Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Escort Service

That title oughta really bring out the Google freaks, huh? Ever notice that the more sedate, academic web searchers use MSN while the freaks prefer Yahoo and Google? Countless people researching the Radziwills found my site through MSN's search engine, but the ones searching for "masked women" or "tight Lycra" or, best of all, "mom made son wear high heels," they all use Google, or once in a while, Yahoo. My point? Well, actually, I don't have one, and if you were expecting one, I sure am sorry to disappoint.

Now on to the subject at hand. I learned to drive the summer I turned fifteen, under the watchful and not-so-patient eye of my grandfather. Pap had a beat-up Subaru sedan that he put into my inexperienced hands for an hour or so each evening. I would make the rounds of the narrow, rutted dirt roads that extended for miles in any direction from his house and Pap would minutely critique my every move.

Some of the things he told me really stuck with me. To this day, when I catch myself following the next car too closely, I hear his gravelly voice: "Look out the windshield--you see the hood? You know the engine's under there, right? If you hit the guy in front of you, where the hell's all that going to end up? In your lap--that's where!" When I pull a "rolling stop" at one of the many quiet intersections in town, I remember Pap pointing out the subtle shift your upper body makes when you come to a complete stop--nothing else counts as stopping.* When I brake in the middle of a curve, I remember, "Never brake on a bend. Once you're in it, it's too late to slow down. You'll steer better if you gently accelerate." (None of these things should be construed as advice since I am not a professional driver--as will become crystal clear later in this story.)

Like most people, Pap practiced much less than he preached. Every one of my siblings and I have memories of him doing 65 on a dirt road, 80 on an open stretch of two-lane highway, driving with his leg propped on the bit of dashboard to the left of the steering wheel. A few of us even have memories of "The Queen of Hearts" period: Juice Newton blaring on the 8-track player, Pap tapping the accelerator in time to the music--making the whole car and everyone in it dance in time to the music. ("Dance" in the sense of neck-jarring, involuntary jerking back-and-forth, a little too similar to an epileptic fit to be altogether enjoyable.)

It would be easy to blame my subsequent driving record on my poor grandfather--on his "do as I say, not as I do" teaching method--but the truth is much more nefarious and complex. So, whose fault is it that I've totaled not one, not even two, but three vehicles since I got my license twenty-some years ago?

I'll let you be the judge: All three of those vehicles? They were Ford Escorts. I've never even been in a fender-bender with any other vehicle, but I've totaled every Escort I've ever driven.

*Rolling stops are so common at some of the intersections in town, I call them "stoptional signs." These are signs at which it is no less illegal or inadvisable to roll through, but the odds of a collision or a ticket are so low you could get away with it 99 out of 100 times.


  1. Ha! I love "stoptional signs." My grandfather also started me at driving. He was an old cowboy who never believed in braking at all in our small town. No, just coast it at a steady 10-15 miles per hour and you shouldn't have to stop at all.

    I also had a car that was cursed, so I totally believe the Escort one you have!

  2. Juice Newton! Next up: Toni Basile singing "hey mickey!"

  3. My Grandfather also tried to teach me to drive. Mind you he is the person that still believes that you pump your brake when you come to a stop, you get better gas milage. Nevermind everyone in the car has a sore neck and we all look like idiots going back and forth in the damn car!

  4. Stoptional. Hilarious! We have one in my neighborhood that I almost always blaze right through. I'm so used to doing it, I've forgotten it's there and wonder why I get dirty looks from neighbors who are occasionally waiting at the cross section.

    My mom taught me to drive and I still remember a few of her lessons every time I'm on the road, too.

  5. haha this makes me think of riding with "baby brother" as you call him... he picked me up from school and dropped off one of my friends as we were turning a corner... we came to a stop sign.. and he said "there's a white line around it means its optional"... i'm starting to beleive you all learned to drive the the same way.