The view from the passenger seat

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It’s time for some more honesty.

When I’m in a moving vehicle, I’m a control freak.

I like to be in control of my situation, and the only person in the world I completely trust at the wheel, when I’m in the car, is my wife.

The only other two drivers in this world that I trust at all are my father-in-law and my dad. Both of whom have immaculate driving records.

The ultimate test is whether or not I can sleep in a moving vehicle when someone else is at the wheel.

My dad passed this test a few years ago when we packed our two young boys up and drove to Southern California with grandma and grandpa for a trip to Disneyland.

My father-in-law passed the test when he drove our whole family from Anchorage to Fairbanks, Alaska for a trip to the hot springs.

If you are not one of these three people, chances are I won’t be able to relax if you’re driving a car I’m riding in.

And I’m sorry about that. It’s not personal. It’s a trust issue.

Oh, and this extends to airplanes, boats and trains as well. If I’m not driving, then I’m worrying.

So the last two months have been a bit tough for me as my oldest boy earned his driving permit. He’s been begging to drive at every possible opportunity.

This means I not only have to get into a car with a new driver, I have to get in to a car with a driver who hasn’t seen or experienced anything yet.

Someone who doesn’t constantly fear the worst.

That terrifies me more than anything.

My first wreck occurred two weeks after we bought our first new car.

I was on my way home from work when I decided to pull off at a gas station to fill up.

I pulled into the turn lane, which doubled as a highway on ramp.

The man in the brand-new Chevy truck was accelerating quite rapidly and I was decelerated at some rate only a physicist would understand.

We collided.

In an instant, the trunk of my car was in the passenger seat next to me, and I was flying forward at a rate of speed I didn’t anticipate.

Directly into a brand-new pickup truck waiting at the entrance of the gas station to pull out.

In slow motion, the front of my car crumpled as I struck the rear axel of the pick up truck, and the engine of my car was suddenly dislodged and shoved on top of the trunk in the passenger seat next to me.

By some miracle, I was in a small, protected box as my car bounced off the truck and rolled toward the gas pumps.

I kept pressing brakes that were no longer connected to anything, and so on we rolled until at the very last minute I decided to pull the emergency brake, which happened to be barely connected to the rear tires.

I stopped within an inch of the gas pumps.

The police officers that showed up insisted I sit down, because they could not understand how I was even walking at this point.

The impact was so hard the force of it caused my wedding ring to fly off my finger and into oblivion.

That wreck plays through my head almost any time I get in a car where any of my children are present.

It causes me to look in my mirrors compulsively and think about where I am and who is around me at any given point in time.

It’s my constant reminder of how fragile life is at 65 miles per hour in a hunk of metal rolling on rubber wheels.

My son doesn’t understand that. He’s nervous at the wheel, but it’s a different kind of nervous.

One born of the unknown and the unexpected.

My mistrust of other drivers is born of the known and the expected unexpected.

The worst part of it all is that I have to know that he’ll go through his own experiences, and some of those will be terrible.

My only hope is that he’ll be alive to learn from them.

Driving is a great metaphor for life.

You get on the freeway and start to go with the flow, but it’s not just you, it’s thousands of others in varying degrees of alertness.

Preparedness is often a result of having experienced something in the past, but you can’t become prepared if you haven’t experienced it.

And that’s the part of being a parent that rankles me.

I can tell stories and try to scare the shit out of him, but I can’t pass this stuff down so that he knows it intuitively. I can’t transfer my experiences to him.

And that is the cruelty and the beauty of life.




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