Opinion: A Spontaneous Driving Lesson

Opinion: A Spontaneous Driving Lesson

Being in the midst of the Third Wave, I decided today was the perfect time to give my wife a driving lesson.
We were on the Pat Bay Highway heading south at 5 p.m., not rush hour, but busy enough in this pseudo-lockdown we’re not really doing.
Steph did not request this refresher: she’s been driving very well thank you for nearly half a century, her license is clean, I don’t think she’s had so much as a parking ticket.
Which is more than I can say, But upon close observation of her technique on this sunny late afternoon I thought it prudent and helpful to make a couple of suggestions. They went thusly:
  1. “Why are you drifting back and forth? I feel like a bobblehead doll.”
  2. “Look further down the road, it will keep you centred.”
  3. “Your hands should be at ten and two o’clock.”
  4. “Why is your foot coming off the gas pedal all the time? It’s a highway!”
  5. “It would be much better for our fuel economy if you applied steady pressure to the pedal, and didn’t brake so hard.”

All of these points are excellent, peer-reviewed to make even Lewis Hamilton a better driver, but by the time I’d gone through each worthy nugget, Steph was a little annoyed.

Her customary smile vanished. I could tell by the way her brow furrowed she was deep in thought. Her knuckles, where they gripped the steering wheel (though not at ten and two) were as white as her teeth, gritted in a jaw clenched vice-tight.

I wondered if my sage advice was not having its intended effect, even though I had deliberately increased the volume of my voice to make sure she understood, especially as the car began to accelerate and the bumper of the car in front was closing fast. 

A little context is needed. First, I was on a heavy dose of Naproxen because three days before my Achilles tendon had swollen like a balloon and the slightest weight on my foot caused delirious pain.

Steph, having birthed three children without drugs or epidurals, has a much higher pain threshold, so she lacks even the smallest amount of sympathy.

One time, a few years back, I wrenched my back digging to repair a plugged drain tile and was laid up for a week, and by the end of my recuperation in front of the television, she brought my dinner with a very noticeable look of superiority and disdain.

Wishing to avoid a repeat of this, after a day of being invalid, I sent her on a mission to buy crutches and a tensor bandage. Though the crutches helped my foot, her attitude toward my predicament did not improve.

She watched my uneven performance around the house with a rather jaundiced eye, doing her best to be in another room whenever I needed something as minor as a drink of water to go with my favourite Red Barn thick-sliced bacon, artisan lettuce and Roma tomato sandwich with mayonnaise and Dijon mustard and a side of ancient grains salad snack. I had to keep up my strength.

Second, we were heading to our son’s house to drop off lasagna for his birthday supper. I got the hint earlier in the day that she wanted to go alone, but the thought of seeing our boy on the actual day, combined with the pain drugs and a glass of Irish Whiskey made me extra sentimental, and maybe a little less sensitive to her needs.

Third, we own a Prius, and its handy readout screen with real-time diagnostics is completely irresistible, so I, naturally, assumed Steph would also be receptive to a live analysis in an actual, highway-speed environment. 

I was mistaken.

But whether it was the fortifying effects of the painkillers, I persevered. I took out my phone, as passengers have the legal right in this province to do, and offered to record the diagnostic outputs, to be referenced at a later date; perhaps this Saturday morning at our local grocery store parking lot, where she could put into practice my aggregated tips when there were no other cars around to crash into. 

I first met Steph in 1982, at a UBC seminar where we were studying to become teachers. We share the same strong need to help others, but I can safely say that over the course of nearly40 years I have never heard her scream so loud. To say it could wake the dead is to suggest they are hard of hearing as well as expired. Egyptian mummies would have heard this scream and risen, terrified, from their tombs. I froze, iPhone in hand, thumb hovering over the record button. Wisdom prevailed. I slowly put my phone away and opened my window, thinking that we both could use a little fresh air. 

We drove the rest of the way to Daniel’s house in silence, finding fresh inspiration in the cavalcade of taillights and construction signs. Pedestrians trying to jay-walk at Uptown Mall provided a welcome distraction. The lasagna got delivered, along with some flowers and a card. Daniel was thrilled, having just come home from work, tired but emancipated from the need to cook dinner. The driving lesson was not brought up, though Dan did ask his mother why her voice was so raspy. 

“Allergies,” she replied with a straight face. 

Good one, I thought as I stared into the distance, still a little shaky on my new crutches and dreading the drive home.

Though part of me persisted in the thought that next time I’d just hit record and not tell her ‘til we got wherever we were going. 

Mike IppenMike Ippen

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