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Hey. It’s been a while, but I’ve managed to conjure up a long one for you. You may want to save it for some relaxing vacation reading by a nice cool pool, lake or whatever…enjoy! – Jenny

I was 17 years old when I was ordered to see a judge.

It was Thanksgiving break and I had woken up early (at least to a college freshman) and driven down to some courthouse in LA by my dad.

I had received yet another speeding ticket and this time there was a judge who wanted to scare me straight, although I think the drive to the courthouse with my father was even more frightening than the meeting with the judge.

We had directions from MapQuest, a relatively new gimmick at the time, that my mother faithfully researched and printed out for us. They were wrong, and we got lost. Or they were right and I failed to read them correctly from my lofty (yet unwanted) post of ‘navigator’. Who knows.

Being my dad’s navigator was (and still is) the least desirable place to sit in any vehicle for any human being. I would sooner be on a dirty train to Darjeeling than in the plush, air conditioned comfort of “Navigatordom”.

Fortunately, the world has blessed me, my mother and any other poor soul who must guide my dad from point A to point B with satellite navigation. That inventor has my deepest gratitude. Unlike me, the little voice inside the GPS-wonder won’t start crying when it gets asked, “RIGHT OR LEFT? RIGHT OR LEFT, GOD DAMMIT?” Although I admit that I would enjoy hearing the computer-voice snark back to him, “Simmer down, sir! All I said was to merge with traffic in two point five miles! I’ll let you know what to do as we get closer! Do you need me to drive?”

Back in the judge’s office (is it OK to call them ‘chambers’?) I was nervous, yet cocky at the same time. When the judge asked me, “Do you realize that I can take away your license?” I remember thinking “Yeah right! I’m only 17. In a couple days I will be 18 and many of this drops off my record!” (Which the judge had previously mentioned).

I apologized to the judge (somewhat half-heartedly) and endured a cold-yet-fuming father all the way home. (And yes, I think we managed to get lost on the way home, too.) I don’t remember because I was completely obsessed with just getting home to hang out with all my other friends  who were also home for break. Yay, friendship!

Later on I received a letter in the mail from the then-Governor, Pete Wilson, because I had received three speeding tickets within a year. Or was it 6 months? Not sure. I still have the letter somewhere, but it was just full of ‘shame on you’ text that his secretary had written and contained no real penalties. Of course I wasn’t paying for my own auto insurance at the time, so I’m sure my poor mother would have much to say about how much my speedy road trips were really costing.

Driving is one of my absolute favorite pastimes.

Driving always symbolized that I was getting to escape one place and trade it for another.

All my family was out of state, so every vacation was to either Las Vegas or Phoenix. The roads were straight and the speed limit was lax, and when we all figured out that a child (me) with extreme motion sickness should not be allowed to read in the back seat, these drives became relatively uneventful.

Normally, I’d hurl on any road trip that was over 30 minutes long (or past the bustling metropolis of Acton on Hwy 14) but soon we curbed this annoying habit and we were good to go.

Check out this handy visual I made for you! Home = no problem. Acton = time to start puking. And yes, I miss Hwy 14 every time I have to drive Chico’s janky Hwy 99.

A typical family road trip followed these basic steps:

  • Drive through the Air Force Base to shave off 30 minutes? Check.
  • Stop for food around the halfway point? (A McDonalds that resembled a train car)? Double check.
  • Only pee at the restaurant? Absolutely. Rest stops were gross.
  • Beg my parents to go visit the giant Cabazon Dinosaurs from Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure movie? Every time.

We actually did stop and visit them once when we were driving with my friend Monica. They were really cool, albeit, blazing hot inside. No A/C inside those dino-babies.

As I got older, driving became my thing.

My car, an unassuming silver 1992 Hyundai Sonata with a sneaky V6, was surprisingly, the most reliable vehicle out of all of the clunkers my friends owned (or didn’t own). This meant I was often the one elected to drive on our many outings. (Oh, and the free gas credit card from my parents also helped.)

Growing up in Lancaster, CA  these outings were usually all about escape! We’d venture 30 minutes to Santa Clarita to visit our teacher for a card game or old VHS movie night (Oh yeah – party on, kids!) or 45 minutes to Magic Mountain. Sometimes we’d push the curfews and scream our way to Beverly Hills so we could try and eat at our favorite fifties diner, Ed Debevic’s (Now closed for 10 years – boo!).

When I started college 7.5 hours away from home in balmy Chico, California, my driving was, once again, a huge part of my life. Even if you didn’t count all the I-5 trips home (any 3-day weekend I could muster) I was one of the rare students in the dorms that had a car, so late night trips to Winco for ice cream and candy to console a friend’s broken heart became my duty.

Vent-Driving 101 – An Introduction and Case Study

If you know anything about me from this blog, you know that there were a few boys who played a big role in my girl-chases-boy phase. This phase was probably about 14 years long and often ended up with me finally getting the picture: No — That boy does not want me to chase him any longer!

Once I had my driver’s license, my go-to venting/crying/radio-blasting/purging myself of all things “HIM” was done behind the wheel. Is it smart to drive when you’re freaking out and blubbering about that one time he smiled at you over bumper pool? Is it the safest idea to go racing down a highway while simultaneously gazing at the yellow sticker he gave you from McDonald’s that said “SPECIAL”? No. Absolutely not. Get yourself together, woman!

But vent-drive I did, and damn, I was good at it, too. The first time, I vent-drove, I had recently received my license and was on my way “to the sunset” (Dramatic much?) and I got pulled over for speeding. As the CHP approached me, he got a front row seat to my ugly cry-face behind my gas station sunglasses and my passenger seat full of used tissues. Plus, I had never been pulled over before, so I was majorly scared about getting in trouble. And wasn’t this just PERFECT? What a crappy day…getting pulled over made things even more dramatic! I felt like I was in a movie 🙂

The CHP could see I was upset and told me that it wasn’t a good idea to go around driving in that condition. Then he told me to scamper along home with just a warning. He had a teenage daughter too and hated to think of her vent-driving and heart-broken like I was. Mwuh ha ha! I mean, “Thank you, Officer.” {Sniff-sniff}

I think I turned around and went to the beach instead, which was probably about two hours from that pull-over point. (I know. I know.  I was a big-time brat. I can still be really bratty when the occasion calls for it now, too. Look out.)

But again, I love me some dramatic moments and shaking things off via vehicle is still my number one choice. Getting out of Chico and cruising up to Lake Almanor (Curvy roads have nothin’ on me if I’m behind the wheel – Puke problem, be gone!) or driving over to to see family in Reno. Both journeys have been very therapeutic for me.

When I used to commute to work, that drive home was just the antidote I needed to belt-sing away my stress from a crummy work day, which were the majority of my casino-worker days.

These days, it’s trickier to just hop in the car and drive.

We have a family vacation that will involve a good 10+ hours of driving (yay!), but belting out your troubles to your favorite Civil Wars/Alison Krauss/Phantom of the Opera soundtrack (Don’t judge me) is a bit harder to do with an audience of children in the car. Or a husband who’s head may explode if he ever witnessed the hot-mess that is, me BELTING “The Music of the Night” or one of my many “My Fair Lady” movie soundtrack ditties. I know we’re supposed to be ‘ONE’ and all, but there are just some things I will forever draw the line on. Scream-singing in the car is just one of those things best left to some alone time.

What do you like to do to shake off stress?

Does driving soothe you or add to your problems?

PS: Curious about the three dumbest things that ever happened while driving?

Mom, you can stop reading this now. Kids, you may read this only to know that there is nothing you can do that will surprise me. But don’t even think of trying to top me. To the rest of you, I implore you not to hold these driving-sins against me. I am much less reckless now that I am a mom with two kids in the car at almost all times 🙂

1) Attempting to remove the glass insert to my custom installed sunroof. While driving.

Just picture a giant glass window the size of a cafeteria lunch tray, flying backwards through the air, then — a huge glass-explosion, as it disintegrates into the road. Two seconds later, a motorcyclist came up behind us. It still makes me shiver to think how close we were to killing someone that day. The rest of the damp Seattle-outskirts summer (an El Nino summer, by the way) seemed like a small price to pay for the stupidity. Did I mention I was trying to impress a boy?

2) Driving my sedan (same car as above) over a rusty, springy bed-frame in the desert while the entire car-load of sleepover girls were only wearing their bras for tops.

I can’t even begin to explain this one, but I managed to get my car caught up in the springs, despite climbing under the car to jiggle it free by hand, and yes, I am completely aware how inappropriate that outfit-choice was at that time. When I eventually gassed the car free, I managed to damage something that covered up some other part underneath my car so every time I pulled into a driveway or parking lot, my car scraped unceremoniously loud and caused everyone to look and say, “What an idiot. Look at that big plastic thing hanging down under her car.” I think I told my parents I broke it on the washboard dirt road of my friend Rob’s house. This was not true. I apologize for the mistruth although that horrible road probably could have damaged my car on it’s own too.

3) Four-wheeling at night, in the rain in my ‘86 Bronco II over a giant boulder.

Once again, I was trying to impress a boy (make that three) with my fearless girl-power skills.

Had I ever been 4-wheeling before? Sure.

Had I ever been the driver on these 4-wheeling expeditions? Nope.

Did I try to get one of the boys to drive instead and get denied by all of them? Absolutely. Those chickens!

So, after a few donuts around some power line guide wires, I was feeling pretty confident. Eat my dust (mud) cute boys! Then – BUMP! – my Eddie Bauer-edition beauty was off the ground and rolling on a huge boulder that had been lurking in the grass. Good bye, drive shaft. Hello, broken car. Hello, humiliation and the beginning of weeks and weeks without a vehicle which at that time was torture.

But the next thing I knew, I was riding in the passenger side of my broken beat-up car while a pair of blue eyes smiled at me from the driver’s seat. This boy, who I had just met that night, said he would drive my Bronco II out of the mud, back up the ravine and to the main road so we could get it towed to town. (AAA has a thing about rescuing dumb girls who break their car in a mud pit.)

Even though it was a dumb choice and I had made a mess of things, I had him. And it would be OK in the end.

About Jenny Z

I love to overuse italics, misplaced hyphens and internal dialogue when I write about my usual favorite topic, myself.

3 responses »

  1. What? Ed Dibevics is closed?!? Loved “driving” down memory lane as I read your post. Also, loved your husbands point of view too about your “story”. 🙂

  2. There always seems to be a mess before things get real good in life. And I will drive any broken mess out of any muddy ravine whenever you need me to.


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