Sept. 15 2010 10:18 AM

Arguing with the wife about who’s the worst motorist in the family

“You’re a horrible driver,” my wife tells me as she merges onto westbound Interstate 8 from the 805—the last leg of our return trip from Lake Arrowhead. This is hilarious for two reasons. First, I’m one of the best drivers in the world: I never tailgate, rarely speed, drive with both hands on the wheel and have successfully trained myself not to stare at beautiful women for more than three seconds (five seconds if it’s a busty redhead with lots of tats).

The other reason her comment is funny is that at the moment W. says it, she is tailgating a hazardous-waste transportation truck at 90 mph while shaving her legs and playing Bejeweled on her iPhone.

OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but she is tailgating at high speed, and I’m clutching the dashboard so tightly my knuckles are changing colors more often than a mood ring embedded in one of Russell Crowe’s ovaries.

I’m a bad driver? I think. Well, isn’t that the pot calling the kettle “monosyllabic”?

It’s true. This woman stinks up the entire road when she’s driving on it: She doesn’t check her mirrors. She’s a chronic multitasker. She thinks “blind spot” is a section of the highway where cops can’t see you speeding. And while the rules of safety dictate that we steer with our hands on the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions, my girl’s hands are always at 12 o’clock and QWERTY—that’s one hand steering, the other hand texting.

But of it all, it’s the tailgating that scares me most. I tell her, “Babe, any accident investigator will tell you that driving too closely is the leading cause of accidents because reaction time is greatly redu—.”

“Ed,” she says, cutting me off, “how many cars have you wrecked in your lifetime?” “Well, let’s see. I crashed my 280Z, my Horizon, my friend’s Mustang and, oh, there was the seaweed-green Gremlin that some guy was trying to sell me. But I crunched that one without actually driving it, so it’s just three.”

“What about the camper?” she asks.

“Oh, c’mon,” I protest.

“You can’t count the camper.”

“Why not?” “Because it was a camper shell mounted on the back of a pickup truck, and the pickup part of it was never actually damaged in the, um, incident.”

“Honey, you drove an 11-foot camper under a nine-foot bridge, which stripped the camper shell clean off the bed of the pickup and deposited it on the middle of the road, where it lay in a giant heap of metal, wood, glass and porno magazines.”

“OK, you can count that.”

“And what about the time you wrecked two cars in eight hours?” Oh, snap! I forgot I had told her about that debacle. It happened in New York, during the summer of 1980, after my high-school commencement, driving my Mustang home from a graduation party. It was around 3 a.m., and I was quite drunk in the face when a strange, bug-eyed bird beast—a cross between a harpy and Marty Feldman—jumped in front of the car, causing me to swerve and plummet into a massive, axel-snapping ditch.

Unharmed, I walked home, went to bed and dreamed dark, nervous dreams.

The next morning, I asked Dad if I could borrow the family car—a silver Dodge Aspen station wagon—so I could return to the scene and assess the Mustang’s damages. Dad reluctantly gave me the keys, and off I drove, for about a mile, where a sedan pulled out in front of me and I slammed into its side—a classic T-bone.

“So I told you that story, huh?” I ask W. “Yes, and you also told me what happened to the Aspen afterward.”

“That it sustained about $1,500 of damage and took months to pay my parents back?” “No,” she snorted, “I mean about a year later, when you killed it for good.”

“Oh, you mean when I took it to see The Kinks at Hartford Civic Center but, instead, drove it right into the back of a Mack truck, totaling the car and my kneecap, which required reconstructive surgery, months in rehabilitation and a lifetime of knee problems—yeah, I guess you can count that one, too, but keep in mind, that’s the accident that makes me so frightened of your tailgating.”

“Whatever. The point is, you had seven accidents to my zero accidents.”

“But, honey, don’t you see—those collisions are exactly what makes me a better driver. Most of them happened when I was a stupid kid. I learned my lessons and have become the safest driver in America, whereas you drive like a bungling bank robber after the dye packs explode in the getaway car.”

“Well, you drive like an old lady,” she says, “all slow and herky-jerky; you leave the directional signal blinking and miss exits because you’re too busy ranting about Sarah Palin instead of paying attention.”

“Well, OK,” I respond. “I do blabber a bit when somebody is in the car with me, but you should see me drive when I’m alone— I’m awesome!” “Well, alone is the only way I would drive with you,” she says as she speeds up to get a closer look at the “stay back 100 feet” warning on the rear of the hazardous-waste transportation truck.

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