Tuesday, June 03, 2008

And then we'd all get home and fix ourselves a nice gin and tonic and light cigarettes

Yesterday we got all the way to Nick's office in downtown DC before I realized I wasn't wearing my seat belt.

Somehow I was distracted when I got in the car and forgot to fasten it.

I always wear my seat belt. Always always always.

Not only am I a first-born-rule-follower, but whenever you're in the car, you realize how many stupid people are driving around you. Fully half the people on the road drive like they've had head injuries. No?

So the seat belts, air bags, and of course, just in case, those hammers to break your windshield, one if which I have, thanks to Laura, are a really good idea. There's no reason not to be as careful as possible.

But as a kid? I don't even think our car had seat belts.

This post is going to make our parents sound incredibly irresponsible, but you need to understand, it was a different era entirely. Before people knew that smoking causes cancer, for example.

Not to get all public safety on you.


When we lived in Bangladesh, we had the oldest VW bug you can imagine. We inherited it from someone who had just left the post. The top half of the headlights were painted black, because of cautionary blackouts during the war.

The floor of the back seat rotted out one monsoon season, and for a while we just drove with it like that. You could see the road underneath.

My father would joke that when he yelled "stop!" we should put our feet down, like the Flintstones.

Us kids, we loved it. It was very exciting.

Eventually they got it fixed. With plywood. It was post-war Bangladesh - what do you want?

Nick said that his family had a Chevy Corvaire, which I'd never heard of, but apparently is partly how Ralph Nader made a name for himself, with "Unsafe at Any Speed." Turns out they were really tall cars that tipped over shockingly easily.

What Nick remembers about their height was that as a little kid he was able to stand up. In the passenger seat. Without a seat belt. While his parents were driving.

This was rivaled, he said, only by the excitement of "surfing" on top of the station wagon. To be fair, his mom was driving really slowly while weaving down the driveway.

I also remember that my dad used to let me drive. In Bangladesh. Not in Egypt, because there was just too much traffic craziness. But I'd sit in his lap and steer the car. Nick said his parents did the same thing.

You think about how Britney got in such trouble for fleeing from the paparazzi with her kid in her lap. And then you contrast this with a five-year old me steering the car into the median, panicking.

Meanwhile, my Dad was all shockingly calm. "Turn a little more to the right, sweetheart."


  1. On long car trips as a child, to other states, my father would let me drive.

    an 11 year old driving stick.

    in the flatlands of Montana.

    imagine that.

    And we never got pulled over.

    It was awesome.

  2. i guess my parents were rigid... we never got to do any of that stuff. i can just remember the red station wagon though. and putting my head on the seat and my feet on the ceiling and riding upside down.
    i'm a total seatbelt girl now though. it drives my mom crazy because i won't go anywhere until she buckles up for safety. and my car has a fantastic feature that tells me when i'm driving and not buckled up so i can't get anywhere and realize i forgot.

  3. Slightly Disorganized - That IS awesome! And incredible in a variety of ways. At 11 I think I still tied the bows on my shoes backwards. I didn't learn stick till I was 27.

    notsojenny - Which is not actually a bad thing. None of us should've been driving as children. I'm the same way with my mom and the seatbelts!

  4. When we lived in Israel, my parents had an old Chevy Malibu. Sam, who was about 4 years old at the time, used to ride standing up in the middle of the front seat. When you look at all of the safety features on every toy and every stroller and all of the warnings about this chemical and that electrical outlet cover, I often wonder how any of us made it to adulthood.

  5. I'm reading "Don't Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight" right now about child hood in Zimbabwe, and your image of a floorless car has now cemented in my mind that your growing up was just as wild and crazy as Alexandra Fuller's. I think it's about time you get those memoirs written!

  6. DCup - I haven't ridden in the back of a pickup truck in years - and there's no way in hell I ever would now. It is crazy how perspective changes, for sure.

    Wendy - No kidding. Such a good point, especially when you think about all the things that can go wrong AND the insanity we got up to in high school. We are lucky in so many ways.

    Mood Indigo - Oh, you are lovely! I am going so slowly. So, I absolutely LOVED that book (but my childhood was nowhere near as wild)! She also wrote Scribbling the Cat, which I liked less but still enjoyed.

  7. I totally used to drive too!!


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