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Travel Woes

Travel Woes

Hot Rods and Racing Cars #64
July 1963

The Back-Seat Driver, for years, has been a part of our American Heritage in relation to automobiles. Actually it even wasn't necessary that this person sit in the rear of the automobile. For he or she could sit right next to you. It would be a wonderful thing if we could hide a tape recorder in the car while the Back-Seat Driver is in full effect.

Actually, what makes such a person? I recently asked that question of a Psychologist. This is the answer I got: "Your Back-Seat Driver is certain that he or she can do a better job of driving than you are doing. The fact that this person may not be able to drive a car or even have a license seems to have no bearing on the situation. Perhaps the Back-Seat Driver is a frustrated Sea Captain who likes to give the orders. We often think of the Back-Seat Driver as the wife of the man who owns the car or as his mother-in-law. These two people have sort of become symbols in many minds of the Back-Seat Driver. Though actually, this really can be anybody else."

Some ten years ago we had quite an experience with such a person. The details are still vivid in my mind. At that time I was very busy working on a series of articles. I had little time to spare for outside activities. On my desk was an invitation to a wedding which was to take place at a country club on Long Island. I didn't know whether or not I would be able to go. Nor did I care very much, for those articles had to be finished on a time schedule.

The phone rang. My cousin Florence was on the other end. She wanted to know if we had received an invitation to the wedding. Also were we going?

"The garage man is working on my car," I told her. "He doesn't think he can get the needed part for the engine before next week."

"But the wedding is this Sunday afternoon," she told me. "We have to be at the country club before one. Look, we'll pick you and your wife up at about ten. That should give us more than sufficient time to get to our destination. My father will be with us. With five in the car we won't be too overcrowded.

I must have replied in the affirmative. Anyway, we were ready on time. Florence and her husband Tom were waiting for us outside in the car. Uncle Jim or Florence's dad was also there. When we entered the car, Tom took out an automobile map.

"I have never been to Winston before," he told me. "So I figured out the best route according to this automobile map. We turn left here and go down the hill. That should take us to the parkway. We will use the Huntington Bridge instead of the All-Ways Bridge."

"And go ten miles out of your way," said Uncle Jim. "I have used the Island many times on my fishing trips. Best shortest way is to go straight north and use the All-Ways Bridge."

See, what I mean? Right away the Back Seat Driver tells you how wrong you are. Now what are you supposed to do? Age requires respect and after all, Uncle Jim was Tom's father-in-law. So Tom followed orders. Everything was fine for the first six miles. Then there was a steady stream of cars going at a snail's pace ahead of us. Finally we saw a sign that read: "Single File." We didn't have to ask questions to find out what the matter was. With our eyes we saw the grandstands they were erecting for the big parade. So all automobile traffic was being shifted to the outer lane. Slower and slower we went.

"Cut off to the right at the next block," ordered the Back-Seat Driver. "We can use the underpass at Tremont Avenue."

Tom didn't have much choice. To continue at the slow pace or to again listen to his father-in-law. So he made the right turn and then went east for half a mile to reach the underpass. When we got there it was closed; they were repaving the street and a big sign faced us: "Detour."

There were plenty of large friendly arrows to show us the direction. We were following them when suddenly Tom stepped quickly on the brakes. A car had pulled out from the curb without the proper signal. We waited and continued driving but not until the Back-Seat Driver had yelled at the top of his voice to the other man: "Why don't you watch where you are going! Better learn to drive properly. Guess you must be one of those Sunday drivers!"

I didn't hear what the other man said. Nor did I really care. Something inside of me warned that this was only the beginning. Call it intuition if you wish but the warning was correct. For exactly a half mile further on the detour we stopped again. A big moving van was stuck. It couldn't go ahead until the fellow who had double parked his car came down and moved the car. You can imagine the noise created by the combined effort of a lot of horns. Finally the driver came down, got his car out of the jam, and traffic was again flowing gently and slowly.

When we reached the All-Ways Bridge, Tom tried to take another peep at his auto map. But Uncle Jim got hold of it first and then remarked:

"I'll tell you what turns to make. You just take care of the driving. But be careful. You almost side swiped that big car on your left.

I am an observant person. Definitely I could see that Tom was biting his underlip. This brooded no good for nice easy driving. We went over the bridge without any personal or non-personal problems whatsoever. At the other side of the bridge there was a sign: "Take the new Highmount Connection to the southern end of the Island."

"We want the northern end of the Island," Tom said.

"But out there the southern end and the place we want are only three miles apart. Listen to me. We will make up lost time. Take this Highmount Connection."

So, soon we were on a beautiful road. But everything looked so strange. Tom was showing signs of worry.

"I'm going to pull up at the next gas station," he said.

"Only for gas," warned the Back-Seat Driver. "I don't want to waste any time here."

Guess he was afraid that Tom was going to ask directions. Tom took a bigger bite out of the bottom lip. He stopped at the gas station and asked if he happened to be on the right road to the country club in Winston."

"Oh, no," explained a sympathetic gas attendant. "You are going in the wrong direction. Unfortunately you can't make a U-turn here. So you must drive ahead for twenty miles and then you can turn around. Then come back on the other lane and turn left at Meadbrook. You will find a sign there that will direct you to where you want to go."

There was a peculiar silence in the car as we kept going faster and faster. Finally Uncle Jim spoke.

"That attendant doesn't know everything. You should listen to me. Keep going ahead on this road."

"But you were never on this road before," protested Florence. "Dad, we will be there late."

Suddenly we heard the siren of a police car. Tom stopped and pulled over to the side of the road.

"Serves you right for speeding," sneered Uncle Jim. "You have such a heavy foot on the accelerator."

The police officer came up and Tom got out of the car and sighed.

"Whatever it is, officer, I'm guilty. My father-in-law is the Back-Seat Driver. So give me the ticket."

The police officer just smiled and pointed to the back of the car.

"You weren't exceeding the limit on this road. It happens to be 55 miles an hour, not 50. But your rear bumper is loose. Tie it up. I'll help you."

The cooperating police officer did a very good job. Then poor Tom explained the situation to him.

"What the gas attendant told you is correct. Only way to get to Winston."

We arrived at our destination exactly one hour and ten minutes late. When we inquired about the wedding a puzzled club manager finally made things very clear to us.

"Take another look at the invitation. It isn't for October 15th but for November 15th."

Uncle Jim had the invitation and produced it. We might have been an hour and ten minutes late. But actually we were a month ahead of time.

Finally my wife managed to get her two cents in and it did help.

"We didn't tell you that we bought a summer home in Winston. So just drive ahead for three more minutes and you will be at the place. The freezer is full of food so let's enjoy ourselves."

You see why my wife is wonderful? She could have been the best Back-Seat Driver — but wasn't.


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