“Can we go driving today,” my older son asks with the mellifluous cadence of a scene from “Driving Miss Daisy.” Did he just wink while saying that?
My oldest son is 16 and wants to drive Laguna’s skinny, crowded, hilly streets, where people run across the highway without looking. He has a learner’s permit and needs 50 long hours of driving experience with an adult before he can get his real license. I used to spend time with him on the floor rolling a ball or coloring a picture. Now I am charmed into the next phase of parenting: risking my life on Lagunas streets.
I hand him the keys and off we go. I am already nervous. Laguna Beach can be nerve wracking for an experienced driver, but youthful bliss makes it quite comfortable if you are 16. Today we will drive down Summit Drive. The narrow, steep and twisty descent has my heart beating at an almost anaerobic rate. Remember my life is in the hands of someone with three weeks experience behind the wheel. Mason is completely relaxed. I am not. I don’t want to look like a weenie but I am trying to play it cool while gripping the door handle like a safety bar on an old roller coaster. We arrive at and turn onto Coast Highway. I exhale. Was I holding my breath the whole way down?
The pedestrian crosswalks are scary. Pedestrians press the button and boldly walk across the street. There is no warning. Sometimes you have to stop quickly from highway speed. Oh no, I see a girl stepping into the street ahead. Good, Mason saw them. We pass through with no incident. Driving along I settle in a bit. I notice a neighboring car, an orange 1970 VW bug. Cool. I start to daydream about when I wanted one of those cars. Just then, the VW makes an abrupt lane change in front of us! I don’t have time to scream. Through my sweat-filled left eye I can see Mason calmly brake and continue on his way. My stomach starts to hurt.
We are now downtown. Mason wants to stop for something at Hobie. Okay, I say. This will be a good chance to practice parking. There is nowhere to park so we circle the block twice and decide to skip it. Instead, we head down Laguna Canyon to practice driving at speed. Twenty minutes later we only get as far as Ganahl Lumber and make a u turn to go back and try Hobie again. This time there is a parking spot right in front. Yeah! Mason expertly parks, seatbelts unleashed we head for the door ready to make a purchase. “Dad, do you have quarters for the parking meter? “Ugh. I don’t. We don’t have a parking sticker for this car. So, I look on the ground for some money and in the cracks of the truck seat. I consider asking the homeless guy in front of the pharmacy for a quarter but instead we get back in the car and head home. No shopping at Hobie today. We head home up Park Avenue. It’s almost over. We will be home in five minutes.
Doing a conservative speed up Park Avenue, I inhale deeply. I look out the window at the trees and beauty that are outside my window. Smiling, I slowly look forward out the wind shield. Aaaah! I can see directly into to the wide eyes of a middle school aged skateboarder bombing the hill and crossing through our path! Mason swerves in the lane slightly, avoiding collision. “Did you see that!” he yells. “No,” I say calmly. I am now retreating to “my quiet place” in my mind. I move to take up a fetal position in the seat.
We are now on our street. We pull in front of the house. The car is now parked, brake set. We are safe. My wrist really hurts. I release my Kung Fu Grip from the door handle. I must have been holding it very tightly. It’s okay. Circulation will return soon.
Rubbing my wrist I look at my son. He looks at me and smiles. Just like when I used to roll him a ball when he was 6.
Roderick Reed owns REEDesign Interiors in Laguna Beach. He lives in town with his wife Kathy and two sons Mason and Jack. http://roderickreed.com/.