The Goldberg Variations: Maternal Road Rage

I used to make fun of people who drove Hummers. I would see those suburban road warriors taking up a lane and a half on the highway and I would say something rude and cutting about insecure twits who needed an off-road monster car to protect them from fender benders in a Whole Foods’ parking lot. I would speculate as to what type of “inadequacies” a man might be compensating for by wanting to drive a really big car. Oh, I was tough. Brutal even.

I wasn’t crazy about Suburbans or Escalades either, but I reserved a singular fury for the behemoth Hummers, unique even among big SUVs for their overkill and gas guzzling. Three times as big as a typical sport utility vehicle, with a frightening lack of emissions efficiency, these cars struck me as iconic symbols of waste, excess, and arrogant disregard for the atmosphere. But not anymore. Oh, how things have changed.

As I write this, Hummer has gone out of business, a victim of its own hubris and rising gas prices. In related news, sort of, my daughter has been driving for just under a year and my heart constricts every single time she pulls out of our driveway. There are a number of factors that worry me, but of particular concern are icy winter roads, other (stupid) drivers, and the gravitational pull of her cell phone. I am afraid that she will miss something in the blind spot, that treacherous dead zone where danger lurks, just out of sight.

It seems insane to me that a girl so young, so slight, so lacking in life and vehicular experience, should be allowed to hurl herself down weather impaired roads, with nothing between her and other cars but a dainty and insubstantial Honda Civic. I would like her in something bigger and stronger, something heavy and completely unyielding. I want her in a four wheel fortress.

Like any responsible parent, I have logged hours with my daughter in the car. We have practiced merging and lane changes, we’ve gone uphill and downhill in all kinds of weather, in daylight and dark. I have warned her till I’m hoarse and yet I still wonder: will she look away from the road to answer a text? Put on lip gloss? Will she lose control of her car while turning on an Ingrid Michaelson CD? This is a child who has mastered AP Calculus, but I’m not sure she’ll remember that oncoming traffic has the right-of -way when she’s making a left turn. She is a smart girl but she’s still a teenager, not too far removed from wearing braces and reading books about vampire love triangles.

If I can’t always be sitting next to her when she drives, then I want the car to step in and protect her for me. I want her car to be imposing. Scary. I want it to bully other cars on the road, show them who’s boss. And the fact is, emissions or not, if Hummer hadn’t gone out of business I would genuinely love to put her in one. It comforts me to imagine her in something big and tank-like, wearing a helmet, encased in bubble wrap and packed in with Styrofoam peanuts (still more environmental no-nos.) This makes me a hypocrite, I know, but from where I stand – at the intersection of mother love and civic responsibility – I would choose my daughter’s safety without a second thought. Yes, I want her to inherit a cleaner planet, but first I want her to emerge unscathed from her first years behind the wheel.

And the eco rage I once felt for the road-hogging cretins I used to berate? It’s still there, but it’s tucked away, hidden someplace where I don’t have to see it or deal with it. It’s in my blind spot.

Editor’s Note: Susan Goldberg is a slightly lapsed treehugger. Although known to overuse paper products, she has the best of intentions – and a really small SUV. Catch her column, The Goldberg Variations, each week here at EcoSalon.

Images: TheFriendlyFiend, fujisan3 (