female robot voice told me precisely where and when to turn. She was doing a fine job and we were getting along splendidly until she said, “You are EXCEEDING the SPEED LIMIT.”
After I recovered from my surprise, it took me five blocks to stop laughing. I can’t decide whether to study the owner’s manual to figure out how to opt out of that feature or leave it on for comic effect to amuse passengers.
The good news is that, with the exception of the Harbor Bay labyrinth, I know my way around Alameda pretty darned well, and I work close to home. So for now I’ll just yank her plug and stow her away in a deep dark cubbyhole. In this nag’s opinion, it’s a good thing teenage drivers don’t have that option with their parents.