Forewarned: Driving With Us Can be Hell So Proceed with Caution

We know that we are directionally challenged, especially when driving (read last week’s blog post). But the truth is we’re no picnic to have in the passenger seat, either.

Think of Driving Miss Daisy, the wonderful movie with Jessica Tandy instructing her driver played by Morgan Freeman about bumps in the road, literally and metaphorically. This is not unlike our behavior when we become that annoying backseat driver even if we’re seated in front. We own up to  these “car altercations” fully and are trying to change.

Barbara remembers all too well when she and her former husband rented a stick-shift car on a vacation in France. She had never learned to drive one so she knew enough not to step into the driver’s seat. Her ex shouldn’t have done so either. He thought he’d learn by doing. Such a male characteristic! Big mistake.

Negotiating the hilly streets outside Paris on the way to Chartres Cathedral in the charming village by that name proved challenging as did the hills leading to the south of France, especially around Provence and on the crowded Riviera. He clutched.. or rather he didn’t, as she recalls. The gears made a grinding noise. The car started to roll backward at various points. More grinding noises. There were several heated exchanges. And when they returned the car after two weeks,  the rental company complained about the ruined clutch.

Even with her current beau, some crowded highways to unknown designations can fire her up. Recently, the two of them visited two of New York’s boroughs in one day to attend a memorial service on Long Island and then turning in the opposite direction to stop in Manhattan to change clothing at her mother’s apartment for a wedding in Brooklyn. The West Virginia-born-guy didn’t know the area at all and Barbara didn’t know it well either. Of course they were on the clock so their stress levels were running at maximum speed. This led to disagreements about who was responsible.

When they couldn’t find the right resting place at the cemetery, the conversation went like this:

Barbara: “I sent you the name of the cemetery, so you could plan our route.”

They drove through one cemetery, but she instantly knew it wasn’t right because of the plethora of flowers. Jews leave stones on gravesites, not flowers, and there was mention of Jesus at the entry.

The Beau: “I never saw the email.”

Barbara: “But I asked, and you said you got it,” she continued.

Fortunately, she could pull it up on her phone, they stopped at a place, re-navigated and arrived in plenty of time. Then getting back to the city after the service was dicey. It meant going through the Midtown Tunnel, often a nightmare, and true to form, it was jammed on that Sunday afternoon.

Once at Barbara’s mother’s apartment, they rushed to get dressed, jump in the car again and headed over the Brooklyn Bridge and to the wedding site. More raised-voice exchanges ensued. Fortunately, they made it to the event before the beautiful bride walked down the aisle. Once they relaxed with glasses of wine in hand, they smiled, laughed about their crazy day and enjoyed the event.  

Margaret too is no saint as a passenger in a car. Several years ago, she and her late husband drove to New York City to help their younger son get settled in his new apartment on the lower east side. After driving for hours to get there and then stuck in awful city traffic, her husband gave her a map (this was pre-GPS) and said, “Read. We’re lost.”

Margaret, who is severely directionally challenged, told her husband to turn the wrong way and he went ballistic.

Here was their conversation:

Margaret: “Do you know where you’re going?”

Him: “Yes. I’m going to the lower east side. I’m so glad you asked.” (Said sarcastically)

Margaret: “What are you doing right now?”

Him: “Making a left.”

Margaret: “Great, but I think you should go right.”

Him: “Okay. I’m driving. You look at the map. Do you mind putting down that book? Keep your eye on the street names.”

Margaret: “This doesn’t look right. Oops, I think I told you to turn the wrong way.”

Him: “I see that. Why can’t you figure out where to go?”

Margaret: “I can’t help it. It looked right.” He turns down a side street to turn around. “Stop going so fast.”

Him: (He turns up the music as he fumes) “We’re lost. And it’s your fault.  I just made a right and it’s wrong.  And look at this traffic.”

Margaret: “I see that. Oh, now it’s starting to rain. Turn on the windshield wipers.”

Him: “Don’t tell me how to drive.”

Margaret: “But…”            

Him: “Don’t tell me how to drive when you don’t know where you’re going.”

Margaret: “Where are we now? Hey, see that policeman, why don’t you ask him for directions.”

Him: “I’m not asking for directions. Again it’s your fault we’re lost. Can’t you just read a map.”

Margaret: “No, I can’t. Why don’t you ask directions. It’s the simplest thing to do. By the way, we’re really late.”

Him: (He’s shouting at this point. The expletives flowing out of his mouth would make the exorcist blush. Any moment I expect his head to do a 360-degree turn.) “Please be quiet.”

Margaret: “I told you to ask directions. And don’t shout at me.”

At a stop sign in the middle of the street, Margaret gets out of the car, slams the door and announces: “ I’m going to walk.“

Him: He drives away.

Margaret hails a cab and gives the driver the address. The two have a pleasant conversation on the way. He even says he enjoys talking to her.

Margaret apologizes later to her husband, and all is well.

So, what have we learned, since we’re always ready to acknowledge and do better?

#1: Keep our mouths shut. But seriously, planning in advance is the key ingredient. Here’s more:

  • Decide first who will be the designated driver and the designated map reader. Or switch off but know your skills and lack of them, too. If you can’t read a map, use Google maps on your phone. And pray it doesn’t lead you down the wrong path.
  • Select the route you’re going to use by studying the directions ahead of time, even printing them out or charting them according to your favorite system-- GPS, MapQuest or Waze. Have alternatives just in case there’s congestion or an accident. And discuss before you step into the car. If you know it’s likely you’ll get lost, discuss how you’ll handle the stress. Rather than screaming at each other, pull over and negotiate.
  • Fill up your tank so you don’t have to have that stress, too, of needing to get off the road and find a station.
  • Also, go to the bathroom in advance so you don’t have to get off the road and find a clean restroom.
  • Leave enough time, double what you think is good if the occasion is time sensitive like a funeral, wedding, concert or play since nothing adds more stress than not making it to the destination with time to kill. You then might want to kill each other.
  • Don’t talk on the phone or read a magazine, newspaper or mail when the other person is driving—Barbara’s specialties when a passenger. You can do that later. Pay attention to help.
  • Agree on a favorite radio station or bring CDs, which help to defuse any tense moments in the car.
  • Remember to apologize, which does the trick when you haven’t been the most pleasant car mate.
  • Finally, consider traveling together only when you absolutely must!

1 comment

  • Savitri

    Enjoyed this .
    I have memories of the same situations many times.

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