b Papa Dog's Blog: Driving in Traffic with Parents

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Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Driving in Traffic with Parents

So, yeah, I met my parents at the airport and we got their rental car, which was kind of a funny experience. You just walk into a garage, tell them the size you’ve rented, and they point you to a line of cars with keys dangling from the doors. You walk up and down the line, pick the one you want, grab the keys, and drive away. It really seems for the first little while like you’re stealing a car from some really lax owner. Of course, you have to stop at an exit booth guarded with a barrier and great big severe tire damage spikes (the latter of which would probably be the only thing stopping my old friend Ambrose from offering his customary barrier suggestion: “Should I just ram it?”). Oh well. No free car.

My dad was driving and I was riding shotgun to navigate, which left my mom to back seat drive from the actual back seat. She would have preferred to do it from my seat where she could keep an eye on the speedometer, but instead had to rely on monitoring how fast it “felt like” we were going. She immediately began to fret about knowing the speed limits. I said, “Surface streets are generally 25 or 30 – they do it in miles per hour here – but I think the freeway’s generally 55 to 65.” I could hear the sound of her neck muscles tightening from the back seat. Anything over 20 mph makes her nervous, and all there was between us and home was freeway. When I told my sister the other day about our upcoming rush hour freeway trip and how my parents could never remember that I lived a lot closer to the Oakland airport than SFO, she said, “Well, just wait until you’re on the freeway. Mom will say right away, ‘Next time, we’ll fly in through Oakland.’” We were approaching the freeway onramp, and anxiety about the exact speed limit started all over again. As we crept up the onramp, my dad said, “I wonder how fast you’re supposed to go.” I said, “Well, you’re going to have to go a lot faster than 40 to get onto the freeway.” So he gunned it, perhaps feeling briefly unfettered, and my mom exclaimed, “Next time, we’ll fly in through Oakland!”

It was well after 5 o’clock, but things seemed to be moving along quite well through South San Francisco. It wasn’t until we were past that stadium thing, Candlebrick or whichever telecommunications company it’s named after now – the place where they have the football games or whatever – that we ran into the actual commute traffic. I thought this would calm my mom down because nobody would be going faster than 20 mph any more, but instead she shifted up to orange alert (an Ernie alert, according to a chart I just found trying to remember the alert levels) because in stop and go traffic, brake lights come on intermittently ahead, and she could never for some reason believe these were as visible to my father as they were to her. “That guy’s brake lights are on!” she’d exclaim – “that guy” being twelve car lengths ahead and us barrelling toward him at 5 miles an hour. People kept using the off ramp lanes to get around us.

This dynamic used to make me tear my hair out when I was a teenager. When I was 19 or so, I finally decided I was never again getting in a car occupied by both of my parents. One or the other, but not both. I stuck to that through most of the last two years I lived under their roof. Now, I was able to look down at my Yahoo Maps crib notes and laugh silently every time my mom jumped in her seat because a motorcycle had passed between lanes. It doesn’t get under my skin anymore. Maybe it’s the long break I’ve had from listening to them. Maybe it’s time and tide. Maybe, just maybe, it’s personal growth.

Hey - my counter hits 500 today. Let's have a party.


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