One of the rites of passage is learning to drive.
When I made it through the driver training course at high school, my dad thought it was safe for him to get in a car with me in the driver’s seat.
Unfortunately, the car he chose was his Porsche.
Talk about being puffed-up over a possession.
He had special driving gloves and a slouchy English-style driving hat.
(For a German car, shouldn’t he have had one of those cuckoo clock hats with feathers sticking up?)
The cool kids
And when he sped down a road and came upon another Porsche, he and the other driver would flash headlights at each other like they were in the cool kids club.
Since the high school only taught how to drive cars with automatic transmissions, my dad decided to expand my driving knowledge by having me learn to handle the Porsche’s stick shift.
I wasn’t eager to do this.
Adding another pedal and a stick shift was too much to deal with, especially in someone else’s prized possession.
I said no thanks, wallowing in ignorance is fine with me, but my dad insisted.
So we got in the Porsche
I turned on the ignition, jumped my two feet around the three pedals, moved the stick shift here and there like a blind rat in a maze, stomped on the gas and we took off.
I’d say that I got up to a top speed of five, maybe even ten miles per hour, accompanied by the groaning sounds of metal grinding on metal, like a death rattle.
There also were screeching sounds.
They were coming out of my dad.
He said the word STOP! a lot, and GET YOUR FOOT OFF THE GAS! and GET YOUR HAND OFF THE STICK! and JUST LET IT COAST! and GET OUT OF MY CAR!
The last thing he said was . . .
. . . “YOU CAN WALK HOME!”
That was okay with me.
Besides, the walk wasn’t too bad. I’d estimate it was about a half a block, so it was definitely doable since I was an athlete on the high school chess team.
Obviously, I needed more instruction on working a stick shift, but my dad never asked me to drive the Porsche again.
However, he came up with something else.
Just as bad.
I don’t know what got into him, but one Sunday he said we were going to go for a drive in our other car, a large family-size car with a heaven-sent automatic transmission.
And I was going to be the driver.
By the way, have you seen that movie “Driving Miss Daisy”?
It’s about a chauffeur who has to put up with driving a grouchy old woman.
At least that cantankerous lady was in the backseat, but in this episode of Driving Mr. Dad, he was going to be right beside me.
My mother and little sister, normally good sports, tried desperately to talk sense into him.
He was determined on this course with him in the passenger seat and my mother and sister as shanghaied backseat spectators.
So our nuclear family piled into the car, with me hoping that things wouldn’t go nuclear.
I got the car started with no problem because there was no pointless stick shift to gum things up.
But as soon as I tromped on the gas and the engine roared, my sister scared the shit out of me.
“WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!”
She definitely had a way with words.
To the point.
Kind of like a backseat Hemingway.
Even with that dire prediction ringing in our ears, my dad wouldn’t relent.
So off we went
I got us onto the main road.
I was in the right-side lane, and I wanted to get out of it.
That’s because the road’s curb had a bunch of water drains, and whoever built the road had cut large depressions in front of those drains.
Hitting those depressions would be bad news.
I started aiming for the left lane.
“Don’t turn the steering wheel . . .
. . . unless I tell you.”
I forgot to mention that my dad was an Air Force navigator.
I think he told me not to turn the wheel because he was accustomed to telling dumb pilots what to do and when to do it.
So my mom, a verified backseat driver, took up the slack.
“You’re getting too close to the curb.”
My dad looked over his shoulder at her and said, “He doesn’t need someone else telling him what to do. I’ll tell him what to do.”
“Well then, Phil, tell him he’s too close to the curb.”
She called my dad Phil because that was his name.
Somehow he got the same name that I had.
There were days when I wondered if that was an omen.
Speaking of omens . . .
. . . I could see in the rear view mirror that my sister was whipping her head back and forth from my mom to my dad.
If she’d done it any faster her head might have spun all the way around like in that “Exorcist” movie.
What was worse is that she kept repeating, “We’re all going to die!”
It was like having an Old Testament prophet in the backseat.
My dad finally told her, “Stop saying that. You’re distracting him.”
So she lowered the volume down to a stage whisper.
But just for a while.
Then it started to build again like a creepy chorus in a horror movie.
And while my sister is doing that my mom is in a panic telling my dad to tell me to turn the wheel and my dad is getting irritated from telling her to stop telling him what to tell me and I’m listening to all three of them while we head toward a drainage hole.
When my dad turned back around from trying to get my mom to leave him alone, he said, “Son, you’re going to hit that hole.”
Perversely, I kept going for it.
“Son, I said you’re going to hit the hole.”
“You haven’t told me to turn the wheel, Dad.”
He started waving his left hand frantically at the steering wheel, almost touching it.
“SON! TURN IT! TURN IT NOW!
“AYE, AYE, CAPTAIN!”
I turned the wheel leftward just in time to avoid fulfilling my sister’s prophecy.
Frankly, of the four of us I don’t know who was sweating more bullets or passing more gas.
After we all caught our breath, I heard, “Turn into that parking lot up ahead.”
I did and stopped the car.
“We’re going home now!”
Nope, that wasn’t my dad.
It was my mom. She had had enough.
She was pulling rank on him and taking charge.
“You leave him alone. He passed driver training in high school, so he knows when to turn the steering wheel.”
I started up the car, but by now I was feeling a little cocky.
“Dad, do you want me to aim for the drains?”
He just waved his hand dismissively and stared out his side window all the way home, not saying a word.
But when we got there, my sister had something to say.
She opened her back door, hopped out of the car and ran up the sidewalk to our house while yelling all the way, “WE’RE ALIVE! WE’RE ALIVE! WE’RE ALIVE!”
What can you say about a sister like that?
It was so sweet of her to put a positive spin on my driving ability.
QUESTION: What similar experience have you had?