57 Comments

I really appreciate your willingness and ability to look at yourself honestly, Tom, both here in this piece and in that actual moment. It helps us all do the same more often when we can see that someone else did it and survived! (And it also makes for a great piece of writing that’s fun to read.)

Expand full comment
author

Thanks a lot Nancy. One of the gifts of getting older is that we learn to recognize when we’re wrong, don’t you think?

Expand full comment

I think that's true (though for some of us, especially after a certain age, it's the opposite!). I've definitely learned that it's only to my benefit to recognize my screw-ups, own up to them, and try to do better... but that doesn't always make it easier!

Expand full comment
Jan 7·edited Jan 7Liked by Tom Pendergast

Hahaha. You're lucky you're still married Tom! And smart to hear the red line moment. The big increase in divorce rates is in the 50s and 60s, and it's mostly women doing the walking, contrary to popular belief. (I wrote a book all about it, called Late Love - Mating in Maturity.)

Your wife sounds a bit of a saint, which I'm sure you know.

If I were you, once you get that new knee, I'd get back down on it. And thank your driver.

Expand full comment
author

At the risk of over-generalizing, I do think we men are painfully slow to mature emotionally, and you can’t blame a partner for giving up. I know my mother did this with my dad, biding her time until her kids had “made it” and then pulling the plug. I absolutely appreciate my wife’s ... patience? Stubborn belief that I could improve? I’ve benefited immensely from it.

Expand full comment

Enjoyed this piece, Tom, but I do think you are over-generalizing about men. I remember reading a quote from a famous psychiatrist (sorry, can't recall the name) who was asked what general advice he'd give all adults. He thought for a moment and said, "Grow up ... quit behaving like teenagers." Maybe it is confirmation bias, but I certainly agree with that. Most people, nowadays, seem have the emotional maturity of twelve-year-olds. I certainly haven't seen any studies indicating one biological sex is more emotionally mature than the other, and I suppose if I did, I'd wonder about their validity and want to know where they got their funding.

Expand full comment
author

Oh sure, it's not just men ... though I think I still would suggest that this particular example of boorish behavior is more common among those with more testosterone, while those with more estrogen manifest their failings differently. Let's argue about it on a walk!

Expand full comment
Jan 7Liked by Tom Pendergast

Well, Tom, having driven you around Northern England for a while I'd say you are a reasonable sort of passenger now, terrifying though it no doubt was at times. I recall only two moments when you were noticeably unsettled, once during a right turn onto a fast and busy A-road across a few lanes in the rain (scary for the driver too) and a little later the same day, also in the rain, when we uneventfully joined a crowded four-lane "spiral" roundabout from the motorway and you prayed, quietly, "Jesus". Well done I say.

Expand full comment
author

Well. You see Chris, it’s so much easier for me to be a good passenger with a driver who I don’t love dearly ... oddly enough, and I’m sorry to break it to you. Perhaps if we spent more time together, I’d take on improving you as well. Seriously though, you didn’t cause me any problems at all, it was just getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road!

Expand full comment
Jan 8Liked by Tom Pendergast

it is pretty terrifying at first! especially on those small country roads .

Expand full comment

My wife and I married the October after 9/11 and decided to drive instead of fly to our honeymoon... from Michigan to Florida. It took 19 hours down and 22 hours back. On the return trip I learned what a saint she was and that I was whatever is not a saint when I'm hungry and tired of driving. We're blessed with forgiving wives.

Hope you're having a happy new year, and I look forward to reading more of your exploits!

Expand full comment
Jan 7Liked by Tom Pendergast

For us on long drives the passenger keeps an eye on the GPS, scouting ahead for traffic, looking for spots to use the bathroom, finding places to get food or water, reconning for zombie infestations, etc. The passenger is also the car DJ if they want, a role my kids love and gives us an opportunity to hear the "music" they're into these days.

Expand full comment
author

I think that’s the way we are now, though in our world, driver picks the tunes with rare exceptions.

Expand full comment
Jan 7Liked by Tom Pendergast

Well said, Tom! I can’t say I feel your pain, because what you (and Sara) were going through sounds brutal. Maybe “the worst passenger in the world” could be a metaphor for the broader world? (“The worst boss in the world” “the worst dog walker...” etc.). It really is about recognizing our unconscious, ingrained reactions in the moment and having the will and selflessness to do a 180, back to the little sensory miracles of the present moment - like what you were seeing out the window. So I have two bionic joints: got a knee in 2015, hip in 2022. Medical technology is amazing.

Expand full comment
author

Spot on Mark about the “recognizing” bit. It takes a lot of practice! I’m glad to hear on the joints ... everybody I know says they wish they hadn’t waited so long. I’ll be glad if I’m saying that.

Expand full comment

Hello. My name is Graham and I'm a Bad Passenger...

Mine manifests with sharp intakes of breath, grabs at the oh-Jesus handle, and the dashboard brace you described.

Worst part is, my wife is a great driver! *She* taught *me* how to pass... Recently, when we were travelling to the same place from different locations, I spotted her on an onramp as a taxi tried to box her out as she merged. She slipped it into second, put the foot down, and zipped right by him. These are the kind of moves she performs effortlessly and regularly.

Yet somehow it's different for me when I have the first-person view from the shotgun seat. She believes that my sharp intakes of breath are a comment on her driving and show lack of trust. I gurgle that's not true, it's more about my over-active imagination. But she must be right on some level.

So, I've been doing the same -- trying to let go. I think I'm getting better. The true test came when the boys started driving. Usually the only time they're driving me though is after I've had a beer or two, so that certainly helps with the letting go (though on the flip side, it shows that I still have some work to do...)

Good luck on the knee replacement! And hey, take the hotel room this time, regardless of your current passengering skills! Room service and Netflix -- sounds like a great way to start recovery! Please though, no post-surgery pics...

Expand full comment
author

Ah, Graham, and you seem so wise! I was a sharp-intake-breather too, and that’s when I was on my good behavior. I think that’s the only remnant that remains, and it’s very occasional. I’ll fix myself all the way some day (knock on wood). But yeah, the kids ... that’s interesting, isn’t it? I have never had any issue with my kid’s driving (well, I do rue my daughter’s unwillingness to use a turn signal), but I think it’s because they drive much like me. My wife and I seem to work from different playbooks when it comes to driving. But hers is just fine, I’ve come to recognize, it’s just different than mine. Always good to hear from you Graham.

Expand full comment

To be clear, the kids are all great drivers, too. (In fact, one's a pilot, so he now drives in 3D...)

I guess I'm wise enough to know that the problems are all me! lol

Expand full comment
Jan 7Liked by Tom Pendergast

You clearly married the most patient woman on the planet, Tom. Congratulations. 💛

This reminded me of the "assholism" post. Or is that one the same as the "I'm confused post?" I'm too lazy to do the research, but it was one of my favorites.

Best of luck on your recovery. I couldn't stand taking Percoset after my first c-section. I dropped it after two days and went to a heavy rotation of Advil and Tylenol. I remained far more clear-headed and "not high" - two important things to be when caring for a newborn, I'd think. 🙄

P.S. The apology wouldn't have killed you, BTW. 😉

Expand full comment
author

Definitely yes on marrying patient! It was the “I’m Confused” post. I think I should create a section of my Substack that I call “Assholism Stories.” I tolerate the light opioids pretty well, but am quick to get off them the moment the worst has passed for just the reason you say: they make you too dopey. Your comment about an apology makes me think ... I’m not a quick apologizer. I think it’s “too easy” or something, or not adequately sincere. So I tend to wait and reflect, and try to show by my actions that I recognize my failure. I’m not defending this approach; I think it probably breeds frustration.

Expand full comment
Jan 7Liked by Tom Pendergast

I'd say I'm the opposite RE: apologizing. I do it first, because I can't stand the tension that NOT doing it creates. I think I wrote something about this in my comment on your Confused post as well. My apology might be knee jerk and a band-aid in the moment, but I will usually find in my post apology reflection that I stand by it, 100%. And often I'm just apologizing for the argument - not what caused it. I hate being in fights with people. It's a time waster for sure. There's always better stuff to do. 🙂

Expand full comment
author

I think your approach is smarter than mine. Now, can I put it into action? Time will tell.

Expand full comment

It only applies in situations where I'm at least partly in the wrong.

So... almost all of them. 😉

Expand full comment
Jan 7Liked by Tom Pendergast

I thought that story sounded awful familiar, so you don't mention whether or not you've been able to sustain your ability to be a good passenger...I find it hard to believe that you never given Sara just a little help with her driving on occasion!

Expand full comment
author

I’m not perfect, still, but I think I’m a lot better. You’ll have to ask Sara.

Expand full comment

I'm laughing, because Bryan and I do this to each other. It's so infuriating to be on the receiving end, and yet equally infuriating to be shut down when I'm "giving advice."

I love how your story captures this long-term-relationship dynamic that is so universal!

Expand full comment
author

You both do it!!?? Now that must make for some fun car drives. Sara used to every now and then give me a taste of my own medicine, and of course it drove me nuts. But she couldn’t sustain it--it just wasn’t her.

Expand full comment
Jan 7Liked by Tom Pendergast

You wield a wicked mirror there. Thanks for that.

Expand full comment
author

Thank you. I’m going to give you a serious reply, because your comment made me think that one of the things that I value most is looking with clear eyes at the darkest parts of myself (indeed, at the dark side of life in general). One of the things I don’t want to do is fool myself, lie to myself, so I try to be open to seeing where I might be going wrong. Perhaps it’s a necessary corrective to what might also be characterized as my arrogance, my general conviction that I’m right about, oh, everything. Fucking charming, right? 😀

Expand full comment
Jan 7Liked by Tom Pendergast

Oh yeah. I can identify. Good that you recognized the moment to "Say nothing." : ) Once I let myself share the driving, I discovered my wife is a good driver. Especially nice when going long distance. Was actually quite nice, being able to hold my eyes off of the road long enough to look around. I hope your knee replacement went well. Mine did. Wish I'd done it well before I did.

Expand full comment
author

Yeah, it really is nice just to look around while someone drives, isn’t it? Another vote in favor of the knee replacement ... I’m glad to hear it. I’ve got some hiking to do in Scotland, eventually.

Expand full comment
Jan 7Liked by Tom Pendergast

Another fine article on a matter that many of us can relate to, even in a bit of a smaller capacity. I will admit that I can be a difficult passenger as well, but fortunately for my wife not all that regularly. However, when it comes out it seems to come out with a vengeance and I seem to reserve my wrath for when she tailgates (from my passenger viewpoint).

I have also learned that my criticism has not proven useful even one time over the many years of our marriage, and has only led to hard feelings that I needed to apologize for eventually. It is good to know when you are the problem, and as my wife always points out when I'm critical about these things, "as long as we have been together, have I ever caused an accident due to my direct actions as a driver?". The answer is a very resounding NO. Case closed.

Expand full comment
author

Yeah, i like the way you put that. I don’t think there’s one time when Sara said, Boy, all your comments really helped me out.

Expand full comment

Sometimes, an extra pair of eyes can be helpful, or potentially so. For example, sometimes Elaine will say "There's a cyclist up there with no lights and wearing dark clothes". I've usually seen it but sometimes I haven't. I did have a friend once who was the worst passenger ever. He kept exagerratingly "braking" or nearly leaping out of his seat. The breaking point for came when he shouted at me:

Him: YOU NEED TO BRAKE. THEY'RE BREAKING UP AHEAD.

Me: Yes I know they are.

Him: BUT YOU DIDN'T REACT!!!

Me: Yes, I did react. I evaluated whether or not I needed to brake, or whether I was far enough behind to not do so, so I didn't, and as you can see I was right.

I then pulled up at a bus stop, in the middle of nowhere, and said: I'm giving you a choice. Either get a grip on yourself or get out now. He elected to behave himself, thereby proving that such behaviour is entirely voluntary. I have to say, Tom, I admire your honesty in admitting to this failing of yours, but if I'd have been driving I'd have given you a similar choice! And Sara was absolutey right to do and say what she did. 😁

Expand full comment
author

That was straight-up the smartest thing to do Terry! I told my daughter growing up that she never had to take any crap from anybody, but I don’t think that was the message my wife got growing up, so she probably just tolerated my bullshit, which likely only encouraged it to get worse. I basically take your approach whenever anybody tries to tell me how to drive.

Expand full comment
Jan 7Liked by Tom Pendergast

It's so hard to be a 'good' passenger, especially when you're with someone that follows more closely than you're comfortable with. Sigh. Good for you

Expand full comment

Ah man this brought back some painful memories of those first couple of days following hernia surgery. My god!

I'm enjoying your self-reflection recently. Seems like you've been a bit of a pain in the arse over the years, (who can honestly say they haven't?) But refreshing to see you recognise it, process it, and work to change it.

I never learnt to drive, which probably makes me a great passenger. Couldn't get away with that in the States, though, where a 5-hour drive is considered a short journey. Any place here that takes more than two hours by car to get to is considered long-distance and rarely happens.

Happy new year, mate.

Expand full comment
author

Happy New Year Kris. Never learned to drive? I can’t even imagine! I’m doing some experimentation with the personal essay format lately. It feels like the right form for me, but I need to bathe it in the purifying fire of intense criticism. You know I’m always interested in hearing where something doesn’t land. You can tell me anything (especially you, I trust you).

Expand full comment

Ah, glad to hear I've earnt your trust. You know I'll tell you, although I'd probably do it by email if I was gonna tell you it didn't land. This one did, though.

Man, I wish I knew how to drive. I took some lessons when I was 17, I wasn't very good, my ADHD (especially at that age) was off the scale. I'd be veering off to the side constantly without even realising I wasn't going in a straight line. Then I'd be going through red lights, distracted by the hot girl walking along the pavement. Shit like that. Then I left the country midway through my lessons, and didn't go back for like four years, and after that I couldn't afford lessons. And the longer the years have gone on, the more alien it seems to me to be in control of a vehicle, surrounded by other idiots in control of vehicles, I just feel like someone would die or at the least get very badly mangled, very soon into me having a licence.

Saying that, I do still plan to learn one of these days. Personally I'd like to just go learn automatic, which I think is quite popular in the States. Whereas over here, almost every car has a stick, and the only person I know who drives an automatic is my mum. You don't really see it over here.

Expand full comment