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LAUGH LINES : Dads Have Their Own Rules for the Road

October 05, 1994|CHRIS ERSKINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Here's a tip, kids. Never address your father as "Yo, dude. . . ." As in "Yo, dude, seen the remote control?" Try it sometime. If you listen closely, you will almost hear his brain implode.

No, nothing will get Dad's attention so quickly. For one thing, it messes up the fragile family hierarchy that has been in effect for thousands of millions of years.

At the top of this hierarchy, of course, is Mom. Below that is Dad, or as he is known in some circles, the vice-parent. Then comes the family dog. Under that comes you kids. Addressing the vice-parent as "Yo, dude," threatens what little respect and authority he thinks he wields in the family structure.

It also ticks him off big-time.

The worst possible place to pull a "Yo, dude"--besides national TV--is on a long family car trip. As in "Yo, dude, are we there yet?" Besides upsetting that delicate familial balance, it interferes with Dad's reading.

That's right, his reading.

For it is a little-known fact that even as he zooms along at 75 m.p.h., your father is probably reading every little sign, truck decal and bumper sticker he can get his eyes on. It keeps him alert. It keeps his mind sharp. Mostly it gives him something to look at until the next attractive young woman cruises by in a convertible.

In fact, aside from the bathroom, the freeway is probably your father's favorite reading place. (If you put a toilet in his car, he might never come out.)

My kids discovered this reading phenomenon on a recent vacation. We were playing the usual car trip games--such as "Name That Road Kill" and "Bite Your Brother on the Butt"--when my youngest looked out the window and actually read something on a passing road sign (trust me, I saw his little lips move).

"Dad, shouldn't 'Stay off the shoulder' be more emphatic?" he asked, using the word emphatic for perhaps the fifth time that very morning. "Shouldn't it say, 'You must stay off the shoulder,' or even 'Keep your stupid car on the road already, you big jerk.' "

This prompted a long discussion on overuse of the word jerk among children we know.

It also made me realize that everybody reads road signs. Not just bored dads, not just bored moms, everybody. If we didn't read road signs, we might have to talk to each other.

And we read them despite the fact they are dull. Really dull.

Would it be so terrible if road signs were fun and entertaining? Besides directions, why couldn't they contain important personal information--like sex tips and career advice. In a perfect world, road signs would be written by Bob Guccione and Ann Landers.

My wife and I, who are often mistaken for Bob and Ann, began to discuss the possibilities. What if "Do not pass" became "Do not pass . . . but feel free to grope the person in the seat next to you"? Or maybe "Speed zone ahead" becomes "Speed zone ahead . . . get naked."

Of course, the signs wouldn't need to be just titillating, they could also be a public service: "Drive defensively" would become "Drive defensively . . . and don't forget your wife's birthday." And the ever-useful "Merge" would say "Merge . . . but always wear a condom."

Maybe the traffic engineers could drop some personal hygiene tips into their signs: "Slow traffic stay right . . . and be sure to change your underwear," or "Sharp curve ahead . . . brush after every meal."

But maybe best of all, road signs could alert us to try new things: "Speed checked by radar . . . shower with a postal worker." And "Rail crossing ahead . . . slow dance with a Pygmy."

My kids, of course, didn't seem that enthralled about rewriting the nation's road signs. They yawned. They fell asleep. A couple got car sick.

In fact, the only verbal reaction I got came from a tired 8-year-old in the very back:

"Yo, dude, are we there yet?"

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