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Driving me crazy

I’ve yet to perfect my role as passenger of Little Miss Learner’s Permit. I claw at the door, as if some part of my subconscious is considering abandoning the vehicle by leaping to safety. My foot is constantly searching for the brake. “It doesn’t work on that side,” Grace says, which is exactly what I said to my dad when I was learning to drive. I can’t believe what a smart ass she is. I’m sure it was much funnier when I said it.

A cop car pulls into the grocery store parking lot just as we’re looking for a spot. Apparently Grace has absorbed my Protestant guilt, because upon seeing the squad car she says, “Oh, no. He’s going to arrest me.” But he doesn’t. She parks the car, we shop, and leave without incident.

On the way home and back on the highway, we’re waiting in a left turn lane for an inordinate amount of time. At first, I don’t really think about it. It’s nice to be at a stop when your teenager is driving for only the sixth or seventh time. Also, waiting at stoplights is business as usual in our particular suburb. Maybe it’s that way in a lot of places where people can’t be trusted to make a left turn using their own common sense. To be honest, we’re a town of morons when it comes to driving. At stop signs, no one remembers that the driver on the right has right of way, so we’re all giving each other the “you-go” shoo until two people end up going at once, often with disappointing results.

But several minutes had gone by and still no green arrow. A cop car (this town is crawling with 'em, see previous paragraph for possible explanation) was tending to an issue on the other side of the road, thus inducing a white emergency light flashing above the stoplights, and likely responsible for the never-changing turn light. The car ahead of us bolted out of the turn lane, followed by the car in front of him.

“Really?” Grace asked. “I thought we were in this together.”

“Yeah, we gotta get out of this lane,” I said, checking the rearview mirror. It was clear behind us for a half a mile. “It’s clear now if you go.”

“What? How?” Grace asked.

“Turn on your right turn signal, then go.”

Just as I said this, the cop turned his squad car around so he was facing the intersection. And the light turned yellow.

“Go now,” I said, adding extravagant hand gestures as we passed in front of the cop, the international symbol for “I am a parent trying to will my car to respond to my directions, even though it is being driven by a person who not long ago required assistance eating, bathing, and completing the digestive process.”

It’s unnerving to drive with someone who has recently completed driver’s ed, even though (or especially because) they know all the latest factoids about driving safety. Think your 10-and-2 hand position on the steering wheel is safe? Nope. If you’re in an accident, the airbag is going to break your wrists like cheap pretzels.

Just before we go over some railroad tracks, she says, “Okay, if we’re on the tracks and a train is coming, we jump out and run toward the train.”

“How about if we don’t cross the tracks if a train is coming?”

“I don’t intend to, but it’s best to have a plan just in case.”

“But why would we run at the train?”

“Because what do you think will happen when the train hits your car? The debris will go flying and it could kill you.”

“But if we’re running toward the train, wouldn’t we get killed anyway?”

“No, Mom. We’re not running on the tracks toward the train. We’re running toward the train alongside the tracks, away from the exploding car.”

“Oh. That makes sense.” By this time we are blocks from the scene where this tragedy might have taken place. Even though the car did not get struck by a train and we are not running along the tracks, fleeing debris, I’m unnerved. My hand twitches on the door handle. My foot feels for the brake.

“It’s good to be prepared, isn’t it?” she asks cheerfully.

“I guess,” I mumble.
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