It’s difficult for many of us to accept the fact that, as we get older, there may come a time when we really shouldn’t be behind the wheel any longer. I saw this a while back while leaving the doctor’s office. As I walked across the parking lot to my own car, I spotted an older woman seated sideways in the driver’s seat with her legs still outside the car.
She caught my eye and beckoned me over. “Can I help you ma’am?” I asked.
“Oh yes, could you please lift my legs into the car?”
“You want me to lift your legs?”
She nodded and I proceeded to lift her feet into the driver’s side of the car as requested. Of course, while doing so, I had the horrible realization that she intended to drive.
“Ma’am, are you sure you can drive?”
She laughed, “Why of course,” as if my question was preposterous. With no apparent handicap controls in her car, it was not immediately obvious to me how someone who couldn’t lift her own legs inside the car could operate the accelerator and more importantly the brake. I stood a good distance away as she started the car and left the parking lot. As she exited my thoughts turned to all of the stories about elderly drivers rocketing through the front of convenience stores after accidentally hitting the gas instead of the brake.
Of course foolish driving examples are not limited to the elderly. Many years ago, I was headed to south Florida and had stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few things for the trip. The deli employees had just finished grilling several racks of ribs and they smelled heavenly. So I bought a few before getting back on the interstate. It wasn’t long before the smell of barbeque overcame my better judgment and I found myself eating ribs while driving. Suffice to say, that was a really, really bad idea.
My dad always loved to drive and came to associate driving with freedom. Whether he was behind the wheel of his Lincoln Town Car, or years earlier, a Suburban pulling his beloved Airstream trailer, he was never happier than when he was drinking coffee and watching the miles tick by.
While we must remember our loved ones who pass, those memories need not be only those which make us sad or cause our hearts to ache. We should also celebrate their passing by remembering the good, the funny, and even the ridiculous.
Driving was one way my Dad could make it clear that he was by no means old, though he might have had a bunch of birthdays. This, coupled with his inherent impatience, made for an interesting motoring experience for his hapless passengers. He would careen at high speeds through traffic, determined to shave a few seconds off his travel time to McDonald’s, where he would then sit for hours drinking coffee.
It was not uncommon for him to rocket along the interstate at speeds in excess of 100 mph. I know this because on those occasions when I dared to open my eyes, I made it a point to glance at the speedometer. Whenever I would comment, his reply was something like, “Hmmpphh.”
On one occasion, he had picked up some of my fellow anglers and me at my boat to give us a ride back to our cars. He was driving at his normal frantic pace when my buddy Gail made a joking reference that it was like riding with Dale Earnhardt. Of course, this inspired my dad to live up to that name, and he pressed the accelerator down even farther as he weaved in and out of traffic.
After we reached the marina where we had left our cars and I had stopped shaking enough to speak, I chastised Gail, imploring him never again to use any race car analogies when riding with my father. So it’s really no surprise that most of my friends had already resolved to never again ride with my dad before I finally joined their ranks.
The last time I rode with my father driving, our plan was to run a few errands and then have lunch. As he approached CVS, he hit the curbing leading to the drugstore drive-up window. A few minutes later, as we entered the interstate, he bumped the curbing on the on-ramp. He then proceeded to reach warp speed as we weaved down the highway from one side of the lane to the other, nearly kissing the cars on both sides of us. I closed my eyes and prayed.
When we pulled up in front of Olive Garden, he smacked the handicap sign in front of us. I exited the car with the sign still wobbling, along with my knees. But a few bottles of Chianti settled my nerves enough for the return trip.
We left the restaurant and got onto the interstate connector, I-110, headed south at the speed of sound. As some of you may know, the connector in Biloxi dead ends at the beach with a ninety degree right turn. As we barreled down the off-ramp, I opened my eyes in time to let out a blood curdling scream as we took the turn on two wheels at 70 miles per hour.
My yell triggered a rapid braking response which propelled me hard against the shoulder strap while everything on the rear seat became airborne, impacting the back of the front seat. It was at that moment, once we were back on all four wheels, that I vowed this would be my last sojourn with him behind the wheel.
Amazingly, he had very few wrecks over the span of a driving career, totaling hundreds of thousands of miles. Though, in his later years, I often wondered how many wrecks he caused.
Disclaimer: Frank Wilem is an author, speaker, and all around funny and entertaining guy. On this blog, his stories are based on his real life experiences, often with a satirical twist.
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