Jewish World Review March 7, 2003 / 3 Adar II, 5763

Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Leonard Pitts, Jr.
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Consumer Reports

Driven to madness | A few years ago, I bought a car.

Nothing fancy, just a used Camry. Since my office is at home and my commute about the width of a hallway, the car was something of a luxury. I bought it to relieve the occasional scheduling conflicts that came from sharing a minivan with my wife.

Still, I loved that car. It was nice to know that now I could, if I wished, hop to the store at any given moment without waiting for Marilyn to return with the mommy bus.

I'd still be driving that car today if I hadn't done something incredibly stupid. And when I say stupid, I mean dumber than leaving it in Times Square with the keys in the ignition and the door unlocked.

See, I taught my son to drive.

Haven't seen my car since. Unless gassing it up counts. I must admit, the boy IS usually gracious enough to allow me to take the car to the service station. He would want me to point out that he never brings it home empty and I must admit this is true. There is always gasoline in the tank. At least three teaspoons. Sometimes four.

The ride to the station is always fun. The dashboard warning light comes on, the needle on the gauge pokes the second rung of the letter "E" and I hunch over the wheel having an earnest conversation with Jesus about how it would be a really, really bad thing for the car to stop while I'm making this left turn against three lanes of oncoming traffic.

Other than that, I don't see the car much. It commutes to work, travels to school, goes out on dates and generally enjoys a much busier and more fulfilling life than I do. Meantime, not unlike a '50s housewife, I sit at home wondering why it doesn't take me places anymore.

It's embarrassing to admit this. How often has yours truly taken to this very soapbox to raise cane with kid-coddling parents? How many lectures has your humble correspondent delivered about the need to let the little beggars earn their own way, even suffer a little?

Right. And as soon as his son comes begging for the car, Mr. Tough Guy folds like a lawn chair. Pathetic.

So what if the kid would have to get up at 4:30 in the morning to catch the bus to work? So what if he'd have to drop some classes? Why, when I was his age, we had to walk barefoot, eight miles in blinding snow to get to work or school. Uphill both ways. It built character.


You know what bothers me most? I think the kid has come to believe the car belongs to him. I've tried to explain that there is no such thing as the Car Fairy, that no magic sprite bestows free vehicles on all the good little boys and girls. There's this thing called a note, I tell him, and if you aren't paying one, you don't own the vehicle. He swears he understands, but you couldn't prove it by me.

Consider, for instance, the time I got behind the wheel and reached into the compartment under the armrest for my traveling music. But instead of my CDs, I found CDs by scowling young men with ill-fitting clothes, potty mouths and names like Felony and Homicide. Music to rob banks by.

All my music had been evicted - dumped into the glove box. I sat there a long time trying to remember who was borrowing a car from whom.

One rare day not too long ago - the stars must have been in alignment - I went out of the house to find the car parked out front with a half tank of gas. No fool am I, so I fired it up and took off. Came back an hour or so later with about a quarter tank remaining and handed the car off to my son. He went off and did whatever it is he does. Returned to the house that night and actually wondered aloud if it would have killed me to buy some gas.

I must have blacked out. I don't remember what happened next.

The good news is that the son swears on a stack of rap CDs that he will have a car of his own by this summer. This should be cause for celebration, I know, but it isn't. Because, see, I just went and did something stupid again.

Taught my other son to drive.

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