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Driving Debauchery : The Automobile Woes of a Younger Me

Photo by Ricardo Esquivel on Pexels.com

I’m not old enough to get my learners permit yet, but there are a few things I’ve already decided I’m going to do when I drive:

  1. I will drive with both hands on the wheel.
  2. I won’t stuff more people in the car then there are seat belts.
  3. There will always be gas in my tank.
  4. I will get directions or take a map with me before I leave for my destination.
  5. And last, but certainly not least: NO URINATION ALLOWED IN MY VEHICLE.

I’m a terrible back-seat driver. I admit this. Driving is completely stressful for me. Not so much when Daddy drives; he is a good driver and doesn’t normally do anything erratic, but absolutely when Mom drives. Daddy’s craziest driving habit is pounding a handful of sunflower seeds into his mouth, picking them apart with his teeth, and then spitting the shells into a Styrofoam cup). Eww.

Mom, on the other hand, is a driving catastrophe. I’m always telling her to ‘LOOK OUT!’  for that guy crossing the street. Or, ‘STTOOOOP!!!’  At. That. Sign.  I freak out when she speeds through red lights, but she just shrugs her shoulders and says. “Oops! It was pink!” She doesn’t like it when I tell her she is being reckless. But I don’t like it when she drives with her knees and puts on make-up on the highway.  She says, “I haven’t killed the four of you yet”, and “A kid with no driving experience ought not be instructing her Mother.” Yada Yada.  But there is a reason Daddy doesn’t let her drive on road trips….he’s scared of her too.

Our family vehicle is a Volkswagen Vanogon, and that’s Mom’s ride.  We call it ‘The Van’ and we couldn’t possibly have a more embarrassing car.  My parents bought it when we were out visiting my grandparents in Colorado about 8 years ago. On the way back down from camping in the mountains, Daddy stopped at the first gas station and was attacked by a pack of rabid dogs. One bit him and another dog grabbed the gas cap my started father had dropped. Mom almost drove off the mountain trying to get Daddy to the hospital so he didn’t die from rabies or the plague.  He obviously survived, but I was traumatized by seeing him mauled. So much air got into our tank on the decent, that it nearly blew up.  Mom and Daddy had to get something new so they bought “The Van”. SIKE! Daddy did lose the gas cap at a station. My folks went into the dealership to get a replacement and came out with a souped up version of the same vehicle.  I have a tendency to embellish my stories.

The kids (the losers I call my younger siblings) are all oogie-eyed about the camper features, like the fold-down table and the pop-up top.  It’s totally gay.  The bench seat pulls out to connect the back to the “way back” and converts roughly to a full sized bed. Technically, The Van seats six, which is perfect for our family, but we have loaded, um, I think fourteen kids in there. You just pack them on the bed and have them sit on the floor and up where the stick shift is. It can be wild.  But it isn’t the inside of The Van which makes me cringe, it’s everything else.

First of all, you can hear The Van coming a couple blocks away. It chugs and sputters and occasionally backfires. It reminds me of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, except I don’t feel like bursting into song. I loathe the horn which Mom adores blasting… just to see me turn beet red.  It wails, all high-pitched and nasally at the same time. It’s the same obnoxious beep the trolley makes on Mr. Rogers.  And gee, but The Van is hideously ugly! Like a grey loaf of bread on wheels wearing one of those Jewish beanies.  So many other families we know have Dodge Caravans or Ford Windstars. Not us. Oh, no. We keep cars until they die, and then Mom lays hand on them and prays for them to be resurrected.

Oh, my word! So back to the urination story: Oma came out to visit us recently. She has to fly in to see us of course, because she lives in Ft. Collins. The visit was pretty normal, and all that. But when it came time for us to take her out to the airport I got a little concerned. The Toledo Airport is actually almost as far away as the Detroit Airport, and I know we had been driving around all week and hadn’t stopped to refuel. I asked Mom if we were going to gas up before we headed out to Swanton. She told me to stop worrying (because it’s a sin) and get the kids ready to go.

Everything was fine getting there and seeing Oma off. I was actually kinda relieved she was gone. Extended family always makes a big deal out of writing them and calling them and having more of a relationship with them….blah, blah, blah!  (They heap guilt on you the way Chris mounds Brussel sprouts on his plate.) As we merged onto the highway, The Van started sputtering and slowing down.  We were completely out of gas too far away to do anything about it.

To make matters worse, Mom hadn’t brought her purse with her. Even if one of us could have walked to a gas station…she didn’t have any money for us to buy fuel.  She didn’t have her driver’s license either, but I could care less at that point. I looked in my purse and I only had 13 cents left after buying my shampoo, deodorant and maxi-pads and last week. The only thing keeping us from being completely screwed was the weather. At least it was mild. Yay, or whatever.

When I asked Mom what we were gonna do, (sorry! going to do) she told us to all get out of The Van. We obeyed, but I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. She had us line, up oldest to youngest, next the car, and wave to passing traffic.  I would have preferred to jump IN FRONT of traffic but I was forced to do what I was told.  Mom stayed inside The Van because she thought people would help stranded kids.

After what seemed like an eternity, a State Highway Patrolman pulled over. When he stepped out of the squad car in his majestic uniform and his Smokey-the-Bear hat, my wildly beating heart jumped into my throat, and my stomach immediately went into spin cycle.

Only you can prevent empty gas tanks!

He was breathtaking: a chiseled, Greek god  here to protect and serve. I suddenly remembered what a complete retard I looked like, and I desperately wanted to crawl under The Van, or get in The Van, or be rolled over by The Van. I had to escape those dreamy blue eyes.

Mom got out and told him what the problem was. Officer Blythe said he was able to siphon some gas off his tank and into ours so that we could get home. Mom was most pleased to hear this news, but I didn’t know what to think.

While he went off to get the gear from his trunk, Jess came over and told Mom she had to pee REALLY bad. This came as no great shocker, as she always has to pee the minute we arrive anywhere.  (It’s like some mutant gene that causes bathroom curiosity and a subsequently full bladder).  There was no bathroom on the side of the road. Even though she was wearing a skirt, she refused to take a squatty potty off in the reeds.  So Mom told her to go inside The Van, shut the sliding door and pee on the floor.  Yeah.  My sister urinated in The Van while a totally gorgeous cop filled our tank with gas.

After Officer Blythe finished and everyone thanked him but me (because I couldn’t make eye contact), Mom started up and headed home. Even though most of the pee had leaked out the cracks in the door, I was still thankful to be sitting up front so my feet didn’t have to touch it. No one else seemed to mind.

During the drive home I was really cranky and was told I had a lousy attitude.  I couldn’t understand why Mom was so happy about the same event that traumatized me.  She said it was an adventure AND she got some free gas out of it!!! She starting singing loudly along with the radio—some gospel atrocity what she tried harmonizing with…it made my head ache.

I didn’t think it was much of an adventure…. particularly while I was hosing out The Van when we got home.  Oh, well.  I learned two things.  Don’t leave home without 35 cents for a payphone, and don’t ever run out of gas.

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