Speed Demon Meets Mr. Slow Ride

by Kerry Peresta

When I was dating my husband—all starry-eyed and flushed with relief that it was possible for a woman over 50 to find love again—our driving styles were the last thing on my mind.

As time has gone by, the adrenaline rush of "new marriage, new season of life" has worn off and the less visible irks exposed by living together are beginning to unfold.

One small, tiny irk is my consternation over our different driving habits.

I'm somewhat of a female Paul Newman and have always loved low-slung, road-worthy vehicles that will effortlessly hug a corner and then accelerate to 60 mph in 5 seconds flat.

I inherited a love of fast, hot automobiles from my dad.

My father always kept us in new, trendy vehicles and traded them in every couple of years. When I was 16, he bought me a 1966 Mustang GT Convertible.

I was the envy of every single student in my high school. When I was 18, he bought me a 1969 Pontiac Firebird, Formula 400.

I could make the hour and a half trip from my college dorm’s parking lot to Memphis in 59 minutes.

My husband comes from a kinder, gentler automotive background. His family drove practical Chevrolet sedans and hung onto them until they wore out.

In his early 20s, he owned an exceedingly cool 1973 Dodge Charger 400, 4-barrel. His hot-car-owner days skidded to an abrupt halt, however, when he found himself with a wife and children shortly after graduating college.

From that point on, sadly, he drove nicely maintained but decidedly uncool family vans and SUVs, none of which lent themselves to an exhilarating driving experience.

My driving style is fast and efficient and pushes a little to see what the car will do. My husband’s driving style is much more relaxed: meander, enjoy, and don’t wear out the tires.

This approach drives me crazy.

One of his driving penchants includes taking corners at a slow, wide arc. When I finally asked him the other day why he persists in this maneuver, he responded that he felt it was easier on the tires and used less steering effort. This is a completely foreign concept to me. I want to hug that corner as smoothly as possible and then accelerate like mad. I call it “efficiency.” He calls it “speeding.”

I vacillate between respect for his adherence to speed limits and squinty-eyed, double-dog-dare-you. I mean, who can resist a tiny pushing of the speed limit on miles and miles of a straight, endless, deserted highway? To me, speed is exciting. To him, speed is a policeman crouched on a motorcycle behind a billboard.

My habitual response to his driving behavior goes something like this:

Me: Fidgeting in seat, trying to keep my mouth shut. Finally, I erupt in exasperation, “WHY are you going so slow? You are driving like a grandpa!”

Him: Unperturbed, eyes on the road, hands at two and ten. “Well, what’s the speed limit?”

Me: Resigned sigh. Slumping in seat. “Around 30, I think.”

Him: Glancing at speedometer. “I’m going 29.”

Me: Silence. I cross my arms. I know further discussion is futile. My irritation is perplexing to me. I know he's right, but somehow, a jointly shared, satisfying vehicular experience dangles just out of reach.

Him: “Oops! Yellow light!” He slowly glides to a stop, and I watch a bright red 2009 Camaro scoot through the yellow just before the light turns red.

I cover my eyes with my hand and try to control my rapidly escalating hot-car lust. I remind myself to be grateful for a completely paid-for Pontiac, even though it is 7 years old and has never even thought about scooting through a yellow light.

I don't think our different approaches to driving should cause too much marital concern. I'm learning to appreciate his regard for speed limits and well-maintained automobiles, and he's learning that white-knuckling it when I'm driving is actually kind of fun.

But I am thinking that trading his Pontiac Bonneville for a late-model Mustang GT convertible would go a long way toward resolving our disparate driving issues.

It is impossible to drive like a grandpa in a Mustang.

Kerry Peresta is a recent transplant to Pierre, South Dakota, and a career advertising professional. She’s also a women's humor columnist, empty nesting mom, and grandmother of two. “Speed Demon and Mr. Slow Ride” first appeared in Capital Journal (Pierre, South Dakota) on April 7, 2010.

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