I don’t drive when my husband Mark is in the car. This isn’t a hard and fast rule but more of a preference although I can clearly recall two occasions when I did drive him to the emergency room after he almost cut a toe off with an axe and another time when he almost cut his thumb off while fixing the roof but for the most part I am more than content to sit in the passenger’s seat while he steers us toward wherever we are going.
My stance on being a passive passenger as opposed to a driven driver has nothing to do with our marriage. Truthfully, I don’t like to drive anyone but myself with the exception of my kids and that’s only because they’ve been trained since birth not to criticize my driving skills. I wasn’t always like this. It wasn’t until I was 19 and my father picked me up at college in Missouri and we drove 500 miles back home to Illinois that I first began to sense that it was far easier to be a passenger than a driver.
Dad and I agreed to take turns driving but nowhere in our contract do I remember a clause stating that whoever wasn’t driving had an obligation to talk non-stop. My normally taciturn father became a regular chatterbox on that trip and began a conversation in Columbia, Missouri that didn’t stop until we pulled into the driveway twelve hours later. Not only did he make me nervous with all his unusual chatter, I also found myself exiting the highway several times more than necessary because so much talking made my head buzz and I forgot—repeatedly—that we were headed for Chicago, not Florida. “Where are you going?” Dad demanded as I veered onto an off ramp once again. “We’re not getting off here. Get back on the road where you belong!” Needless to say, the moment we got home I vowed that I’d never drive my dad anywhere again, a vow that I don’t think either of us minded one bit.
That trip started yet another phobia to go along with the many others I nurture and I began letting other people drive whenever they offered. Fortunately, my husband loves to drive and I love to play with the radio so those have been our roles throughout our marriage. But a few weeks ago I foolishly allowed a little spontaneity to sneak into our lives and asked Mark if he wanted to come with me while I ran to the store. I asked him while I was sitting behind the steering wheel and he was standing in the driveway so it only made sense for me not to slide over and let him take the wheel. At least, that’s what I thought.
Immediately, it felt plain wrong for him to be in the passenger seat but I continued to drive bravely toward Walmart. I think it felt odd for Mark too because while he didn’t come right out and say anything, his body language—clutching the door of the car, flinching when I turned corners and stomping on an invisible brake—spoke volumes.
“Anything wrong?” I asked.
“Not at all,” he replied. A moment later he added, “Only didn’t you see that car back there?”
“The one that had the right of way at that intersection you just blew through.”
“I didn’t see any car.”
We continued on our merry way when Mark suddenly said, “You could have saved five minutes if you’d gone straight instead of turning. Now you’re going to get stuck at the light.”
“I like going this way,” I responded. “It’s prettier.”
“Well, sure, fine. You’re the driver.” Mark laughed but it sounded a bit forced to me.
Naturally, we did get stuck at the light and just as naturally, it was possibly the longest traffic light in the world. My passenger began to get very antsy and began mumbling comments about how the route he took might not be “pretty” but it was one hell of a lot faster. It took most of my self-control not to deposit him next to the traffic light and zoom off but since the whole trip had been my idea, I managed to keep my mouth shut.
Finally, after a hundred years or so, the light changed and we made it to the store unscathed. After picking up what I needed, we walked back out to the car and I handed him the keys. “You don’t want to drive home?” he asked in a most surprised tone of voice.
“No, you do it,” I said.
“You know,” Mark said as he pulled out of the parking lot, “you should drive more often. It’s fun to be the passenger.”
Much to my credit, I didn’t tell him that I already knew that.