Buckle up—Dad’s on the road; illustration by Lissa Mathis
Rage escapes out of my dad’s mouth with a rapid-fire, machine-gun intensity that’s matched only by the smoke shooting out both his ears.
Dad’s just finished running errands in his beloved Chevy Impala; he flings the front door open, ignores hellos from me and my sister, and marches right to the phone. We glance at one another and smirk. When our Dad’s on a mission—ESPECIALLY a mission involving his vehicles—we know better than to interfere.
By combing through his snarling projectile of words, my sister and I realize what happened: Dad hit one of the area’s legendary potholes, landing with a soul crushing impact on both the car AND his emotions. He’s hot. Calling- the-city-hotline-and-throwing-verbal-haymakers hot.
My dad is a car guy. He values cars and teaches his kids to value them.Thus, he has no time for a bureaucracy and an infrastructure that so blatantly disrespects cars by allowing potholes to flourish at will every winter from now until the nuclear dark age.
Normally, my dad is full of rational calm and equanimity. He conducts himself with the grace and wisdom of a Shaolin monk, bringing necessary balance to a family full of dynamic personalities and ridiculous demands. But throw his cars into the mix, and all Zen and altruism are visible only in the rear view. This is a man who checks in regularly when our cars are being serviced. Be it engine work or body work, Dad calls every day for a progress report, and you better come correct with your information. Once the job is finished, he pays out no totals until he’s looked over every inch of the car with the scrutinizing eye of that one old, crusty Olympic judge who hates everybody. So, yeah. He doesn’t handle potholes well. Living in this part of New York means that pothole season is an exploration of the relationship between breaches in the pavement and chinks in my dad’s armor.
Exacerbating the problem is the fact that my sister and I attack The Pothole Conundrum with wildly different approaches.
I’m very deliberate in my execution. I want my car to thrive beyond its years. If I even sense potholes on the horizon, I slow in hopes of lessening the impact. I expertly log the location of every pothole from here to the Southern Tier into my brain, storing latitude and longitude and taking swift evasive maneuvers when necessary. When my dad gives me advice about cars, he never has to repeat himself. If he suggests it needs work, I take him at his word and get it done. He’s the master, and I am but a humble student. My sister meets each pothole with a daredevil’s heart; the lines between adventure and stupidity blur pretty fast with her at the wheel. Perhaps if she drives fast enough, she’ll get enough hang time to prevent wheels from ever touching pavement. Pothole? What pothole? She’s never once gotten her oil changed on time, and her personal mantra is, “another day, another blown tire.” She tests my dad’s mettle and is blasé about his advice. Once, I walked in on a phone call between the two of them. Dad rubs his temples and tries to remain calm. “Now,” he starts cautiously. “Is there a chance . . . you hit a pothole so hard that you ripped a hole in your oil pan?” I can almost see my sister shrugging as she casually responds, “I mean . . . probably? I got some serious air that day, Dad.”
If she and I were cars, I’m the one running on fossil fuels: trustworthy, traditional, but seething underneath— always internally combusting. My sister is the newer, electric model: slick, bold, zippy—and with no discernible radiator to cool things the hell down.
Recently, my dad and I went for a drive in his treasured Corvette. We drove past a sign on the expressway:
“DRIVE LIKE YOU WORK HERE!”
Considering all the potholes splashed along said thoroughfare, I was immediately irritated. Drive “LIKE I WORK HERE”? Where might that be, sir? Last time I checked, my workplace wasn’t a direct threat to my car’s undercarriage. Do most employees walk through their break room expecting the entire front axle of an automobile to whiz past their face? Spinning and untethered, like a giant farm animal caught up in a tornado funnel? Is it crazy to wonder if most people can say with 100 percent certainty that their work chair will run afoul of intermittent craters in the floor?
It doesn’t help that as I read this sign, I’m already agitated because the seats in my dad’s nearly fifty-year-old race car are so low that I might as well be lying down. My dad is too busy explaining all the different gears and how to shift accordingly. “Better slow your roll, Dad,” I say, adjusting my pillow and blanket. “I can barely get this thing out of park.”
I imagine being a good parent employs a lot of the same skills as being a good driver: you must remain flexible and open to the different personalities of each child, just as you would for each type of engine. You’re never fully in control, because you never know what each new road will bring.
But you can always count on them damn potholes.