CHAPTER 1 – Pearl Harbor
One Saturday late in my son’s senior year in high school he arrived at the barber shop… the home-hair salon option, performed without any professional pride or even interest, having long since been rejected by mutual agreement when the quality of the haircut was questioned.
Bill’s Barber Shop was three miles from our home and my son arrived on his bike. Bill had been cutting his hair for some years and so was able to recognize the significance of the transportation. In fact Bill even brought it up to my son “Three years ago you arrived here on a bike. Two years ago you drove here in a new Jeep. One year ago you drove here in a 15 year old Chevy Citation. Now you are back on the bike.”
My son just shrugged. There wasn’t enough time in one haircut to explain how it happened. Not even the glossed over, partially correct and mostly lacking in detail, version my son would have delivered.
This is the start of the story of Car Wars. Every parent’s mostly (except for the visible evidence on the car) private war against the inevitable – stupid kids. Sometimes really stupid kids.
But first some context. I passed my driving test using a column shift station wagon. (If you don’t know what a ‘column shift’ is, then you have acquired one checkmark for being considered entitled. You can look up ‘station wagon’ in the dictionary.) My first car, aside from the ones I shared with four siblings for a couple of years, was an 11 yr old Plymouth Belvedere with push button gears, pinkish beige, big as a boat, purchased with summer job money for $700 from the elderly ladies next door. It had eleven thousand miles on it.
My future father-in-law told me not to park it in his driveway. His driveway could handle 30 cars. The police stopped me one midnight when I was leaving my future wife’s neighborhood to search the car for silverware and televisions.
So yeah, it was driving the equivalent of “walking 2 miles in the snow each way to school.” But I had a car.
My wife’s car experience was the equivalent of being driven the two miles to school. With a chauffeur. She got a new Jeep on her 16th birthday. But she has pointed out that she did have to buy her own gas.
So when it came time for our kids to start driving, decisions had to be made. If you have been reading any of the previous posts, you can guess who made those decisions.
My son got a new Jeep for his 16th birthday.
I justified it by telling anyone at his birthday party that the car was a family car and I would be driving it most of the time – and truth be told, I gave in to getting this gift because the ‘new jeep’ fantasy never really goes away for guys, even dads who would learn better.
Anyway, I was right. It was a dumb idea. Not that I ever like pointing out to my wife I was right. It’s not gracious. And it is dangerous.
My son left that afternoon in the new Jeep with a friend, both of whom were threatened, with the worst I could say aloud with any decency. I also added contorted facial expressions and finger in the face for added emphasis.
The whole demonstration was met with the mechanical head nodding confirmation of teenagers pacifying an obviously clueless parent. (I was still a rube back then, even with seven kids. I hadn’t formulated “The only good kid…” principle yet.)1
No one was to drive the Jeep but my son. And everyone would wear seatbelts.
Four hours later the police were at my house.
My son had let another (underage) friend drive the jeep onto the local ball field. To see how it handled ‘off road’. The police arrived. Everyone bolted but my son.
Of course I immediately violated one of my ‘infamous parenting strategies’ – lifetime anything is not too effective in restricting the punishment to the appropriate party – and declared incarceration without possibility of parole. He was grounded the rest of the summer, which had just started. And he was also assessed a fine and court costs. He had to pay for all his car insurance, not just half.
In short, he was given Due Process the old fashion way. No right to remain silent, no right to counsel, no right to bail, no appeal, cruel and unusual punishment permitted. (See ‘infamous parenting strategies’ – the protections of the U. S. Constitution are specifically exempted from application at my house.)
But the bottom line was, four hours into my first skirmish in what would become decades long Car Wars, I had already been overrun and my flag captured.
His friends took up a collection for him to help pay. But it was of no consequence because of what happened two weeks later. Again with my wife aiding the enemy.
To be continued….