One of my memories of him being flustered was when my sister was taking Drivers-Ed. Dad took sis to practice for her road-test in his 1968, two-tone green Dodge Polara...I rode in the back.
LOOKS JUST LIKE DAD'S, BUT WITHOUT THAT CERTAIN AIR OF SOPHISTICATION
Dad was a smoker but the anxiety sis caused...led him to curse like a longshoreman and light-up Kent cigarettes in rapid succession. Another indelible image I have of that day was, poor dad from the passenger seat, trying to put his foot through the floor where the imaginary brake-pedal would have been.
In a sea of other inexperienced driver shortcomings, I think the biggest (worst) issue was my sister's lack of depth perception. This caused her to stay dangerously close (right) to parked cars. It would have been funny if dad kissed the ground when they were done but he was in no joking mood.
I was fourteen and only went along to get a flavor of what I would be doing in a couple of years...but seeing my dad's carry-over, in a near catatonic state for the next two hours...was proof enough for me...that witnessing one practice session was all I needed. I never rode with them again.
These days there's a nice kid on my street learning to drive. He and his dad have puttered by several times with the son at the wheel. The first time I saw them, I pretended to run up my driveway in fear. Yes it was an exaggeration but I remember him crashing a lot when his dad took the training wheels off his two-wheeler.
I realize that I shouldn't laugh because my scion Andrew will be in Drivers-Ed next year. Don't worry I won't take-up smoking but I do have several hockey puck-sized Valiums ready. If not, I'm sure he'll find out just how fluent in profanity I can be. When the time comes, I suggest that everyone from Galloway New Jersey to Pismo Beach California give him an extra wide berth...at least in the beginning...or be prepared to run up their driveways in earnest. Because, if we equate driving a car to riding a bike...my guy will be easily distracted. I never saw anyone else ride a bike seemingly without ever looking straight ahead.
What is more important than learning to drive, is the abundance of adult-like responsibilities which, over night is dumped into the lap of the newly licensed driver. Most of this accountability centers on the safety...that of the driver, passengers, those in others vehicles, pedestrians, roadside property, small woodland creatures and of course, the car itself.
I remember the sudden weight of responsibility being thrust upon me right after I became licensed...to celebrate this giant step towards manhood...my dad decided to take us and my aunt's family, to Nina's Italian Restaurant on Crossbay Boulevard, in Howard Beach Queens. In addition to cramming eight people into dad's Polara, he handed me the keys.
From my native Canarsie (Brooklyn) to the restaurant is a tour of several neighborhoods with a convoluted set of turns. Despite my little cousins risking their lives by sitting on their parent's lap in the back seat (and hindering my view) I was confident I could drive the thirty minutes without needing directions.
Then dad dropped the bomb on me, "No. We're not taking the 'streets.'"
That could only mean one thing...the dreaded Belt Parkway. On the Belt Parkway, (three lanes in each directions) Crossbay was two short exits away. An experienced driver could get there in ten minutes. But the Belt was my Everest and dad saw it fit for me to lose my highway virginity on it, with the bulk of the Edelblum clan hanging in the balance.
Just my luck...Canarsie is Exit-13, on the Belt Parkway.
Despite the anxiety, I got onto the eastbound on-ramp in fine style. For safety's sake, I got my cousins to lean to the side so I could see. Then I rolled on the acceleration lane to the "blast-off point" and STOPPED! After an eternity (two or three minutes) other cars behind us became backed up. When they started their horn honking, a chorus of family encouragement filled my ears. But as the cars on the Belt whizzed by, I just couldn't squeeze the trigger and go. We were at that standstill for at least ten minutes. Only when dad started his uncharacteristic frustration motivated tapestry of obscenities that I saw enough of an opening to proceed.
No lives were lost and somehow, at 25 white-knuckle (for me) MPH in the right lane, nobody lost their appetite on the way.
That adventure led to many other adventures without parental supervision. At a time when many of my friends either weren't legal drivers, weren't permitted on the Belt or didn't have access to a car...I was the designated road-trip driver.
I was seventeen when one of my friends heard about a great bar in Bayside Queens. According to him, the Old Forge Inn had everything. Most importantly tons of easy girls...and we all "know" the reputation of those Bayside babes. Plus the bar never check ID's. And, they had a big TV for Monday Night Football games. Also, if that wasn't incentive enough...they had free hot dogs at halftime.
We set out for Bayside and somewhere along Bell Boulevard we thought we were lost.
We saw a hippie couple and my friend rolled down the window and incorrectly asked, "How far is the Old Log Inn?"
The guy gave him the finger and the girl cursed us. I sped away. Luckily, the place was a few streets farther up and we laughed when we realized that my friend called the "Old Forge" by the wrong name. It was then obvious why the couple got so upset. Either way, all of our future references to the bar were intentionally, The Old Log Inn.
The first thing we noticed inside was, barrels of free peanuts everywhere. Then we saw the big TV and chaffing dishes of franks being prepared for halftime. The one thing that was glowingly missing was the advertised bevy of loose women. This by the way, was not something that corrected itself as the night wore on.
We sat at one of the long, peanut shell strewn tables and had strangers on both sides of us. It seemed that the Old Forge attracted a regular crowd and we stood out like four shiny pennies, in a bucket of rusty ones.
We were afraid they'd figure out that we were underage and/or didn't have the two tattoo minimum. So we spoke in whispers and avoided eye-contact with the tough looking crowd. At halftime, while everyone else was taking three or more hot dogs, my friends and I kept a low-profile and settled for one each.
The effect of the beer helped loosen us up as the game wore on. Until our tipsy world was shattered by an angry drunk.
He slammed his fist down and screamed, "One of you ____s put crap in my beer!" (He didn't say crap).
The bar's attention turned away from the game and we all shook our shivering heads in denial.
With slurred speech he repeated, "One of you _____s put crap in my beer!"
We were not fighters and were too scared to run as the blood-thirsty crowd closed in on us.
"C'mon," the drunk groaned. "Which one of you put crap in my beer."
He pounded his mug down causing suds to overflow. My friend Jeff was closest to this genius.
He looked down into the sot's mug and pointed, "Is that the crap."
The drunk looked down and spat, "Yeah! Now what are you going to do about it?"
Jeff stuck his hand in the glass and pulled out a peanut shell and said, "See, I took the crap out!"
At first the drunk was perplexed.
He then looked down into the mug, picked it up, took a sip and with a grin said, "Thanks."
In a combination of getting out of the "Old Log Inn" alive and a flashback of my first Belt Parkway excursion, I drove 25 MPH in the whole way back to Canarsie...in the right lane.