Driving My Dad To Distraction

I remember the first time I drove as if it were yesterday: a descent into automobile hell. Dante's phrase, "All hope abandon, ye who enter here!" could have been a bumper sticker on my father's one-year-old '63 Pontiac Ventura. Canary yellow, the car had the Detroit muscle Bruce Springsteen built a musical career on.

It was a Saturday afternoon in the fall. My best friend's kid sister snuggled up next to me (no seat belts, let alone seat-belt laws). She no longer qualified as "kid" or "sister." We were on our way to a high school football game.

The front seat was more comfortable than my mother's sofa. Stopped at a red light, kissing my date, my foot slipped off the brake. The V-8, throaty on leaded octane, more than tapped the car in front. No one hurt. No billable damage to either car. Just an exchange of driver's licenses, an explanation due two sets of parents, and a silent night in my room trying not to think about what my father was thinking downstairs.

Three days later, my mother picked me up after school. "But Mom, Dad said I couldn't drive the car alone. With you in it, I can drive home."

Maternal weakness exploited.

Mom was 5 feet, 2 inches tall, and where she had adjusted the front seat for the drive over was too close for me. I released the lever and pushed the seat back (remember, no seat belts). Pulling out while still adjusting the seat, I slammed on the brakes to avoid a car that had appeared from somewhere out of the Twilight Zone.

Since the seat was still not secure, it jolted forward when I hit the brakes. I braced my forward motion against the steering wheel. Mom stopped her forward motion with the windshield.

Again, no one was hurt. Just a big spiderweb on the passenger's side of the glass. And a father who was asking if he owed the human race big-time for giving the keys to his firstborn.

Three days later, Sunday. The eighth day since my first drive. Dad got up to buy the paper before church.

"I'll go, Dad," I volunteered. "Five minutes there and back - in the car." He hesitated, then tossed me the keys. More careful than a diamond cutter, I backed out of the driveway.

At Jerry's Candy Store, as usual, there was no parking space. I'd sat in the car a dozen times as my father double-parked. Coming out with the Daily News under my arm, I saw a cop writing me a ticket.

The universe wasn't cruel - it was diabolical.

I walked into the house and gave Pop the paper and car keys. I handed him the ticket. "Double-parking.... I'll pay the $5 fine." He didn't say a word. But this time, his eyes were laughing.

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