Wheels

I’m a pretty sedate person. In fact, my calm and deadpan demeanor has inspired one of my brothers to occasionally call me the android. If memory serves he’s the one who said I could probably fool the Turing test to determine the difference between human and artificial intelligence. This can sometimes cause odd conversations and/or reactions while behind the wheel or as a passenger in a car. After all, Americans love their cars and when you’re cruising it should be a time for dynamic tunes, conversation and all-around fun. Not when I’m your passenger.

Take, for example, the time said brother went with me to drop off my best friend Brandon and his then-girlfriend back at the University of Pittsburgh. A few days prior I had left Penn State to pick them up then take them back across the state to the Allentown area we all were from. I think this all came after our oldest brother fell asleep at the wheel from driving too much between visiting his girlfriend, working and school. So, when taking them back to Pitt my brother wanted me to swing by PSU so he could drive back and I could rest. We took the long way to Pittsburgh but noticed that we could take a different route back to school. However, having never driven that route before it was unfamiliar. As we were leaving the steel city my brother was driving at highway speeds at night; I was sitting in the passenger seat listening to GWAR. There was a curve ahead and the road surface was wet. We started to slide to the right, my brother adjusted, then we slid to the left, my brother adjusted, back to the right, and with one final adjustment we straightened out – my brother shouting, “I’M SORRY, JASON. I’M SORRY, JASON,” with each turn. After straightening out, he was breathing heavily through his nostrils. He asked, “are you okay?” Very nonchalantly I replied, “uh-huh.” He drove with his left hand and with his right proceeded to pound my shoulder saying, “F— YOU! SHOW SOME CONCERN, DAMN IT!” Ah, yes, there’s nothing like brotherly love.

I can also be a smart-ass in my deadpan, matter-of-fact style. Like the time Brandon and I had been shopping for something and were on the way to my parents’ house to eat dinner before hitting the volleyball courts. I had mentioned wanting to know the time, so Brandon turned on his car radio. There was no clock in the car but the local news radio station told the time frequently. I said, “I think it’s 4:48.” A little down the road I modified my estimate, “It’s 4:49, now.” Then came 4:50, then 4:51, then 4:52. About eight seconds after I said, “It’s 4:53, now,” the newscaster said, “4:53 is your time, and now the traffic report.” Once again the driver dropped the f-bomb on me.

I remember these moments quite well because once I did get my license I preferred to drive myself. Perhaps it’s a trust issue. But I always had the utmost trust in my brother’s and Brandon’s driving abilities. Even after our sliding in Pittsburgh, I continued to let my brother drive me around. Like the time his Caravan didn’t pass inspection. He decided to trade it in for whatever he could get for it. I went with him when he test drove the Jeep Wrangler he finally purchased. Driving the van back to the dealership to get the Wrangler once they cleaned it up for him and approved all loans was eventful. We were in Pennsylvania in December so there were a few icy spots on the road. We were descending a hill and began to slide, not unlike the time we left Pittsburgh. Once again, “I’M SORRY. I’M SORRY.” And once again he asked if I was okay. Had I been listening to GWAR it would’ve been a carbon copy of that night years before. And, true to form, he proceeded to pound my shoulder, cussing me out once again.

Driving from Fayetteville, NC to the Allentown area in a U-haul which required me to keep the steering wheel turned to the 10 o’clock position just to stay straight was the time I had the near miss that wasn’t. My friend Carl was driving our Subaru while I drove the U-haul, having ended our North Carolina residence far sooner than expected. (My wife was suffering brutal morning sickness with her first pregnancy, so we moved back to PA to be closer to family.) Carl hooked up his CB to both vehicles so we could communicate during our overnight drive. Overnight driving being the preferred time as we had no traffic to contend with. I believe it was the West Virginia welcome center just off I-81 where we pulled over to take a short nap, Carl was dragging. After about 30 minutes I went to wake Carl up. He said to go on without him and he’d meet me in the Lehigh Valley after getting a few more hours. So, I went on alone. About one hour later even my nocturnal body needed more rest. I pulled into a rest stop, parked between some tractor trailers and fell asleep. I woke up to a truck crossing in front of me. However, I thought I had been driving and fell asleep at the wheel – and now I was headed for the side of a semi! I’ve had far too much coca-cola in my life, heck I even drank Jolt a few times, but NOTHING is more stimulating than thinking you’re about to collide with a tractor trailer! Needless to say, I was wide awake for the remainder of the trip. The near miss that never happened, long will I remember it.

Even when driving I’m more like Doug MacKenzie than Bob. (For those of you who don’t know, I’m referring to the movie Strange Brew based on Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis’ SCTV characters.) I pretty much pulled the same move Doug did while driving in the winter. I was working overnight shifts and was driving back in the snow. Normally this is not a problem as I usually had the road pretty much to myself at 4AM, but this time I was following someone who didn’t know how to handle the snow. He kept stepping on his brakes every ten seconds. Sure enough, just as I expected, he started to slide, turning almost perpendicular to the direction of the road. I had been keeping my distance after seeing his driving habits, but knew I had to try to slow down. Sure enough, I started to slide, too. Like the time Doug MacKenzie realized the brakes on his truck weren’t working, I took my hands off the wheel and folded my arms, saying out loud, “Well, there’s no point in steering now.” I caught the edge of the road and regained some traction about fifteen feet from Einstein in front of me and was able to stop the car (with hands back on the wheel, of course). He also regained traction and pulled over. So, I passed him and continued on an uneventful rest of the ride home. And, after almost eight years of keeping that little story secret, my wife knows how I handled the snow in the wee hours of the night.

But the time I really and truly took my life into my hands happened this past summer. I was driving while tired and came close to falling asleep at the wheel. So, I did the unthinkable — I LET MY WIFE DRIVE ON THE INTERSTATE!!! It’s a good thing I was unconscious and couldn’t see the terror unfolding before me! But, we made it through. Actually, I like to pick on my wife a little bit, but she’s a fine driver and the only reason I was able to sleep in the car was because I really and truly did feel safe with my lovely bride at the wheel. I’m just anxiously awaiting her reading of this blog – if I’m present at the time I look forward to the look she’ll give me. Sometimes, that’s half the reason I have for writing some of the things I write.

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