Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Rest Of You Can Thank Me

I have a love-hate relationship with driving. On the one hand, I find it such a frustrating, life-shortening experience that I gave my car away and get most places these days on foot, by bike, or riding the bus. On the other hand, I grew up with a father who was a transportation engineer, a man I love and who, over the years, provided us passengers with encyclopedic knowledge of the rules of the road, both in practice and theory. I grew up to be a guy who enjoys transportation as a system, even if I have grown the despise the way too many humans use that system, turning me into a man I despise when I sit behind the wheel. (Yes, I realize that in this I'm blaming others for my feelings. Instead of therapy, I've elected to just stop driving.)

When our daughter Josephine was young, however, I drove her everywhere the way we American parents tend to do. For the first decade of her life, we were one another's most constant companions and much of that time was spent in the car where she was trapped listening to me channel dad as I unconsciously and informally shared not only what dad had taught me, but my own thoughts on driving as well, too often conveyed in rants against the other drivers. She would often chide me from the back seat with advice like, "Dad, you know they can't hear you, right?" and "They're doing the best they can," but two evenings ago, I found evidence that she was really listening all along.

Perhaps because of me, but probably mostly because we moved downtown when she was 14 and because she is a member of a generation in which it is a certifiable trend, Josephine, now 19, has elected to not get a driver's license. She has become expert at getting herself around town on buses and by chipping in for gas to hitch rides with friends.

One of the ways in which my neurotic relationship with driving plays out is that I am a horrible back seat driver, a characteristic that has caused more than a little friction between my wife Jennifer and me over the years. When I sit in the passenger seat, I spend the entire time biting my lip, trying to not share my genius insights about which lane we should be in or what short cut to take. Indeed, I've found that it helps to just sit in the actual backseat and stare out the window, which is where I was the other night as our family headed off to meet friends for dinner, Josephine riding shotgun.

Oh, it was with great pride that I listened to her assume her role as navigator, taking her turn to channel her father, albeit without the edge of irritation that too often accompanies my commentary. Several times I was about to burst out with driving advice only to hear Josephine say exactly what I was going to say, calmly guiding us through the city, demonstrating a deep understanding of how traffic both does and should flow and a detailed knowledge of short cuts and clever dodges.

I thought I couldn't be prouder of the job I'd done as a parent when an inattentive driver got herself stuck in the middle of an intersection, blocking our way. Josephine said with false irritation in her voice as if mocking the driver I used to be, "Drivers are so stupid. There's no excuse for that. You should never enter an intersection unless you're sure you'll be able to clear it."

Oh that was sweet music to my ears and I told her so. She replied, "I think I know more about driving than any of my friends. I'm always the one who knows how to get places. Most of them don't even know how to make a left turn."

I used a term I'd coined during the days I'd ferried her around, "You mean, they're left turn-phobic?"

"Exactly. None of them know that if they're first in line to make a left turn, they should get out into the intersection, not just sit back behind the cross walk. They don't believe me. Sometimes we sit there for two or three lights waiting for a break in traffic when at least one car should be making it through every time, even when it's rush hour."

That's when I called her "grasshopper," the student who has become a master without ever having sat behind a steering wheel. The rest of you drivers can thank me for my brilliant parenting skills because, indeed, in the case of left turns at least I've made the world a better place.

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