Driving it home

PHOTO: burnbless, Flickr CC-BY
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

When you bring your first child home from the hospital it’s like juggling a grenade with the pin pulled out. Fate entrusts this tiny, fragile creature to two dopes who will learn everything they know about parenting from experimentation on this baby.

Maybe that’s why there’s such emphasis on getting the car seat installed properly. It’s one of the last things the nurses control. After strapping in the cherub more securely than a transplanted organ you roll out of there and life begins.

But then, 15 years later, the state gives that baby a learner’s permit and instructs us parents to teach the kid how to drive. This summer, watching my oldest sat behind the wheel for the first time, it occurred to me that no one strapped me into the passenger seat with similar care. I certainly could have used the soothing sensation of a good swaddle.

Our son Henry is a responsible young man, literally a Boy Scout, so this could have been much worse. But everyone has to learn about driving from the beginning. This includes which pedal is the gas and which is the brake, when to engage the turn signal and how to make a 90 degree turn when you’re OH DEAR GOD STOP STOP STOP AAAAAAH!

You’ve got to GAAAAAAASP slow down HEEEEEEEEEEP when you make GLUUURRRRP a turn.

It’s OK. No one was hurt. This is learning. But let’s just say that COVID-19 is only one of the things that might kill me this year.

This reminds that piloting a car at deadly speed is, at least evolutionarily speaking, an abnormal act. But human beings can acclimate to almost anything, no matter how unnatural. Watching movies on tiny smart phone screens. Reality show presidencies. Diet Mountain Dew. You name it, we can ignore its weirdness.

It’s like that with cars. After you start driving them you get used to the speed and handling. Pretty soon you forget that you’re in a two-ton super computer hurtling through time and space. Whatevs.

Lately I’ve been researching former Hibbing mayor Victor Power, a guy who died almost 100 years ago. Sometimes I daydream that he’s sitting in the car with me. I’d like to think we’d have detailed conversations about the nuances of early 20th Century mining taxation. But mostly I just imagine him being amazed by my Dodge Grand Caravan.

“Hooowee! Are we going 80?” he’d ask.

It’ll go faster but we’d be in trouble, I’d say.

“Is that creosote on the road?”

No sir, everything’s asphalt now. Nobody wants to jostle their coffee cup when they drive.

“Dear God, man, you can take coffee with you now! What a world!”

Anyway, we quickly forget how technology shapes our world. Normal never means the same thing. It’s just what we’re used to.

And now I must adjust to a teenager driving my car. I try to tell him every bonehead thing I’ve ever done behind the wheel. Maybe he’ll avoid the same fate. And then I remember my father doing the same thing and know that this is a fool’s errand.

It didn’t help that last weekend the classic movie channel showed “Signal 30,” the grisly 1959 film depicting the gory aftermath of automobile accidents. It became standard viewing for driver’s training classes during the 1960s and ‘70s. By the time I learned how to drive in the 1990s we were shown tamer videos, perhaps to spare our feelings.

But it’s fitting to remember how fragile we are, how fleeting life is, and how it feels to pilot a magical hunk of steel into the future.

Drive safe. Drive home.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and is the creator of the Great Northern Radio Show which aired for eight years on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, July 19, 2020 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.


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