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The view from the passenger’s side

I have become the passenger in my own car since my teenage daughter, Lily, got her New York state drivers permit in November.

This is my second go-round at riding shotgun to a beginning driver. And I confess, it is a questionable endeavor on my part considering my own dislike of operating any motor vehicle or for that matter—who are we kidding here—anything mechanical. 

For the most part, Lily’s father has been driving with her, but I am more available for evening trips. As part of the requirements for taking the New York State road test, an applicant must log at least 50 hours of driving including 15 hours at night.

So here we are, navigating the dark, winter roads with all the grace and aplomb I can muster. I am seeing a whole new outlook from the side seat—a view that occasionally includes the heart-pounding approach of the ditch as we hug the fog line.

From my perspective, I can also study the profile of my daughter’s face. I can still recognize the lingering line of her rounded baby cheeks. It plays like a ghost along her features as she sings along to the Amy Winehouse songs broadcasting from her iPhone. 

She has driven us up along the Cannonsville Reservoir to ballet class in Walton, over to Equinunk, PA, and down to Hancock. This past week, she drove us all the way to Liberty, using Route 17. 

“Have you ever driven on the highway?” I asked before we set out in the dark and rain.

Playing the lawyer, she grinned and muttered, “Depends on how you define highway,” before she backed out of our driveway.  We went slowly.

I was taught to drive by my Uncle Bennie, a Roman Catholic priest who spent summer vacations at my family’s home when I was a teenager. We spent a lot of afternoons driving over to the ice cream stand in Roscoe. I remember when my father lined up the Ford tractor and the manure spreader on the road so that I could practice parallel parking between them. Fortunately, I was able to take my road test on the familiar and easygoing streets of Hancock.

I am also recalling the days I spend teaching my son, Sam, to drive not all that long ago. He had a penchant for taking turns too fast, but since then he has become a very good driver, able to drive highways and distances that go beyond my confidence level.

From the passenger’s seat, as I view Lily’s composure and determination, I feel sure that, with practice, she too will become a capable and adept driver. I prefer to take this long-term view. But right now, from my passenger side perspective, I’ll be happy to stay out of the ditch.


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