In celebration of Father’s Day we have a special gift for you, read an Excerpt from Dave Barry’s Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster): Life Lessons And Other Ravings From Dave Barry in which he writes a letter to his daughter Sophie on her 16th birthday in preparation of her starting to drive.
Dad’s everywhere are sure to get a kick out this!
So you’re about to start driving! How exciting! I’m going to kill myself.
Sorry, I’m ﬂashing back to when your big brother, Rob, started driving. You and I both love Rob very much, and he has matured into a thoughtful and responsible person. But when he turned sixteen and got his driver’s license, he had a marked tendency to—there is no diplomatic way to put this—drive into things.
This was never his fault. I know this because whenever he drove the car into something, which was every few days, he would call me, and the conversation would go like this:
ROB: Dad, it wasn’t my fault.
Usually what he had driven into through no fault of his own was the rear end of another car. Cars were always stopping unexpectedly in front of Rob for no reason whatsoever. Or possibly—we cannot rule it out—these cars were suddenly materializing from hyperspace directly in front of Rob, leaving him with no option but to run into them. Whatever the cause, it stopped happening when he got older and more experienced and started buying his own insurance.
My point, Sophie, is that just because the State of Florida thinks you can drive a car, that doesn’t mean you actually can drive a car. As far as I can tell, after three decades on the roads of Florida, there isn’t anybody that the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles doesn’t think can drive a car. I cannot imagine what you would have to do to fail the driving test here.
DMV OFFICER: OK, make a left turn here.
TEST TAKER: Whoops.
DMV OFFICER: (Writes something on clipboard.)
TEST TAKER: Does that mean I fail the test?
DMV OFFICER: Nah, she’s getting back up. You just clipped her.
You may think I’m exaggerating the badness of the drivers down here, Sophie, but that’s because you haven’t been at the wheel of a car on the Palmetto Expressway going
60 miles per hour, traveling forward—which, as you will learn, is considered to be the traditional direction for vehicular traffic on expressways—only to encounter a vehicle, undoubtedly operated by a licensed Florida driver, going backward. And not on the shoulder, either. In your lane. This has happened to me more than once; it’s how some Miami drivers handle the baffling problem of what to do when you miss an exit. When ESPN shows a NASCAR highlight in which drivers collide at 150 miles per hour and a dozen cars spin out in a whirling mass of ﬂaming wreckage, my reaction is: “Big deal. They were all going the same direction. Let’s see them attempt to drive on the Palmetto Expressway.”
The State of Florida also does not seem to have a problem issuing licenses to drivers who are very elderly.
Q. How elderly are they?
A. Their first vehicle was a chariot.
I once had an eye exam during which the ophthalmologist was telling me about some of his older patients, who according to him were basically blind. He said: “I ask them, ‘How did you get here?’ And they tell me they drove. And I tell them, ‘You can’t drive. You can’t see.’ And they say, ‘How else am I supposed to get here?’ And I say, ‘I don’t know, but you can’t drive, because you can’t see.’ And then they drive home.”
I believe him. I once had a short but terrifying ride on the streets of South Florida in the backseat of a car driven by an elderly man. He was a perfectly nice person, but he had basically the same level of visual acuity as a corn dog. So he outsourced the actual seeing part of driving to his wife, who sat in the passenger seat and did her best to keep him posted on what was going on out there in the mysterious region beyond the windshield.
“You have a green arrow,” she’d say. “Go. Go. I said GO! No! Wait! Stop! STOP!!”
I believe this Seeing Eye wife arrangement is not uncommon among elderly couples on the roads of South Florida. And if you’re wondering why, if the wife can see, she doesn’t just drive, the answer is: The man drives.
So to summarize, Sophie: Many people who lack the judgment and/or physical skills needed to safely microwave a burrito are deemed qualiﬁed by the State of Florida to operate a motor vehicle. When you get out on the road, you will be surrounded by terrible drivers. And guess what? You will be one of them. Yes, Sophie: You will be a bad driver, and not because you’re careless or irresponsible, but because you’re teenager, and it is a physiological fact that at your stage of brain development, you are—to use the term preferred by researchers in the ﬁeld of neurological science—“stupid.”
There is no shame in this. All humans start out stupid, then gradually become more intelligent as they get older (with a few setbacks along the way) until they reach a certain age, after which they start becoming stupider again.
Here’s a scientiﬁc chart illustrating this phenomenon:
What does this chart tell us, Sophie? It tells us that according to science, even dead people are smarter than teenagers. Teenagers are barely capable of forming sentences. Allowing them to drive—especially if they are males—is insane.
But Dad, you’re thinking, didn’t you drive when you were a teenage male?
Yes I did. I got my New York State driver’s license in 1963, at age sixteen, and I spent many hours cruising on the highways and byways and occasionally the lawns in and around Armonk, N.Y. But that was different, Sophie, because I drove safely. I don’t mean “safely” in the sense of “carefully.” I was deﬁnitely your standard male teenage idiot. But I was a safe idiot, because I was driving the safest vehicle ever built: my mom’s 1961 Plymouth Valiant station wagon. It did not have modern safety features such as seat belts, air bags, antilock brakes or a computerized collision-avoidance system. What the Valiant had, which was better than any modern technology, was: Inertia. I would stomp violently down on the accelerator and basically nothing would happen for several lunar cycles, because the Valiant was no more capable of acceleration than a ﬁre hydrant. This was the only car ever manufactured that traveled faster on the assembly line than under its own power.
You could not hit anything in a Valiant. Fully mature trees moved quickly enough to get out of its way. So it couldn’t do any damage even with me at the wheel. If I were in charge, today’s teenagers would be permitted to drive only if they drove Plymouth Valiant station wagons. Also I would require these teenagers to tune the Valiant’s AM radio to New York station WINS and listen to the late Murray the K play hit 1963 tunes such as “Da Doo Ron Ron” because THAT WAS MUSIC, DAMMIT.
Unfortunately, Sophie, I am not in charge, which means you’re going to be driving on roads teeming with modern high-speed automobiles operated by incompetent idiots such as (no offense) yourself. To prove that you’re qualiﬁed to do this, the State of Florida will make you take a test based on the information found in the official Florida Driver’s Handbook. For example, the test may ask you to identify the Florida “standard” speed in business or residential areas. According to the Handbook, the “correct” answer, the one you should mark on your test, is 30 miles per hour.
But listen very carefully, Sophie: If you’re driving in Miami and do not wish to be the target of small-arms ﬁre, IN THE NAME OF GOD DO NOT GO AT A “STANDARD” SPEED OF 30 MILES PER HOUR. Miami drivers go faster than that in a car wash. Likewise the Driver’s Handbook will tell you that if you’re approaching a traffic light as it turns yellow, you should attempt to stop. But in Miami, doing that would cause your car to be instantly converted into a large sheet-metal origami sculpture by the seventeen cars immediately behind you.
My point, Sophie, is that there’s a big difference between how the Florida Driver’s Handbook says you should drive and how actual humans drive in Florida, especially South Florida. So to help you understand the mindset you will encounter on the roads here, I’ve prepared this:
REALITY-BASED FLORIDA DRIVER’S Q&A
Q. If I arrive at an intersection at the same time as another motorist, who goes first?
A. You do.
Q. But what if . . .
A. There IS no “what if.” YOU GO FIRST.
Q. Florida law strictly prohibits texting while driving. Does this law apply to me?
A. Ha-ha! Of course not.
Q. If I stop at a red light, how will I know when it turns green?
A. You will hear honking behind you. This is your cue to start wrapping up your current text, unless of course it is important.
Q. I have noticed that some roads have more than one lane. What is the purpose of the extra lanes?
A. To provide a place for you to swerve into while texting.
Q. When I come to a stop sign, do I need to stop?
A. You personally?
Q. How is the turn signal used in Florida?
A. It is used to indicate to other motorists that you do not realize your turn signal is blinking.
Q. Could it also be used to signal your intention to turn or change lanes?
A. Interesting! Nobody has ever tried that.
Q. What is the best kind of food to eat while driving?
A. Any food—such as a sandwich, turkey leg, oyster or Ding Dong—that can be eaten one-handed, so you still have a hand free for texting.
Q. What if an emergency situation arises that might require me to operate the steering wheel?
A. Use your forehead to honk the horn until the emergency has passed.
Q. My car’s engine seems to have stopped and I hear a “burbling” noise. What could be causing this?
A. Are you a senior citizen?
A. You have driven into a swimming pool.
Q. I am a young male idiot who prefers to drive at a high rate of speed in densely populated areas while texting. How loud should my sound system be?
A. It should emit individual bass notes capable of killing a dog at 50 yards.
Q. I’m a middle-aged male, and I like to put on skintight, junk-displaying Lycra® cycling shorts and a skintight Lycra® cycling jersey covered with logos for corporations that don’t actually pay me anything, then ride around with a large clot of other middle-aged pretend racers screwing up traffic. I don’t have a question about driving, but I HAVE JUST AS MUCH RIGHT TO BE IN THIS Q & A AS ANYONE ELSE.
A. Everyone hates you.
Q. I’ve had a few drinks. How can I tell if I should drive?
A. Take this simple test: Are you wearing your underpants on your head?
Q. Not MY underpants, no.
A. Then you are good to go.
Q. What is all that shouting?
A. Are you a senior citizen?
A. You have struck a pedestrian.
Sophie, I know you think your old man is just kidding. I am not. Ask anybody who drives here: This Q & A reﬂects the actual situation on the roads of Florida far more accurately than the so-called Florida Driver’s Handbook. But I didn’t write this letter to make you nervous about driving here. I wrote it to make you terriﬁed about driving here. Because I love you a lot, and I don’t want anything bad to happen to you. I will do everything I can to make sure you’re really ready to drive. I’m going to keep coaching you until the day you ﬁnally get your license and are allowed to drive alone. Even then, as you leave our driveway, I’ll be standing next to the car, giving you last-minute instructions. When you ﬁnally drive away, solo at last, you’re going to feel as if I’m still right there next to you, guiding you.
In fact I will be right there next to you, walking at a leisurely pace alongside your car.
Your 1961 Valiant.
The perfect book for Dad’s looking for a good laugh! During the course of living (mumble, mumble) years, Dave Barry has learned much of wisdom,* (*actual wisdom not guaranteed) and he is eager to pass it on—to the next generation, the generation after that, and to those idiots who make driving to the grocery store in Florida a death-defying experience. By the end, if you do not feel wiser, richer in knowledge, more attuned to the universe . . . we wouldn’t be at all surprised. But you’ll have had a lot to laugh about!