“Steve,” my boss said over the telephone, “Can you come down to my office for a minute?”
“Sure thing,” I said, wondering what was up. My boss is a “hands off” type of supervisor. As long as I get my job done, he stays out of my hair – a blessing after years of dealing with tyrannical restaurant owners and dysfunctional health care administrators. But when I walked past his receptionist, I noticed she had a sly smile on her face. “You’re in trouble,” she said. “Go right in.”
Muttering under my breath, I wondered who I’d pissed off. Even though my job requires me to be a “professional nice guy” I occasionally have to tell people things they don’t want to hear. When you work for a municipality, the taxpayer always thinks they’re right.
“Steve, come in,” my boss said, waving me into his office. The Mayor was seated by his desk. Oh boy. I must’ve really stepped in it this time.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Were you driving car 101 at 11:30 AM this morning?”
“Yes,” I said. “I was driving surplus food over to another food pantry.”
“Well,” my boss, said. “We received a complaint about your driving.”
“A citizen was behind you on Route 65. They said you were driving too slow.”
“They said you were driving so slow that they were late for their appointment.”
“I was going the speed limit!” I said, “It’s 35 MPH!” The Mayor started chuckling. It was then I realized my boss was pulling my leg.
“Steve,” my boss said smiling. “I’ve never, ever had to reprimand an employee for driving too slow. Usually, the opposite, actually.”
When you drive a municipal vehicle, you are a representative of the government and trust me, the citizenry watches you like a hawk. Therefore, I always drive the speed limit, never run the yellow, refrain from honking the horn to express my vehicular displeasure and never, ever give anybody the finger. But I knew there was more to it than that.
“I’m not surprised this happened,” I said. “I drive like an old man now.”
Well,” my boss said. “I thought you’d get a chuckle when you heard this. No worries.”
Back behind my desk, I thought about my thirty-six years behind the wheel. Like most people, I’ve had my share of accidents and a couple of speeding tickets but, overall, I’m a good driver. In my younger years, however I was loved driving fast – slaloming on serpentine roads, taking corners at speed, racing guys on empty highways and doing the Rockford turn to show off. My favorite car movies are Bullitt and Drive. Of course, I don’t do stuff like that anymore –mostly – but I’ve always told my wife I’d like one of those stunt driving courses as a birthday present. But as I hit my fifties, without really consciously thinking about it, I’ve slowed my driving way, way down. I guess as the grey hairs have taken over my head, I’ve developed a better appreciation for physics and the fragility of the human body. I don’t run yellow lights, drive the speed limit and have become so hyperaware of children that I crawl out of my driveway now. I’ve become the old geezer I used to hate getting stuck behind.
After work was over, I picked up my daughter at her after school program. As always, I had a snack for waiting for her, an apple and chocolate milk. On the drive home Natalie prattled on about her day while I kept an eye on my vehicular brethren. Cresting a hill overlooking a lake, I saw the placid waters below blazing with violet, orange and purple light, mirroring the low hanging winter clouds the setting sun has set ablaze. For a moment sky and water seemed as one. It was beautiful. Then a horn honked. Slowing down to take in the view, I must’ve pissed off the guy behind me. Pulling over, I let him pass, being rewarded with an Italian salute in the process. That made me two for two that day.
“Look Natalie,” I said. “Look out the window, Isn’t that pretty?”
“Very pretty,” my daughter said, unenthusiastically. What? Did she even look? Did she see that moment of fortuitous and delicate beauty – that transcendent whisper about creation’s goodness? Probably not. Probably thinking whatever seven-year old’s think. Probably tired of her old man pointing at angels in the sky. Oh well.
When we pulled into the driveway, my daughter jumped out of her booster seat and plopped down next to me. “Now you’re going to teach me how to drive,” she said.
I laughed. “Please, you’ve got nine years before you start driving.”
“No,” she said smiling beatifically. “Teach me now.”
So, with my daughter on my lap, we drove down our quiet residential street. Of course, she wanted to go all Steve McQueen, slewing the wheel left and right, but my hands were over hers, gently guiding her back on the correct path.
“Good job, honey,” I said. “You’re driving!”
“Go faster Daddy!”
“Uh, this is fast enough.”
Reaching the end of the block, I let Natalie turn around we drove back into our driveway. “Again! Again!” she cried.
“One ride to a customer.”
“Was me driving breaking the law?”
“We were totally breaking the law.”
The sun had slipped below the horizon and I wanted to get inside to begin the evening routine – homework, dinner, bath time, story and getting my girl into bed. That can be an ordeal at times and sometimes I rush the process so my wife and I can spend some time alone. But Natalie wanted to keep pretending to drive so, as I listened to the engine ticking in the frigid air, I let her. There was no rush. My daughter may have ignored nature’s transcendent pyrotechnic show, but something told me she’d remember driving with her dad for the rest of her life. It was then I realized why I had started driving like an old man. For much of my life I’ve been focused on getting quickly to my destination, ignoring the scenery slipping past my eyes. Now, at my age, I don’t want to miss anything. Leaning forward, I planted a kiss on Natalie’s head, smelling the shampoo her mother used to wash her hair. It was yet another beautiful moment, another murmur of life’s sweet glory. I may have missed or ignored many of these flashes of grace as I’ve driven though life, but I knew if I just slowed down, they would come again, again, and again. Life is merciful that way.
Taking Natalie into the house, I smiled. I was indeed two for two that day.