WASHINGTON -- Lately I've been thinking about the Cars. I was never a huge fan of the group, you understand. But the chorus from one of their biggest hits has been bouncing around in my skull for longer than I care to admit: "You can't go on thinking nothing's wrong. Who's gonna drive you home tonight?"
Maybe the band was singing about romance, or perhaps about being a dependable friend or partner who can be counted on during one's hour of need. I, on the other hand, tend to think about myself while softly warbling the lyrics. The oddest thoughts can arise during those antsy moments when you're wondering if your ride will ever arrive.
You see, just a few years ago I lived a life of relative peace. I was the only licensed driver in my house. My unique status brought me no comfort at the time. I complained often and bitterly to colleagues about all the chauffeuring I had to do.
Family members who caught me in uncharitable moments found themselves trapped in rambling tirades about Hoke, Miss Daisy and the Piggly Wiggly. Once or twice, I responded to requests for rides with, "Who do I look like? Morgan Freeman?" In my best moments I concluded that because I come from a noble line of chauffeurs and taxi drivers, all my roadwork was merely a reflection of my heritage. That was ignorance talking. Good fortune was staring me straight in the headlights, and I was so busy griping that I failed to recognize it. I should have realized, of course, that my days of steering-wheel dominance were destined to end.
Neither my wife nor I complained when our oldest son took his time learning to drive. He had pals with cars and -- even more important -- he had a bus pass. He was 19 when he finally got his license. Now 21, he's responsible and mature behind the wheel.
My son's gradual path to driverhood is what lawmakers in my home state of Maryland had in mind earlier this month when they passed a sweeping package of reforms aimed at curbing teen driving deaths. The legislation, which is expected to win full approval, would prohibit novice teen drivers from using cell phones while behind the wheel and carrying teenage passengers. Maryland would join Washington, D.C., and 24 other states that have similar laws. In a region staggered recently by 19 teen road deaths, the proposed reforms have attracted substantial support.
As well they should. My wife and I are both backers of the legislation, which seems a serious and thoughtful response to an increasingly distressing problem. Our next oldest son, 18, is now taking driver's ed. Like his brother, he was in no rush to drive -- and we did nothing to hurry him along. We're confident that his equally slow path will produce another safe, sensible driver.
Although that doesn't help my situation much. After my oldest son got his license, my wife quickly followed suit. That pair's constant coming and going keeps me out of the driver's seat for days at a time, exiled from the perch that used to belong exclusively to me. Because I've had a license since I was 16, my wife believes that it's time for me to leave the driving to others. In contrast, she's busy making up for lost time, eyes forever fixed on that mystical wonderland where the rubber meets the road. Now about the only occasion I'm allowed behind the wheel is when the tank needs filling. Once I was a cool suburban dad rocking the minivan in my Foster Grants. Now I'm a solitary figure on the commuter-train parking lot, peering forlornly through the rain and wondering which of my loved ones forgot me this time.
And the possibilities are continuing to grow in that regard. My mother-in-law, who lives with us, is also studying for her license.
If I get up early enough one spring morning, I'll be able to sit in the driveway, start the ignition and pretend that I'm actually going somewhere. Maybe I'll even crank up some music. The Cars, perhaps. Or Gary Numan, remember him?
(BEG ITAL)Here in my car
I feel safest of all
I can lock all my doors
It's the only way to live
In cars ...(END ITAL)