When I was 12 years old, my dad taught me how to drive while he sat in the passenger seat, smoking a joint and reading the newspaper. Blocking his view of the road, with a sprawling sport’s section, he puffed away leisurely at a fat roach and a few cigarettes.
When it came time to merge onto the freeway, he peered momentarily at the road and casually told me to yield. As I pondered this new word, his voice quickly became louder, demanding that I, “YIEEELD!” Just as an equally earsplitting horn sounded, I screamed, “What does that mean?!”
No wonder I’m so often on-edge, and my adrenals are on over-drive…
Thankfully, in this instance we were spared. Somehow we always were. That was life with Dad: always exciting and a little terrifying. There were many near misses throughout the years, but somehow we always survived. Dad seemed to get away with more than most mortals.
When I was old enough to get Louisiana driver’s license, my dad sweet-talked the woman working at the DMV, after realizing I didn’t pass the test.
As he leaned in over the counter, I overheard him say softly, “Com’on…she only missed two more than she was suppost to. Ya know, you have beaudiful eyes.”
The large black woman seemed to enjoy this attention and power, but also appeared slightly irritated. After an elongated pause of mutual eye locking, she pursed her lips and shook her head nonchalantly as if to say, “I’m onto you motha fucka.” Then without taking her eyes off him, she scribbled, “Pass” onto the test, tossed it into a pile, and said, “NEEXT.”
The driving portion of the test took place in dad’s Jaguar, a car with an ultra-sensitive accelerator that nearly caused whiplash at the slightest tap.
Thankfully, I was only required to drive about 25 yards down a driveway made of sea shells, make a u-turn around an Oak tree, and park again.
I pity the poor fool who couldn’t pass that part. Apparently if you can turn the ignition and shift into reverse without running over another car (or armadillo), you qualify to drive in Louisiana.
Life with my father (on and off the road) was always in the fast lane.
He worked hard, played hard, partied hard…and drove like Mario Andrettti. Please note however, my dad was the dago driver without training or credentials.
Driving with Dad drove me crazy – literally. I was a nervous wreck, fearing for my life every time he got behind the wheel. You see, my father was the kind of guy who needed a drink to drive.
I’m sure I drove him crazy too with my repeated mantras: “Dad, the speed limit’s 50 and you’re going 90…Dad you almost drank that whole bottle of Scotch…Could you please roll down your window, the cigarettes stink…Dad you’re biting your fingernails again…Maybe I should drive?”
I can’t blame my dad entirely for his driving etiquette since he was taught to drive while his father, Honey, read the Bible. One day, on their way to church, Honey tossed my father (also 12 years old at the time) the keys to his Lincoln and said, “I wanna read. You drive.”
There were times Honey lacked the manners of a true Southern gentleman, and his impatience increased noticeably while on the road. Instead of assessing oncoming traffic, Honey would honk his horn to alert other drivers that he was turning into the lane he wished, whether or not there was space, or enough time for approaching drivers to stop.
No matter how gridlocked the traffic, Honey believed that by repeatedly honking at lines of immobile cars, the sea of automobiles might part, allowing him, like Moses, to fulfill his mission to Walgreens.
When arriving at a destination, Honey would often park on the sidewalk because, after all, who has the patience to look for a parking space?
The few times I rode along with Honey, his erratic driving caused actual accidents. Although he miraculously avoided jail time (and having his ass kicked), Honey was sued repeatedly by other drivers. When his car was being repaired, no one wanted to lend Honey a vehicle, fearing that he’d return it with the same explanation: Some asshole hit HIM.
On one trip in the car with Honey, I sat in the backseat with two equally petrified cousins, as Honey yelled at and nudged an angry bicyclist out of his way. Recently my older cousin reminisced that by the time we arrived at our location for dinner, all three of us were in tears. My poor memory may be inconvenient as an adult, yet it came in handy as an effective blocking device during these times.
Yet, I can’t blame Honey entirely for his road behavior since he learned from my great grandfather, Giuseppe. Shortly after arriving in the United States from Sicily, Giuseppe was sideswiped accidentally by a streetcar while driving down St Charles Avenue, at which point he backed up, to ram the trolley head on. The streetcar driver, who initially came out to apologize, stood there aghast as Giuseppe explained, “You hitta me, I hitta you back.”
I’m not wild behind the wheel, though I can certainly become an impatient mad mess at other times. Could some of our behaviors be as encoded as our noses?
I’m not proud of my temper, or my Grandfather’s outlandish behavior, nor the retribution and vengeance often associated with the people from my family’s native homeland in Italy. However I tend to view Sicilian madness as a bit more charming and entertaining than that of your average all American jerk. Tutto bene?
With every part and all my heart,
Ok, while you may not find mafia-like manners endearing, I’m sure we can all agree that cultural redemption abounds, with more than a few contributions from the Italians: Cucina and vino being top of the list!
Studies of longevity attribute the Mediterranean diet to lasting health and a longer life. The typical diet within this region includes a low intake of saturated fats, but high amount of unsaturated fats – the champion fat and fountain of youth being: olive oil.
Olive oil offers a potent balance of fatty acids, antioxidants, and a host of vitamins (particularly E).
While it tastes delicious, it’s also beneficial for digestion and supports maintenance of great skin. It’s like an internal/external lubricant. Occasionally, I apply some to my hair as a conditioning treatment about 20 minutes before I shampoo, and often use it on my hands as an effective moisturizer. Heck, I would bathe in the stuff if I could!
Pour it on your pasta, salad, fish, eggplant, hummus – you name it. My brother Frankie and I even enjoy a little extra virgin on our oatmeal (Whadaya want? We grew manic/organic and learned to work with what we had).
So open your cupboard and get creative!