My grandmother was a world-class backseat driver. She never learned how to drive nor was she quite “up” on the rules of the road, but she could sure tell my grandfather how to do it, and when to do it. “Arrrrthuur! That sign says ‘Stop”! It did indeed. And it was three blocks away. And she about blew a gasket if he stopped to offer a ride to one of his friends or nodding-acquaintances, particularly if my sister Micki and I were already passengers in the back seat. Particularly unwelcome were the artists that made up a part of my grandfather’s circle and there were many: this was Santa Fe in the 40’s, the era of Los Cinco Pintores.
As a general observation, men seem to think they are the superior of any woman driving anywhere. My former husband was a lane-changer and a tailgater, both habits that make me crazy. We never made it from Denver to Hooper in less time because he’d zigged and zagged across the lanes to be “first in line”, even if there were only two other cars on I-25. My refuge was to sleep as much of the way as possible with the swaying of the car and two children in the backseat wanting to stop for potty breaks, for food, for checking out the cows in the fields along the way or whatever other excuse came up. Remember the adage about children being seen but not heard? If they’re in the backseat of the car, they should not be seen or heard. Particularly when you’re trying to talk to the Colorado State Patrolman who’s standing at your open window.
By the time my sister had retired, I think she was just tired of driving. When you’ve done it to and from the office (or, in her case, the hospital) five or more days of every week for 40 years, your interest in sleek, little sports cars wanes and you start looking with longing at the F 450 (my youngest sister drives one of those) or a slightly used Sherman tank. Lorence, my ever-patient brother-in-law, took over in the driver’s seat and never flinched when his wife told him just how to do it, and when. He didn’t even rise to the occasion when his daughter, Lori, became the best backseat driver since our grandmother owned the front passenger’s seat of the ’38 Ford.
After spending time as a hospital patient a while back, I asked my daughter Chris to do the driving. This necessitates setting up a small bench at the other side door so I can get in. Between a hip-replacement surgery that restricts some movement and having gnome-length legs, anything taller than a Radio Flyer wagon presents a challenge. And seeing things from the left seat is a thrill along the lines of the roller coaster at Elitch’s.
Chris is less reserved when I feel the need to give her some “backseat” advice, but she hasn’t kicked me out of the car yet, either. She’d be more tempted to get out to walk except she’d have to take her little dog, Chiquita. So far, Chiquita’s leash training has progressed only so far as sitting.
While I’m a steady 60 mph driver at maximum speed, Chris insists that those folks behind her on Hwy. 160 between Monte Vista and Alamosa are going to drive up our tailpipe if she isn’t going 65 mph. And looking over at the speedometer from my side of the car is misleading: I could swear we’re cruising along at 75 mph! It reminds me of the advice given by a pilot friend: “Never fly in the cockpit with someone braver than you.”