Fun driving in New York City.

This article by Andy Raskin makes the New York Times worth reading today.

FOR my third date with Tracy I’m taking her to the Sum Hey Rice Shoppe in Manhattan. Every Long Island family has a favorite restaurant in Chinatown, and ours is the Sum Hey Rice Shoppe. “You’re going to love this place,” I tell her. “When I was a kid I used to order pork chow mai fun and smear it on the plate with ketchup.”

Tracy beams at me from the passenger seat. She clearly likes that I’m already sharing family stuff.

I wait for the pedestrians to clear before turning off Canal onto Mott. At Bayard I take a left. “There’s the restaurant,” I say. “You want to get out and I’ll go park?”

“Nah,” Tracy says. “I’ll help you find a spot.”

O.K.

Read on. It’s worth it.

It brings to mind the legendary tales in our family of the male’s use of their vehicles to woo their women, transport their children, and get the best parking places.

When I taught my son to drive we were living in Panama and driving seemed to come natural to him. It didn’t take much effort on my part. The only problem I had with him was speed. He had to learn to slow down when coming to a stop.

Our daughters took to driving like little ducks to water and most of their practice took place in parking lots at The Army War College. There was only one thing I couldn’t teach them….parallel parking. I never attempt to park in that sideways fashion so didn’t have anything to offer them.

So I called in the expert, their Dad. My husband is such a diligent teacher that he will stick with his students until they get the lesson, no matter what the lesson is and no matter how long it takes. He has enormous patience. Although our son gladly sat for hours with his Papa studying math, our daughters avoided any tutoring from their Dad like the plague.

But the girls had to learn to parallel park, so we had to call in the big gun. I will never forget how easy my husband made it look and how expert his ability when parking parallel. Our daughters were enormously impressed and so was I. Even though my husband had lost his peripheral vision after a detached retina caused by a double feed on an M14 resulting in a rifle explosion while he was a cadet at West Point, he has always been able to compensate for that little disability and can park any vehicle expertly in the tightest of spots.

When our son was a cow at West Point and he and his fellow cadets were eligible for a low-interest car loan we expected he would want to buy a hot new car, but no, that genetic love of old cars showed up in him. He bought a 1969 Mustang from a fellow cadet. The car had no emergency brake and had a lot of other negatives but that didn’t matter to him. I could write a book about the situations that Mustang has gotten me in but that is for another day.

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The 1969 Mustang at Smurf Village in Carlisle Barracks, PA
before massive body work.

After our son’s graduation from West Point we planned to go to New York City to celebrate for a few days. Knowing about the parking situation in New York City we talked my husband into taking the train from West Point to NYC and leaving the cars at West Point. He was miffed the whole time we were on the train, most likely thinking of the missed opportunities to impress the kids with his driving. As much fun as the train ride was we regretted not driving in after taking some terrifying taxi rides.

When we were living at Fort Eustis, Virginia in 1989 my parents and paternal grandmother came to visit us from Arkansas. After their stay with us they drove up to Maine to see my sister, brother-in-law and baby girl. On the way back home my Dad decided to drive through New York City. I think my grandmother’s hair turned completely white on that trip but my Dad loved telling stories about the “yankee” drivers.

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My Dad, my sister and my son after going out for a drive in the old car.

My brother (the oldest one) was fascinated with cars early on and used to sneak the keys to our Dad’s antique cars and drive them around the yard. One day he and my sister took a car out on the road but a few blocks away the axle on the car broke. They were so busted.

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My youngest brother also loved antique cars and spent most of his teenage years restoring his Merc. He had almost completed the restoration the day he drove the car to church. After church we were all shocked and my brother was heartbroken when an elderly man backed his car into the Merc in the church parking lot.

At one time my Dad had ten antique cars in his yard. The city won’t allow that now so he’s sold off all but one car. When we were kids our dad owned a black forty eight Chevy and he kept that car in great shape. We drove in it on roadtrips (no air conditioning) and to some of Daddy’s fast pitch softball tournaments.

I didn’t learn about class snobbery until I was in the seventh grade and Daddy drove me to school in the Chevy. A few kids made fun of the car since it was so old. The criticism sort of bothered me but I didn’t really understand it because the Chevy was such a cool car. Watching my Dad drive that car taught me a lot about driving. My first driving lesson actually occurred in that car and thank goodess it happened in a college parking lot on a weekend.

I almost ran into one of the buildings of the college and Daddy had to grab the steering wheel. We had a lot of conversations in that car throughout my growing up years. Daddy used to take us out for a drive on Sunday evenings, along with our dog, Cookie and I remember noticing the street lights when I was very little.

Daddy taught me all about multiplication tables, patterns and number correlations when we were out driving. He also gave me some good advice when I was approaching my dating years. He advised me that when a boy asked me to go parking, just to pretend not to hear what he said and instead, ask him if he heard a dog barking. That became my standard response when asked that question. I even said it to the date who eventually became my husband.

Cars in our family were never brand new and always needed some kind of repair but our family made memories while traveling on short and long trips and the conversations we had have never left me.

Two weeks before my late father-in-law died of cancer he decided to go out for one last drive in his car. My husband and I took the ride with him and it turned out to be wild. Because of his weakness, my father-in-law had trouble steering and came very close to a head-on collision. Finally, my husband convinced him to pull over so that he could drive. That was really a sad moment actually. Letting go of that wheel was very hard for him.