Driving north on Washington Avenue in my hometown yesterday I heard, before I saw, the fire trucks headed my way. As the line of cars ahead of me began to slow and move to the right the first truck came around the corner, screaming sirens, lights flashing and here comes someone alongside me on the left trying to pass. The fire truck had to swerve a bit and hit its horn, if you thought the siren was loud this horn made it perfectly clear he should get the hell out of the way. I don’t know what came over me, perhaps it was the thoughts of my Father on this anniversary of losing him nine years ago, perhaps it was the stupidity of this jackass but I couldn’t help launch into a blistering tirade on the rules of the road. From the confines of my car I wanted to know who the hell this stupid bastard (a favorite expression of my father’s for use in cases just like this) thought he was putting these people, who were volunteering to race into a burning building, in danger. As I started my tirade the next truck came toward us and this guy must have caught on and jumped in front of me and slowed down a bit. On I went with my tirade, making it perfectly clear that under no circumstance should you ever put these people in danger and that you should summon up all the respect you can for the people doing this job for no pay both on and off the road. I was pretty animated. The man in the car ahead of me thought he understood why I was carrying on and offered that I go ahead of him. I assured him he could go and it had nothing to do with him cutting in front of me. I would rather he be in front of me. My father always pointed out that people like him, before we had any understanding of Karma, were accidents waiting to happen and it would be best if you could see them when they made their last wrong move. Then you could react and avoid being caught up in their bullshit (he was a fan of that word too).
These were my Father’s words but certainly not at this decibel (ever) or with this ferocity (ever). When teaching me to yield to emergency vehicles he simply stated that he never wanted to hear that I got pulled over for not doing so. There was no drama, just the facts of a small town where you might get pulled over, you might not get a ticket, but your family would surely hear about it at some point. Probably at the bar over a beer shared after work one day. Life in a small town for a daughter, of a Father that everyone knew, that was a bit “high-spirited” could be a little precarious. He knew what he was up against.
These were just the unwritten rules of his road. They were written somewhere I’m sure but for me they were his. My Father drove for our local dry cleaner for 40 something years and when he had spare time he went for a ride. He loved to drive. When he could no longer drive, I had the unfortunate business of taking his beloved license from him; he loved to be taken for a ride. He knew all our local roads and he taught us any number of unwritten rules, like always know several ways to get home, pull as far to whichever side you are turning so the guy behind you can get around you, always use your signal, and never use your horn. If you can yield to a delivery man you’ll make his life easier. To this day I let the “working people” go ahead of me. Never be the last person through the one lane anything, hang back let the other side go. Be that person that enjoys the road and leave the hysterics to the other guy.
I’m sure the unwritten rules he gave me were different from the ones he gave my sister. I remember him getting in the car with me for the first time and saying where should we go. It wasn’t like he didn’t know I had already been driving for several years. Someone always had a car and I learned what I could from them. I could do a mean jack rabbit with my friend Paul’s 62 Falcon with the shift on the column…but I digress. My sister always talks about some double line rule that will always take you home. I never had that particular discussion with my Father, we each had hand tailored discussions based on our personalities and our age difference.
I get my love of driving from him, I drive wherever I can and these days he would be over the moon to see what I’m driving. I know like I know I can get home from anywhere and made it my business to put the girls in the car and explore my new neighborhood as soon as I could.
I’m glad he wasn’t around to see the advent of texting while driving, or putting makeup on while driving or the ever present road rage. He used to drive during the day and be surrounded by “housewives and money hungry salesmen”.
He used to say that the best he could hope for on a busy day is that the school bus would be in the rearview mirror. Yeah, that’s still true for me too. And yeah, his driving lessons, his driving legacy are secure, how often I wish others knew and followed them. Miss you.