John Carlson: On the Road and Under Study

A sticky little on-line guy tells Nancy that her skills behind the wheel are perfect. Photo by: Nancy CarlsonA sticky little on-line guy tells Nancy that her skills behind the wheel are perfect. Photo by: Nancy Carlson

By: John Carlson—

Nancy and I have recently been driving around town with a hitchhiker.

Not someone with an outstretched thumb, though.

It’s an on-line hitchhiker.

Our insurance company hooked us up with this squat little plastic guy, who is stuck to our front windshield up near the rear-view mirror. On the plus side, he promised to help lower the cost of our car insurance and doesn’t ever call me names like Johnny Flabbyton, Mister Flabster or The Flabmeister. Nevertheless, in my more cantankerous moments, I was starting to think of him as a pain in the, you know, rear bumper.

For purposes of this column, let’s call him … oh, I dunno … Jake.

What Jake does, if you aren’t acquainted with him, is keep track of how safely you drive. He notes your speed and acceleration. The smoothness of your braking. Your fluidity in cornering. Also whether you made or answered a phone call from your car, which might be the cardinal driving sin. Then he reports back to your phone, and the insurance company, how well you did.

You know, like a safety consultant.

Or a blabbermouth.

“Remember my trip to Anderson?” Nancy bragged jubilantly just the other day. “Jake said I had no events!”

Events are Jake’s term for driving errors. The first few times she told me this I answered, “That’s nice, dear!” then went back to reading my magazine. About the seventh or eighth time she bragged to me about having no events, I mumbled an appreciative though offhanded, “Ummmhmmm,” but never stopped reading my magazine.  But about the fifteenth time she reminded me of this, hiding my face behind my magazine, I crossed my eyes, scrunched up my nose and sneered, “Well, whoopee crapola!”

What’d you say behind that magazine, buster?” she demanded.

“Uh, ‘Whoopee … granola?’”

It wasn’t that I was jealous, exactly. But so far, I’d never had “no” events while driving. Put another way, I’d always had events while driving. You know, supposed screw-ups, brain-fades, harmless little driving boo-boos. But this, I rationalized, was because in my soul I’m a road warrior. I rode motorcycles for forty years. Grew up with a deep-seated fondness for muscle cars. Back in the day, I even graduated from Skip Barber’s Formula Ford Road-Racing School, albeit only after my instructor once waved me off a corner with the “wimp flag.”

So yeah, if I have a driving problem, it’s that I’m a hot-rodding daredevil. But Nancy sees me as more of a hot-rodding dingbat.

Suddenly considering herself Jake’s “pet” driver, she began joining him in criticizing my failures behind the wheel. Take the fact that as a road-racing graduate, my primary concern in navigating corners was “clipping the apex,” that being the fastest way through it. Nancy’s primary concern in navigating corners was giving woolly caterpillars plenty of time to get out of her way.

So the other day as I was clipping apexes, she got all huffy. Then she said something that froze me to the core.

“If you don’t stop that, I’m telling Jake!”

Looking back now, I recognize this as the moment he began to seem more than just a squat little on-line plastic dude stuck to my windshield.

“Yeah?” I huffed. “Then maybe I’ll have to kick Jake’s plastic little khakis-covered butt!”

“You wouldn’t!”

“I would!”

At this she turned on me and screeched, “You leave Jake alone!”

Then the truth hit: Nancy liked Jake better than me.

This sort of stung. But then I thought, heck, why wouldn’t she like Jake better than me? Jake frequently compliments her driving. Whenever I rode as a passenger with her, if I said anything about her driving at all, it was more likely to be, “Eeek! We’re all gonna die!”

You know, as a joke.

But just like that I was reminded that wives are too often taken for granted, and are worthy of far more praise than we husbands parcel out. So what if, from deference to woolly worms’ travel habits, she drove through corners slowly? Wasn’t that better than me squishing woolly worms all over the pavement?

Jake thought so.

Plus, I had to admit Nancy was far superior to me in every other life discipline that possibly came to mind.

Cooking? Sure, I could heat soup. But how many wonderful meals had she prepared for me with minimum thanks? Bet Jake would have remembered to praise her, even if he weren’t stuck to one of her corned-beef briskets.

Handling family finances? Same thing. Left to my own devices the past thirty-eight years, our family’s address would have been “Prairie Creek Lake, the Dumpster behind the snack stand.” But Jake would have thanked her effusively for not ending up in that trash container stuck to a bunch of Fudgesicle wrappers.

And the list of her superiority to me in other basic life skills continued: lawn care, child-rearing, Scrabble, jar opening, weeding, housekeeping, even tightening up toilet seats. And all that was without considering her very successful teaching career.

Alas, totally ashamed, I started to think maybe Jake was a good guy with a better grip on reality than I have. Then Nancy dug out her cell phone, checked Jake’s app and said the seventeen words that I’ll never forget for as long as I live.

“Look, honey! My present insurance discount is enough to buy you a bottle of your favorite whiskey!”

And all I could think was, “Jake … I love you, man, but I love Nancy way more.”


John’s weekly columns are sponsored by Beasley & Gilkison, Muncie’s trusted attorneys for over 120 years.

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A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.  John’s columns appear on every Friday.