Sunday, March 8, 2015

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

I’ll admit it: I’m a bit of a control freak. And while I do not particularly LIKE to drive, I prefer to drive myself rather than put myself at the mercy of someone else’s driving skills.  The truth is that I know I don’t see as well as I should, so I drive with extra care to make up for it. I can’t say that about everyone.
It was only sheer necessity, then, that forced me—and I do not use the word lightly—to ask Allen to drive me to school on Saturday. My car was, alas, in the shop for a new starter after a very near mishap in the ice and snow on Friday. All’s well that ends well and no one was hurt, but the very prospect of riding with Allen filled me with something akin to terror. I was not to be disappointed.

I’d like to make it clear here that my youngest son is, in all ways, a great person. A bit quirky sometimes—all my kids are—but essentially great. He was willing to drive me in return for some gas money. So, what else was new? He covered over the gashes in his passenger seat with a blanket, very thoughtful, and climbed over the steering column to open the door for me. Yes, the right door to Allen’s van does not open from the outside.

Allen’s van is, well, let’s use the word functional. He has alternately in the last two years played video games in it, carted computers around in it, collected scrap metal in it, and for a brief period of time known in our family lore as “moving out” slept in it for two weeks last summer, joined by his cat Sugar under extreme protest. Needless to say, it does not win the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. But it runs, which is its saving grace.

Allen has driven me to Springfield before, but he is good at forgetting directions, so after I make sure we are on I-95 South—not North—the real fun begins. We are passing Chichester Avenue when he suddenly veers to the left. I grab for the door handle. There is no door handle.

“What’s up?” I ask with as much calmness as I can muster. Which is not, I will admit, much.

“Darn van doesn’t do well on the highway,” he says. “It’s the wind.”

I had not noticed discernable wind today, but Allen gets the car back in the right lane and I try to get my heart to return to normal sinus rhythm. All is well for a few more brief moments, until the van veers to the right, narrowly missing the barrier. “Allen!” I shout. Yes, I shout.

“What?” he asks nonchalantly.

“What’s up with your car?” I ask.

“Nothing,” he says. “I've got it.” I beg to differ as he is traveling dangerously close to the highway divide, but I need all of my breath to breathe.

Our journey continues in the same manner; Allen veers, I gasp. At one point in time when a truck bears down upon us and blares the horn, I actually see my life flash before my eyes and grab onto Allen’s arm. He pretends he does not notice. “Am I getting off at 202?” he asks and I am tempted to say yes, even though it is two exits before where I need to be. Perhaps I can call a taxi?

I think I have at least one mini-stroke as my son almost misses the second exit to Delaware Avenue, then careens over a pile of snow and avoids parked cars by inches. I motion him to pull over at the Nemours Building and I climb over a pile of slush as I get out of the car.

“Do you know your way back?” I ask. “Sure,” he says. I pray that it is so.

“When,” he asks me, “do you need to be picked up?”

I am still trying to breathe and I cannot under any circumstances imagine repeating this ride. People at Disneyworld would pay big money for the terror, but I value my life too much.
“I’ll get a ride home,” I say. He shrugs and pulls out. Later on, I cajole a student in my class to drive me home. Professors have a little power. That evening, I mention to Allen that he might need to have a front end alignment on his van.

“Maybe,” he says. “But it could just be you.”

Could be.

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