Saturday, August 12, 2006

'Drive,' he said. 'Ohmigod Watch OUT!' he screamed soon after

Ask Mr. Long IslandBY MICHAEL WATT

New York State has decreed that it is legal and lawful and presumably a good idea for my newly minted 16 year-old son Alexander to operate an automobile, as long as he is in the company of a licensed driver over the age of 21.

What does the state of New York know? Was anyone from New York State with me when Alex and I went to a nearby parking lot to learn how to ride a two-wheeler? Did anyone from New York State notice that he had trouble negotiating the turn in the parking lot, to the point where Alex hit the pavement more often than a guy who comes up short paying off his bookie? Does anyone from New York State care to explain to me how I am going to deal with this, both emotionally and financially?

Of course not. They just gave him a test that somebody who has to have the jokes on Blue Collar Comedy TV explained to him could pass and voila! Learner’s permit issued and new driver on the road.

I am somewhat bemused by the law that says he can drive with anyone over 21 who has a driver’s license. Why not just tell it like it is and say he can only drive with a parent? Who else but a parent would get into a vehicle being driven by somebody born in the 1990s?

I guess somebody who gives driving lessons for a living would do so. I would love to know the thought process behind that career move. “H’mmmm, I need to make some extra money. What are my options? Let’s see…I can drive the street-cleaning machine in downtown Beirut (no, I hate getting up early)…sell sensitivity training session to members of the Ann Coulter fan club (not rewarding enough emotionally)…no, I think I will become a driving instructor.

My driving instructor, a crusty sort named Mr. Pappas, loved to slam on the brakes when he thought the three students in the back seat were not paying attention to the goings on in the front. Despite that he was a good teacher. Ironically, the one thing that stuck with me he predicted would stick with me. He told us it was important to take our keys out of our pockets BEFORE we get into the car because it was easier than fumbling around while sitting in the driver’s seat. He was right, of course, and I think of him almost every time I do it.

I may even share that little nugget with Alex, once I get over the shock of having to deal with this.

Being the perfect son that I was, I spared my parents the trials and tribulations of giving me driving instructions. I got all the practice I needed on the vans rented by the catering firm I worked for as a teenager. I started out just driving around the parking lot and eventually took my show on the road. It must have worked. Soon after I got my license I was sent to pick up a van at the rental place but all they had was a box truck with a stick shift.

“Do you know how to drive a stick?” the guy behind the counter asked.

“Not really,” I replied, meaning no.

“Well, you’re gonna learn.”

And so I did. The guy handed me the keys to the truck and said, “good luck.” I drove that truck the ten-or-so miles from Bellmore to Massapequa on Sunrise Highway, grinding away like Tina Turner trying to win a “Dance Like James Brown” contest. I made a mental note that afternoon never to purchase a truck from a rental company no matter how good a deal they offer.

There will no dodging of the parental driving bullet for me, however. This weekend I will dutifully climb into the passenger side of the car (the engine of which I have just replaced) and start the process. I will do my best not to put a hole in the floor trying to hit the imaginary brake that will serve as the only thing between me and the same untimely demise I imagine becoming of me every time I fly and we hit turbulence. I will endeavor to say all the right things and exude Ward Cleaver-like patience when in reality I want to scream “For the Love of God, Man, don’t you see that other car coming?”

I am sure it will go well. Alex is a mature young man who, while still prone to goofy outbursts, understands that adult pleasures bring adult responsibilities. My trouble adjusting to this new development in my parental career really stems back from the day I saw one of my older brother’s friends driving for the first time. “I can’t believe I’m old enough to be friends with somebody who has a driver’s license.” Now I can’t believe I’m old enough to be responsible for somebody with a driver’s license.

At least that’s what New York State tells me. LIke I said, what do they know?

Thank you for reading this column.

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