Lost Journal: Son’s Driving Skills are Under Construction

By Tim Mollen

Journal entry:  August 9, 1985 (age 16)

It was a surprise, a few weeks ago, when our parents asked my brother, Dan, and me if we would like to go to Boston for a weekend.  Dan, 17, passed – seizing an opportunity to have an unsupervised house to himself.  (By “himself,” of course, I mean Dan and 40 to 50 of his friends.)  I, on the brother hand, most definitely wanted to go.  I knew that Boston was filled with historical landmarks where America’s destiny had unfurled – places like the real “Cheers” bar!

Today, as we packed for the weekend, I noted that our 1978 Chevy Impala station wagon had been transformed into “long-trip mode.”  The backs of the two rear seats had been lowered, and the resulting flat surface was covered with a foam mattress, sleeping bag, and pillow.  As we loaded up, I scrambled into this nap wonderland with a Douglas Adams Hitchhiker novel.  Moments later, the man from whom I had inherited my love of napping stood rapping on the rear window.  As I climbed out, he said, “That’s for me – these are for you,” and handed me the car keys.

I’ve only had my driver’s license for a couple of months, and I’ve done very little highway driving.  The idea of being entrusted with the safety of both my parents in uncharted territory was equal parts exhilarating and terrifying.  Flashing back to the tense hours Dad and I had spent lurching and sputtering around the St. Thomas Aquinas church parking lot, I took some comfort in the fact that he would be effectively blinded and immobilized in the back of the car.

Unfortunately, as we pulled into traffic, I realized that the only passenger who could fill me with more nervous energy than my father is my mother.  (“Oh, dear – watch out for that squirrel!”)  When we reached the highway, Mom whimpered to my already dozing dad, “Jack, I really don’t think this is a good idea.”  He grunted something to the effect of, “He’ll be fine – gotta learn sometime,” rolled over, and yanked the pillow over his head.

Just as I was beginning to relax, we entered a construction zone.  Traffic suddenly narrowed to one lane, with no shoulder.  On either side, there were huge, imposing slabs of concrete.  I learned the name of these peculiar hazards from my mother’s repeated gasps of “Oh my Lord – Jersey walls!”  I felt my eyes opening wider than I thought possible, and my hands threatened to crush the steering wheel into dust.  By now, Mom was beside herself (and still, unfortunately, me.)  “Timmy – pull over at the next exit!”

The next exit turned out to be 10 long miles down the road.  When we finally rolled to a stop, my mother’s trembling fingers clutched at my own quivering hand for the keys.  After we switched positions, she looked back at my sleeping father and shook her head in aggrieved annoyance.  I don’t know that a nap can be taken as a compliment, but I smiled as we pulled back into traffic, serenaded by Dad’s oblivious snore.

Tim Mollen
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