[This is actually a true email I sent to a friend. And then I realized that I had somewhat channeled Jenny Lawson. OMG---"to panic, and digress, is to bloggess." Of course it is nowhere near as well written or funny as even her weakest efforts, and I am embarrassed to even contemplate comparing something I penned to her wonderful blogs, but there was a thread of similarity. I think that if she were near she would grab me by the scruff of the neck, drag me into the bathroom safety zone---no, not the men's room, the unisex one---and she would pat me on the head and tell me to take deep breaths. She's probably pull out a wine slushee and insist I imbibe, tell me a lovely story about the ginga ninja, or recount a hilarious conversation with Victor (that man deserves a medal), and I would bust out laughing---as I frequently do when reading her book or her blogs---and everything would be okay. Then she would offer me a ride to wherever, and I would scream, "Hell to the No!"]
OMG Bec, you remember a little while back you wrote an email in which you mused about some road trip you took to visit a friend and something happened and they never wrote back again? And I said, “Can’t think of anything that would happen like that.” Well, at 4:30 this morning I had a full-blown panic attack and came lurching out of my sleep, and never went sleepy-time again. I am exhausted. I searched for my backup doses of Xanax, that I don’t often use but keep around mostly as a security blanket in the event of need. Haven’t used any of these ten pills since they were prescribed, probably three years ago, and I thought, “Is there a ‘use by date’ on Xanax?” I better find out. Nevertheless, I began to worry --- Bec will never write to me again, Sarah will hate and curse my name forever, my boys will shake their heads in eternal embarrassment, and the little one will think “Who is this crazy man?” I am pretty laid back most of the time (excepting Gamecock sports, and I have been working on that), but suddenly I was aware of a possible difficulty.
So now I have to come out of the closet (no, no, not that closet!) --- I am the WORLD’S WORST BACKSEAT DRIVER. There, I said it. “Houston, we have a problem.” This remembrance on my part led to an anxious night of AAA Anonymous contemplation. I think it started when I was having a pleasant dream about the pending Myrtle Beach trip, when for some reason I recalled you saying you had to get Sarah approved as a driver for the van, and that little devil in the back of my head said, “Sarah’s driving? Do we know her? Isn’t she young? Have we seen her DMV record? What about Bec’s driving? Do they have roads in Washington State? OMG. . . I will NOT be driving!” And then the panic set in.
It is rather mortifying to admit that I don’t like NOT driving. I can, and have done it on occasion, especially with the ex, my former fiancé, and friends, but that is normally around-town driving at lower (safe) speeds. My brother doesn’t call me the “Mother Hen” for no reason. I am one of those for whom a speed limit should not be exceeded (maybe by three mph, but no more) and the safety zone of six or so car lengths between me and the vehicle ahead of me is strictly enforced as can be. I mean, one needs as much reaction time as humanly possible, don’t they? Ten car lengths is best --- even at twenty miles an hour. My son this morning added, “Dad, you not only are the worst backseat driver, you are the worst front-seat driver.”
I think I can manage your driving us, I tell myself. But the fear is you will come to hate me. I have cajoled, sniped, even yelled at people driving me when they came too close to the vehicle ahead, or grossly exceeded the speed limit (five miles over), or somehow seemed distracted. And God-forbid they pull a cell phone out. I am liable to demand the car be pulled over and walk to my destination, even if it is a hundred miles.
I become a different person driving shotgun. I almost never fought with my wife, but last night I recalled that the worst arguments I ever had with her happened in the car. Not always when she was driving (she was a terrible navigator, as am I), and quite often completely my fault and my attitude. I get some of it from my Dad. He would announce that we would be on the road by 7 the next morning, which usually meant he wanted to be rolling by 6am; with my ex-wife, we would plan to be on the road by, say, 8am and it would be close to 10:30 before starting out, not counting returns to the apartment for things we forgot or thought we forgot (Did we turn off the stove --- even though we didn’t cook for three days; where are those tickets --- in the backpack, check again; did we feed the cat?). I had an inner rule that unless it was a major “forget” (like medicine or glasses or one of the kids), if we reached the twenty-mile limit, we weren’t going back, let the place burn. I actually have gotten better about that over the years, but still have my anxieties. And I will admit that while driving to Florida one year it was me who completely missed I-95. I knew we were close; I blame it on piss-poor signage. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it. I don’t think she would ever let me live that one down. And I often get confused with highway directions, especially when approaching large cities. I insist everyone stop talking so I can concentrate, and even then I screw up. GPS was invented for me. Luckily I am not one to just do something crazy like drive across the median (although the thought has crossed my mind, until they started putting those safety cables up), and I will drive ten further miles and turn around at the next exit to make another go of it. I had to turn around four or five times once going into Jacksonville when I was trying to find a specific exit. I have been extremely irritable and short with my boys a few times when I got road confused; for instance, like when we were diverted onto a detour in Georgia and somehow missed the path back to the highway and drove about twenty miles looking for it and I was fuming and the gas was running low and it was dark and I started hearing banjo music and I feared we would never get back to the friendly confines of South Carolina, and I had to stop and tell them I didn’t want to hear another peep out of them (and damn well enforced it) until we found our way back, which we did thankfully.
As I was contemplating my road rages I wondered why I would fear being in the passenger seat. I can’t remember driving any long distances with my siblings at the wheel, and it has been ages since driving with Dad. I know he is somewhat to blame, as I rode a few times with him in the police interceptor and he was late dropping me off to school, started hopscotching cars, and almost went head on into school bus. Hmmm. I once went on an emergency volunteer fire vehicle ride to an accident at obscene speeds, and secretly vowed to myself “never again.” As a teen I was being driven back to Tampa from Walt Disney World with two friends in a VW (I was stuffed in the back seat) when both driver and front-seat passenger fell dead asleep only miles out of Orlando, and I had never driven a stick, and my pal put me in the front seat, put it in whatever gear it was supposed to be in, and told me to keep it at that speed and wake him when we got close to home, and then promptly fell back asleep. Once I had my brakes go out while driving to see Springsteen in Miami on the Tamiami Trail, and thank goodness I was observing my ten-car length rule, as I barely missed hitting a rock hauler and drove off the road to finally slow the car down; my sister and her friends never drove with me again. Like it was my fault the brake cylinder thingee busted! It’s probably a good thing I have never driven long distance with my little brother at the wheel, because the first time I would ask him to slow the heck down he would surely grin at me, speed up to 100, and kiss the back bumper of an eighteen-wheeler for twenty miles. BASTARD! (and I say that with love).
And as long as I was contemplating car anxiety, I came to some other travel-related realizations. I hate, hate, HATE plane travel. I always thought it was because of a long four-plane trip from Hawaii to Charleston when I was a kindergartener, or some internal warning system that didn’t want someone else’s bad day to take down everyone on board. I mean, I can barely think of planes as anything other than aerosol cans with wings. Once I yelled at a Trailways driver to slow down; he told me to “sit down and STFU.” As much as I enjoy trains, I realized that I wouldn’t by a sleeping cabin because if I fell asleep, how would I manage to help the engineer if the train ran out of control?
So, what to do. I think I can make it with you if you promise to be the driver when we are in the car, and you adopt granny-driving rules, and you forgive me if I start frantically braking---in the passenger seat---and if unkind words come from my mouth. OMG, I am a terrible person. Or, and I like this idea, even though you have rented a van, I will gladly rent another one for the weekend and I will drive, preserving our friendship and avoiding a heart attack. Let me know your thoughts.