This week our family traveled from Oregon to Utah and back – almost 2000 miles – to a family reunion. Wendy drove about 1800 of those miles, while I acted as co-pilot, checking distances and refilling her water bottle.
Obviously I have no Chauvinistic hang-up with having to be the driver on family outings “because I’m the man”. Wendy and I did have disagreements about this in the early years of our marriage. I like to drive and she likes to drive – nothing wrong there, it’s something we have in common. It’s just that there are some stylistic differences between her driving and mine.
Wendy’s driving style is to drive a safe speed, notice everything, put no excessive strain on the engine, and provide a smooth ride for her passengers. Mine is to get to the intended destination without physically making contact with other vehicles or embedding small animals of more than 50 lbs mass into the grill.
Wendy’s observation skills are amazing, to say the least. She notices wildlife near the road, such as deer, pheasants, and mice. She notices billboards and landmarks, and she notices wrecks and dangerous objects from miles away.
But mostly she notices police.
She notices police driving, or especially parked in sneaky locations behind shrubs or on overpasses. She sees them whether they are in patrol cars or unmarked cars, on a motorcycle or out of uniform watching their child play soccer. When Wendy sees the police while driving, everyone knows because she’ll stomp the brakes to slow down from five mph under the speed limit to ten mph under, and she’ll yell, “Everybody DOWN!”
This is because the kids might be doing absolutely anything illegal or dangerous, such as sitting in a seatbelt not approved for small children, or touching their sister.
Still, the reason I generally let Wendy drive is not because she’s the better driver, it’s because I’m the better passenger. If the car takes a sudden lurch or gets a little close to another vehicle while I’m the passenger, I just look at it like an amusement park ride. When it’s over, we’re all safe, and we can go get a corn dog.
As my passenger, Wendy’s take on the experience probably aligns nicely with her view of airplane crashes – I haven’t asked her, but I’m judging by the screaming, the hyperventilation, and the grip she places on the entry handle.
You know, if she would just close her eyes, it would probably be a lot more comfortable for her.
She also insists on giving me a lot of directions, such as “Stay within the lines, please!” or “Watch the road, would you!” Sometimes her directions are self-contradicting, like “turn right at the next light”, and “Do NOT turn right across three lanes of traffic!”
In the last few years I have had the opportunity to have my co-workers as passengers, and, as it turns out, Wendy’s view of my driving is not unique.
Mike told me “I can understand using the shoulder to go around a car turning left – and I can even understand doing that at 60 mph, but not when there is another car using the shoulder!”
Tom says, “Stop far enough behind the other vehicle that you can still see its tires, please!”
They both claim to get muscle strain from involuntary attempts to hit the brakes.
Officer Cummins of the OHP has a different view of my driving. He hasn’t seen me driving while thumbing through my notebook looking for phone numbers, or using both hands to scratch that itch under my left shoulder blade. He simply thinks I should slow down.
He and I chat about it every few weeks on Highway 99 between Rickreall and Amity. He’s a good man, in his 30’s, with a wife and two children. He loves his job, and recently bought a wood smoker.
I admit it, Wendy is a very good driver, and I'm needing improvement. So in the interest of marital harmony, and general laziness, I let Wendy drive about 28 hours of barren Western landscape.
In addition to my copilot duties I played Sudoku on my blackberry and learned how to solve the Rubiks cube. I also worked on my observation skills, so that I can one day become as good a driver as Wendy. I’m getting better! I even noticed a lady having a baby on the freeway – with three patrol cars, lights flashing, and feet up against the side windows.
. . . After Wendy pointed it out.