“I’ll wait in the car”

My dad was a good sport. He always picked me up from swim practice. He always drove me to the mall. For life in suburbia, parental quality was measured in a parent’s willingness to get in the car and pick up their kids. My dad was always there.

He would bring a book, usually something on Japanese history or Buddhist philosophy. No matter what we were doing, he’d say, “okay, I’ll wait in the car.” Sometimes he’d be sitting there for hours, he claimed. When he forgot his book, he’d admonish himself, shaking his head, “I should have known better” as I finished a three hour goodbye to my latest best friend at swim practice.

In typical dad fashion, he also saw it as his responsibility to fill all our vehicles with gas. As a collector of old beat up cars and with two daughters who “knew” how to drive, he would often spend the whole afternoon taking different cars from our driveway to the gas station and back. When he got sick and couldn’t drive anymore on his medicine, it was so important for him to fill the car for us that my sister and I risked our lives in one of the most harrowing journeys to the gas station I think we’ll ever experience. With him behind the wheel and his oxygen tank in the back seat, he pulled out of the driveway straight into a bush, unsuccessfully tried to swipe his grocery store rewards card into the machine, and then forgot his credit card twice at the pump before collapsing back into the car. The drive back was as scary as the drive there.

But we knew how much these things meant to him. He had been doing them all our lives. Even at his most sick, he still wanted to care for us the way he knew how. He still wanted to drive us around. He still wanted to wait in the car.

The Truck

The last thing I gave away before moving to the Netherlands was our family’s 1994 Ford F150 black truck with maroon leather interior, a tape deck and a ripped out glove compartment.

I learned how to drive with my dad in that truck, going back and forth with him to work at a country club about 30 minutes from home, he as the gardener and me as the new overdressed and underconfident pool snack bar attendant.

As a lanky teen with poor posture, the truck enveloped me and every curb I ran over. It was as clumsy as I was; the companion I needed but was not sure I wanted to have. When I got my license, I would barrel into the high school parking lot and struggling for twenty minutes to fit it into a spot.

My dad also used it for his business which meant every time I opened the door, a spade or a set of gardening shears would fall out. It had endless packs of gum, Q-tips, wintergreen pink mints, and bungie cords on the floor. The back carried a wheelbarrow, rolling forward when I stopped at a red light and whacking the back window as it came. Neither my dad nor I ever bothered to move these things. They were just part of the truck, part of the experience of driving it to the supermarket or to the gym. Whenever I had passengers, I would simply sweep everything off the bucket seat onto the floor and tell them to hop in.

When the pandemic hit, I missed this truck with a sudden intensity that surprised me, not having thought about it for years. I suddenly missed the freedom it allowed me in my teens and throughout my twenties. Something that was at times an inconvenience had become a legacy. The truck from ’94. Still there, still reliable, still inefficient. I could go anywhere, with anyone, as long as it was at a country-road pace. My dad drove it with a lazy comfort and diligent dad carefulness that it had grown accustomed to. The truck always took it easy. Later in life, it liked to take things even slower.

And having had a good long easy life, the truck has since retired. It now lives in a hippy commune upstate, in New Hampshire. I gave it to a friend when I left, and her son drove it there, realizing as he went that it would not make it back. It will live out its final days amongst the hippies, not far from where it started. Perhaps it will become part of a garden like the ones it helped to build.

“Wanna drive around?”

Last night, I had a nightmare about driving. These aren’t uncommon and always seem to involve me losing control of the car, or forgetting how to drive.

I was never a good driver. When I got my license, it was so surprising to my parents that my mom refused to get in the car with me for a full year and a half after I passed. My dad used to joke that my sense of direction was so bad that I had to drive to the mall to orient myself before driving anywhere else. It acted as my North Star. Even then, in the earlier days of my driving life, on a rainy day with poor visibility, I accidentally turned left out of the mall parking area into a two lane highway of oncoming traffic. Sometimes I think back on some of my driving adventures and am indeed surprised I made it through. When others got “prettiest eyes” or “most likely to succeed” as senior superlatives in the high school yearbook, I was nominated by my peers for a new category, complete with picture: worst driver.

I received the award with a certain amount of honor, and I will add: I have never been in or been responsible for a car accident. Just an occasional bump into a parked car (always leaving a note!) or a curb.

Nowadays, I don’t drive, and my biking abilities have vastly improved in Corona times since I don’t use public transit anymore either. But at the start of this pandemic, I missed driving more than anything else. I grew up in a town where that was the main past-time, driving around in circles, stopping at the convenience store, listening to music, breathing in teenage second-hand cigarette smoke. There is nothing that relaxes me more than a 90s soft rock song blasting on the radio as I wiz by trees on an empty suburban road.

But perhaps, at least for now, the world is better off without me behind the wheel. Now I listen to these songs at home, and think back nostalgically on my younger years. It’s strange what people idealize from their youth. I suppose my dreams remind me of a reality I choose to forget.