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CHRIS ERSKINE / The Guy Chronicles

Cruising the Parking Lot, a Paved Paradise

July 01, 1998|CHRIS ERSKINE

She is the first person I have ever taught to drive. A good student so far, here at the wheel of the little white Honda she hopes to inherit someday soon.

"How'm I doing, Dad?" my older daughter asks, sitting straight up, the way beginning drivers do.

"Great," I say. "Just great."

Round and round the empty parking lot we go. My daughter drives at the speed cows walk--2 to 3 mph--then brakes for the speed bumps and the turns, stopping now and then to make sure she knows how to stop--a gentle stop that is easy on the riders.

"Nice stop," I say.

"Thanks," she says.

We sit there a moment admiring the stop, both staring straight ahead.

"You can go now," I say.

We have been coming out to the high school like this for a couple of evenings now, going round and round in the lot back by the baseball fields, the only open road we could find.

It's not a bad way to spend a nice summer evening, coasting across the parking lot like this and listening to the Dodger game, a summer night soft as a cloud.

"Nice turn," I say.

"Thanks, Dad," she says.

On the radio, Vin Scully is weaving together a story about the old days, talking about how a Pittsburgh team once won a game because of a pillow fight in the stands, which may be the one tactic the Dodgers haven't tried.

"Deuces wild," Scully says. "Two balls, two strikes, two out."

As my daughter drives, I wonder what came first, Scully or radio, because it's hard to imagine radio before him, a medium without a messenger.

"This is relaxing," my lovely and patient older daughter says, taking another wide turn.

"You think so?" I ask.

"Yeah, driving is really relaxing," she says.

I don't have the heart to tell her that this is nothing like real driving. If it were real driving, we'd be screaming along a freeway at 70 mph, when out of nowhere some driver would come up from behind at 90 mph, a cell phone in one hand and a Big Gulp in the other, steering with his knees and elbows and nearly swiping us off the road.

And just when my daughter learned to look in her rearview mirror, there'd suddenly be some abandoned sofa in the road in front of us or maybe a crate of watermelons. Probably both.

"Watch the sofa!" I'd yell. "Watch the watermelons!"

And we'd dodge the sofa and the watermelons at the last minute, and then swerve to avoid some family picking up watermelons because if someone spills something on a freeway, it's a sure bet somebody else will stop to try to take it home.

"Yes, driving is very relaxing," I say.

I explain how she'll eventually have to drive in the real world, to think defensively and expect great feats of stupidity: strange moves at every intersection, poor lapses of judgment at every onramp.

"You're gonna see some real beauties," I say.

"I can handle it, Dad," she says confidently.

And she probably can. My older daughter comes from a long line of true road warriors, most with excellent driving credentials.

Her mother, for example, is a direct descendant of the Roman chariot racers, who were fine drivers, though they were famous for never yielding and rarely coming to a complete stop, even in school zones.

And her paternal grandfather was an excellent driver who never had an accident, though he accumulated so many unpaid parking tickets in the early '70s that it nearly brought down Chicago city government, the Daley political machine and all.

So my daughter has some big bucket seats to fill. But there is time. She just turned 15. And now under California law, new drivers cannot drive alone until age 65, and even then only under adult supervision. So there is time.

"Can I parallel park now?" she asks.

She sees me wince.

"Dad?" she says.

I'm not sure she's ready for parallel parking. One bad parallel parking attempt could shatter her confidence.

"Maybe next time," I say.

"Dad, I can parallel park," she says. "I know I can."

She knows how important parallel parking is. Teenagers tell horror stories about it, about how friends have flunked their driving tests over parallel parking, shattering their driving dreams, destroying their lives.

"Dad, I know I can parallel park," she pleads. "If you'd just let me try."

We sit for a moment. On the radio, Scully is setting up the seventh inning. The Dodgers are in trouble again.

"Want to circle around one more time?" I ask.

"Sure," she says.

And off into the night we go.

* Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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