Wishing to be driven to distraction

Photo: Raysonho courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Photo: Raysonho courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Recent family road trip a timely reminder to steer clear of next one

I love my father, but I never want to see the back of his head again.

In my family, vacations can be hazardous to your health — and I don’t mean from the mysterious “road trip” diet of my teenage years, which consisted of corn nuts, Slurpees and various jerky-like substances, nor do I mean from my adult “road trip” diet, which consists of too many diet cokes, nonfat lattes, and glasses of wine when we’re finally “there yet.”

No, I’m talking about my father behind the wheel.

I recently celebrated the New Year by driving to Northern California in a sausage-packed sedan with my parents, my husband and my son. Unlike many people, I actually enjoy spending time with my parents and would even rank them high on my list of “couple friends” — until we get in the car.

Someone once said that there are three parts to every vacation — anticipation, vacation and recuperation. When my father is driving you need to add a fourth part to the equation — trepidation.

We all have certain genetic qualities we fret about when we marry into another family, those things that we worry about passing on to our children. When my sister announced she was pregnant, my brother-in-law’s first comment was, “I’m teaching the baby how to drive.”

That’s how bad the Dinaberg driving genes are.

My sister and I are bonafide bad drivers, but at least we admit it, and will readily let someone else drive whenever possible. In fact, while most parents worry about the day their children will finally get their driver’s license, I can hardly wait. Even hopped up on teenage hormones and hip-hop (or whatever kind of music is popular in 2016), I know my son will be a better driver than I am.

We all have our talents, and I have no illusions about where I stand when it comes to manning the driver’s seat.

No such luck with dad.

Although he deserves sole credit for teaching my sister and I to use the brakes on an empty freeway, he insists he is a great driver. As proof, he’ll be happy — ecstatic, in fact — to show you his military license. His friend Col. Dan Georgi gave it to him for driving a Humvee in a parking lot. Where’s Colonel Dan now? Afghanistan. Apparently he thought he’d be safer there.

Anyone who’s spent five minutes with my dad knows he has a great sense of humor about most things, but he’s not joking about this. My dad really does think he’s a great driver. The thrill of driving with my father lies in his unpredictability. Where most would choose to accelerate, he might decide to brake; when many would be content with a constant freeway speed, he likes to keep other drivers guessing; and while many would go slowly crazy following that bus right in front of us for the last ten miles, I’m not sure he’s even noticed it with all the futzing around he’s been doing with the radio.

Fortunately, he’s got mom, otherwise known as “GPS Joan,” who gives him at least a 33-mile heads up every time he gets within a half an hour of the next required turn.

There’s nothing like a six-hour drive in the rain with your parents to bring back memories. Comfortably ensconced in the front seat, my husband kept his complaining to an admirable minimum. Meanwhile, I had to endure hours of crying, tears and tantrums. From my inner child. My actual child was a lot better behaved than I was, what with the “are we there yet? ” mantra of yesteryear having been replaced by chants of “can I watch the DVD yet?”

If only I could figure out a legal substance to mellow adults out the way “Teen Titans” and “Yu-Gi-Oh!” calm my kid, I could make a fortune and hire a private jet to take us on our next family vacation.

In lieu of having my own personal “Pokemon” to focus on during the trip, I had to settle for bathroom breaks, lots of them. My husband calls my family “the Amazing Mini Bladderinis,” and with the bottles of water, the sound of the rain on the roof, and all the coffee breaks … I’ll be right back!

When I wasn’t peeing, I spent most of the rest of the drive with my face pressed against the window, slowly mouthing the words “Help me!” to anyone whose attention I could get. As I fogged up the windows I looked on the bright side: I was no longer looking at the back of my father’s head.

And when we finally got to our destination and later toasted the New Year surrounded by family and friends, I remembered a lesson my father taught me well — sometimes the destination is actually worth the drive.

P.S: For those of you passing through Santa Barbara, it may interest you to know that my father used to teach drivers ed. Have a nice drive back to LA.

Originally published inĀ South Coast Beacon on January 13, 2005.

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