Stand By Your Man, Just Not In Your Car
Ladies, have you ever driven with a man in your passenger seat? If so, my condolences.
By Janis Hirsch
My Peach Of A Guy
There are days when I’d rather take my chances with a crazy-eyed, pants-less hitchhiker on a lonely section of the Pan American Highway than drive my husband to the grocery store. Don’t misunderstand: on dry land, he’s a peach of a guy – funny, good-natured and laid-back often to the point of narcolepsy. But put me behind the wheel and strap him in shotgun position, and my Dr. Jekyll turns into Mr. Hyde the Sharp Objects From Me ‘Cause You’re Dancing On My Last Nerve.
He starts out by giving me directions to the place I go to at least 5 times a week. And the directions he gives me take me seriously out of the way. I point this out and he assures me that he’s timed it. Really? You’ve timed it from our house to Ralph’s Fresh Fair Market? Really? He assures me that his circuitous route is much more efficient than my straight line. After all, he grew up in this city and I’ve only lived here for 31 years. Resisting the urge to start a fight before we’re out of the driveway, I swallow my pride (because God knows, I’ve swallowed worse) and do as I’m told.
When we get stuck in hideous traffic – which we always do because his routes always suck – he waves it away with one of the following: “I forgot it was Saturday” — even though earlier I had said: “You wanna go that way on a Saturday? You know what Saturday traffic is like”; or “Let’s turn around, we can find something to eat at home” — just because your perfect dinner is Cheerios and a hot dog doesn’t mean it’s mine too; or “Hey, if you knew a better route, why didn’t you take it?” — words fail me on this one.
For the rest of the drive, I seethe and mutter as he slams on imaginary brakes, audibly winces every time I pass a parked car on his right side and braces for impact whenever I hang a left.
The Joys Of Motherhood
Don’t misunderstand: Marriage is not a requirement to go through this special level of hell although being married to your passenger does give you more to talk to your shrink about. But all you really need for a wholly unpleasant gad about town is to be a woman behind the wheel with a man, any man, behind the glove compartment.
Back in the olden days when my son would deign to be seen with me in broad daylight, we did the college visit thing together. Because we’d leave before dawn (actual dawn, not his dawn which is noon), I’d drive there and after the tour, he’d drive home. Simple and fair division of labor, you’re thinking. But oh, it was so much more.
Before we set out, Charlie’d turn the passenger seat into something fit for a Pasha. He’d fully recline it, which was fine for sleeping but lousy if you wanted to use the carpool lane because it rendered him virtually invisible. He’d outfit his nest with my newest pillows and softest blankets, he’d strap on my lavender eye-mask and shove in a pair of the ear plugs my husband orders by the case because HIS OWN SNORING WAKES HIM UP, I swear to God. Charlie would then adjust the temperature to whatever suited him at that particular moment in time confident that like a Horned Lizard in the Sonoran Desert, I will adapt to my environment. Only then did was he able to go to sleep.
Fine. Highly annoying but fine.
With no passenger to talk to and no friends who are up and chatty at 5:15 AM, I’d turn on that head-bangers’ delight, that bastion of senseless noise, NPR. After a few pathetic “Please? I’ve got a big day and really need to sleep” from the passenger bed, I’d adjust the audio so that only the drivers’ side speaker was on, turning the volume down to 3. Have you ever had the volume down to 3? I hear my neighbor-3-doors-down’s “Everybody Loves Raymond” rerun more clearly. Once I heard him snoring, I’d creep the volume up to 4. Immediately, my son The Prince and The Pea would flip up the eye mask and glare at me like an indignant dowager.
Because I am the world’s greatest mother – ask anyone, except you know, my son — I’d dutifully turn it down to 1 and then drive 120 miles crouched over the speaker where’d I’d hear nothing except for the occasional phrase: “Thank you, Neda Ulaby.”
And don’t start with me about my wearing headphones. They’re both illegal and uncomfortable although I once listened to a “Fresh Air” podcast I’d downloaded to my phone with said phone perched on my shoulder, pirate parrot-style.
But on the way home, it was all different. He was driving. Not that I wanted to Lie In State on my passenger seat, but I was forbidden to use the Pasha’s pillows because my hair would make them smell funny. And he “needed” his music because he was so tense about colleges and that cleared his head. Since he said that with a straight face I figured the least I could do was go along. Maybe I’d like what the Young People were listening to. It gave me a stabbing pain behind my eye.
Call Me Glamorpuss
Because I was expected to stay awake, although only speak when our exit was approaching, I had the temerity to ask for a quick stop at Starbucks. Since my son lives on air until after midnight when he eats his weight in In N Out burgers, he found my request for sustenance odd, which left me no choice. I’d resort to my Mean Scary Mom voice. You know what I’m talking about. Every mother has one: I swear if Obama wanted to stop all this nonsense in Afghanistan, he should just send a half-dozen sleep-deprived, hungry, pissed off, hormonal mothers and those Taliban would be good as gold. And draw you a picture for your refrigerator.
So I’d insist on coffee and he’d pull in to one of the thousand Starbucks in whatever college town we were in, muttering: “You’re an addict, you know that, right?” To which I’d respond: “You’re damn right.”
Sighing heavily about those wasted 4 minutes he’d pull out of the parking lot before I had my door closed. Once he rocketed out so fast that I sloshed my coffee all over my blouse and because we needed to take a plane home, I insisted we buy me a clean blouse. And because I looked like the world’s worst Wet T-Shirt contestant, I insisted he go in and buy it for me.
He pulled into the first shopping center we passed. I’m not used to seeing competing taxidermy shops in the same mini-mall but my coffee-soaked blouse was beginning to stick to my scalded upper body, which rendered me totally unfussy.
There was a boutique that appeared to specialize in clothes Goodwill refused to take. I gave Charlie ten bucks and said: “Get me a medium anything.” He came back shell-shocked from having to touch lady clothes, which pleased me to no end, and handed me a turquoise number that smelled like kerosene. For modesty’s sake, I made him drive behind the dumpster so I could change – I know, I know, that’s me puttin’ on airs again — where I couldn’t even get the blouse over my head. Clearly, it was a “medium” for preemies. We drove back to the store, he went back in and got me an XXXXXL, which fit like a sausage casing but it only cost $2.99, so who am I to complain?
I know what you’re thinking. I brought this on myself. Why don’t I just fasten a ball-gag in my husband’s mouth before we go off for a spin? Why don’t I strap my son to the roof of the car like Mitt Romney’s dog?
I’d like to think it’s because I’m so highly evolved, so filled with love, so truly at peace with myself that I don’t need to score points or get in fights over something as petty all this.
The real reason? Let ‘em moan and groan. After all, I’m the one in the driver’s seat.