No YOU Shut Up And Drive
Janis Hirsch illustration

A Woman’s Place

Indicting the Female Passenger and Back-Seat Driver: I’m an equal-opportunity disser!

By Janis Hirsch

Blood Is Thicker Than Motor Oil

I am ashamed of myself. In past columns, I have said many unkind some would say cruel, things about driving with either my husband or my son in the passenger seat. Granted, just because they’re unkind and cruel doesn’t mean they’re not true, but still I feel it was completely unfair of me to single them out for public ridicule.

What I should have done, and what I will do now not because anyone’s asked me but because it’s the right thing to do, is trash the female passenger too. Especially back-seat drivers.

Even before I could drive, I knew that certain ladies were not to be driven under any circumstances. My Incredible Shrinking Nana who never learned to drive, was maybe the worst passenger in the history of passengers. She was banished to the back seat, probably because my father never thought of strapping her to the roof.

And since my sister and I were squished in the backseat with her, we heard her bark “turn here!” “turn here!” every ninety seconds for sixty miles, even when we were on the New Jersey Turnpike where random turns are frowned upon. Now you might think, don’t be so hard on her: what if she were one of those rare few blessed with a flawless sense of direction? To which I answer you, No, she wasn’t and even if she had been, she had no idea where we were because was so short she couldn’t see out the window. Seriously tiny. Nana was pretty much a parakeet in a housecoat.

Driving Miss Lazy

On the other side of the family, Aunt Estelle was the perfect passenger. She’d lean against the window and fall into a deep sleep before we were out of her driveway. She’d stay that way until we got to Deal, New Jersey, a/k/a “the fancy schmancy shore.” Yes, once in a while she’d snort awake, say “Remind me to buy shrimp cocktail for Sammy” but otherwise, she was an angel.

Does a good female passenger have to be practically comatose? No, of course not. But it helps.

Take my best friend Maris, for instance. And take her I do; we call it “Driving Miss Lazy.” Not original, I know but eerily accurate. Because she hates driving, her special blend of neediness and appreciation make her the perfect passenger.

When you pick her up, she’s always ready and she frequently has dark chocolate raisinettes in her purse for sharing. Sometimes, there’s even a gardenia or a rose from her garden to make my car smell less like wet dog. Plus, she always pays for parking. Could she be any sweeter? I think not.

Once she’s strapped in as shotgun, she loses all interest in our destination so there’s no suggesting of better routes, no wondering why I’ve taken the long way or more likely, the wrong way. Even at my most confused and uninformed, she’s still so grateful that it’s not her behind the wheel that she doesn’t say anything critical beyond “I never knew Chinatown was on our way to Santa Monica.”

Many moons ago I was driving us to the movies and she needed to change clothes. Not that she’s a slave to fashion (she believes her bathrobe is perfectly acceptable outerwear and more often than not, by her own admission she has Stalin’s hairstyle) but she was volunteering at a local hospital and their uniforms were the spitting image of those worn at Burger King. Not that there’s anything wrong with brown polyester. Wait. Yes, there is.

So there she was changing in the passenger seat. Thinking she could slither out of the uniform without unbuttoning the top button, she was caught with her arms in the air, her head encased in an inside-out flammable jumper. She began to flail and beg for my help. Which I gave her right after I drove slowly past a group of guys stripping a car, not their own. I leaned on the horn, they all saw Maris looking like one of those creepy inflatable balloon men you see on the roof of muffler shops, they applauded, she screamed, I sped up, pulled over when I was safely away, and selflessly helped her. Oh, how we laughed. Me right away; her ten years later.

Love Thy Mother

Driving with my mother has changed. When she still had her license, all I heard was “Oh, I guess orange lights don’t mean slow down here in California” or “Well, aren’t I behind the times? I didn’t realize nowadays you’re supposed to go through red lights. Glad I have you to keep me au courant.” But since she traded her beat up Toyota Echo for a walker, she’s a little less critical, especially if we’re on our way to get French toast.

Now she’s thrilled and amazed by every turn I make, by every parking spot I fit into. The last time I drove her 5 blocks to the dentist she reacted pretty much the same way the throngs of Brits reacted to Kate Middleton and Prince William’s first kiss on the palace balcony. There was cheering, there was applause; remind me to get a Union Jack for her to wave before I take her to the podiatrist next week.

The Dos and Don’ts Of Driving

To save you, my VroomSisters, unnecessary heartache herewith is a brief list of female passengers you drive once and never again:

***A woman who changes your radio station or worse, sings along, or worse still, tells you that you shouldn’t sing along because you’re a little pitchy.

***A woman who spends the entire car ride with the vanity mirror open either applying make up or wiping gunk out of the corners of her eyes.

***A woman who makes you drive past her boyfriend’s house or office. This ALWAYS ends in tears.

***A woman who marinates in perfume or “just has two puffs” of a cigarette right before strapping in next to you.

***A woman who is drunk. Yes, please, by all means be a designated driver but wait till she’s puked it all out on the street before taking her home. She still won’t be a pretty sight but at least you won’t have to clean your interior with Benzalkonium Chloride. And then throw your car away.

***A woman who takes your back-up water bottle out of your back-up cup holder to make room for their “mocha choca lata ya ya,” unless she really is Lady Marmalade. And if she is, bring her over to my house so I can gitchi gitchi ya ya with her. Even if I’m pitchy.

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One Response to “A Woman’s Place”

  1. D.G. Fulford says:

    so laughing at throwing the car away

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