Driving the Petunia

After some family members had visited our home it was time to take them to the airport for their journey back to California. The trip to the airport is about an hour and a half long which gave us time to talk. The discussion this morning was about driving. I have mentioned in a prior blog that I love to drive. But how I drive now is completely different than how I used to drive in my 20s and 30s. Among the passengers in the car was my father-in-law, a product of America’s greatest generation. And so during the conversation there were some memory shared by family members on car trips. I think that all families go through these moments, so I’ve decided to give them some thought.

One of the thoughts is about how when some people drive there is the practice of the driver that there will be no “stopping until we get there”. You know what I mean; somebody in the car is hungry or they have to go to the bathroom about every 15 minutes. There are those drivers that just refuse to stop. It is as if the 15 minute delay would destroy the days schedule. I think all of us as children remember the days of long car trips were dad or mom (whoever was the usual driver for the family) would decline any requests to pullover. What is more irritating is that even as adults, particularly as we got older, the driver of the vehicle has the power to deny any request to pullover. It is as if they pullover something terrible is going to happen.

There are also those drivers who drive so fast that they seem to get too close to the cars in front of them. It is as if the presence of their car can magically make the car ahead go faster. They are the same drivers that feel like the person in front of them are driving too slow even if the car ahead is driving the speed limit. You can hear them yell to the car ahead to speed up or get out of the way, as if the car in front of them could really hear it. As a young person, you will usually just hold on with white knuckles and look to the side so you would not have to see how close you are to the other car. As an adult, especially spouse, some words of advice “like slow down” or “are you trying to kill us” comes out in various levels of volume. This usually does not dissuade the driver from their actions. What will really get them riled up is to be on a road that has no areas for passing. I’ve even observed some people pass other cars on the right just to get around. Following too closely is one of the major contributors to serious accidents today. That being said, it doesn’t seem to affect those drivers who feel that the air cushion in front of their car can push the car in front of them to go faster.

Of equal concern is the driver who drives about 20 miles an hour below the speed limit. They declare the right to go whatever speed they want and refused to pullover just so that speeder can pass them. To listen to the slow driver, they would tell you that that the other driver was doing at least 100 mile an hour. This is the same driver, while driving on a four-lane highway, refuses to get out of the left or fast lane to the slower right lane.

There are those drivers who seem to follow the rule that if the speed limit is 70 miles an hour they must do 70 miles an hour. The drivers don’t necessarily try to driveway above the speed limit, but they refused to slow down when negotiating turns or bad spots in the road. I think these drivers are cousins to the driver who just does not want anyone to pass them. You know the ones that are driving about 15 miles an hour below the speed limit until you get behind them. And they may slow down to 20 miles an hour below the speed limit and when you decide that you want to pass them they speed up to speed limit or beyond. This is more like a game when you’re on multilane road, but it is a serious concern when you’re on a two lane road. Many times while driving on a two lane country road I end up behind a vehicle that just doesn’t seem to know what speed they want to go. If I’m behind them they would slow down to almost a stop at the next thing I know they’re going well over the speed limit. I usually can observe that this person is either on the phone or talking to the person next to them. I’ve always wondered why they must look at the person in the passenger seat to talk to them. They are usually the same drivers who use their hands as communication tools while talking. I think once they realize that their speed has drop-down and they are not paying attention they get back into the serious action of driving.

I have also experienced what I call the rabbit driver. You know they are the ones that speed up quickly at the stoplight. They move from lane to lane if given the slightest room between two cars. They are in a hurry to get in back of the car in front of them, only to change lanes to gain that one car length advantage. The only time I like to see the rabbit is when I am on the freeway. They fly up behind me in the right hand lane and then quickly move around me, usually doing about 20 miles over the speed. The reason I like to see them on the freeway is that if there’s any law enforcement on the road they are going to see the rabbit. I am less likely to be the object of their attention. Rabbits do not always drive little sports cars. The biggest rabbits are the 18 wheelers. Most of those drivers are very good drivers. But the rabbit 18 wheeler drives those rigs like they are sports cars.

This brings me to the title of this blog driving the Petunia. I call my wife, the Petunia. I have become accustomed to driving with her help. Unlike many passenger who continually yell out at the driver during a trip, she uses a series of hand gestures. You know like if she thinks I’m going to fast she moves her hand up and down in a slowdown motion. She doesn’t do this in front of my face, I have peripheral vision and I see the motion. In my older age I am more than glad to slow down. Of course there is that usual move to the handgrip on the passenger side of the door. You know the one where people feel like they’re probably going to end up in a wreck and so they are holding on for dear life. This usually requires me to drive slower on the curves. There are a series of other hand gestures that communicate to me that my passenger is uneasy with my driving. I’ve seen many couples end up in a raging argument because the passenger (commonly called the backseat driver) is unhappy with the driver. I made a deal with my wife a long time ago that saying, or even yelling ”LOOK OUT”, is always in order. As much as I would like to believe that I can see everything around my vehicle there are those blind spots and times when I just do not see the other vehicle. I would prefer that she yell, look out, rather than end up in an accident.

So as I drove to the airport today and I listened to and participated in conversations about our moms or dads and their loved ones driving adventures, it occurred to me that we all go through these driving experiences. How many times while riding as a passenger have you stepped on the floorboard as if there was a break on your side? I would bet it’s happened a lot. How many times have you put your hand out on the dashboard of the car on the passenger side of the vehicle as if to prepare for an accident?

All of these have and will continue to happen while driving the Petunia. And my thought on this is that if you are the driver, have some patience and listen to your passenger. Don’t just pullover to the side of the road and yell at your passenger.” Okay then dammit you do the driving”.


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