This morning I offered to forgo my customary walk and drive Darla to campus. She hates driving so much that in gratitude she asked, “Why would you do that, Husband?” Of course the only answer I could offer was, “Because I have a capacity for self-sacrifice that others can hardly comprehend.” I think I may have overplayed my hand.
But actually, I never minded driving. In my youth I sometimes imagined that if the academic thing didn’t work out, I could become a long-haul truck driver. I sort of liked the idea of seeing the country and, what with Dylan, the Dead, Clapton and other greats on my portable cassette player, I figured I could get by fairly well coasting through Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, or Dripping Springs (aka Drippin’ Sprangs), Texas, listening to my favorites. These are real places that I remember driving through when I lived out west.
I think guys take to driving more easily than do femmes, and this is partly because of a unique quality prominent in many young male drivers: idiocy. Just speaking for myself, I can say that I am embarrassed about some of the dumb things I did in my younger years when my car was above all an instrument of power and independence to me. The absolute dumbest move I can recall happened on Route 90 in the Florida panhandle. Interstate 10 had not been built in the 1960s when I was going to college in New Orleans, so I would take old Highway 90 on my way home in those days. One time, I think it might have been Easter break, I was driving at night on it with my friend Jay and his roommate in the car. They were both New Yorkers.
Since 90 was a two laner, I got stuck behind a slowpoke and decided I would break out and pass him or her when the first opportunity came. But no obvious opportunity appeared because an endless series of hills obscured my line of sight. So, I calculated that I could pull out and pass when I could see no oncoming headlights rising over the next hill. Pretty soon I made my move and pulled out, but I quickly got back in my lane when oncoming headlight beams suddenly became visible over the crest of the next hill. Then there came the flashing lights on the Highway Patrol car that had been right behind me all the while.
OK, so I was pulled over and got a ticket (deservedly) from the friendly but otherwise merciless officer. When the transaction was over, my two New Yorker friends started laughing at me. “I didn’t know you could speak southern!” said Jay. Apparently I had slipped into Florida dialect in a Stockholm-syndrome kind of reaction as I pleaded my case to the patrolman. I had not been aware of my own strategic, yet futile, linguistic code switching. So I learned two lessons that day: As much as I liked driving cross-country, I clearly had the capacity to kill myself (and others) doing it; and, I can actually speak country-southern style if I need to. So I guess I have to face the fact that I really am part redneck, even though my early childhood was spent …. in New Jersey!