Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Mission creep... in Indianapolis

Dictionary.com defines "mission creep" as "the gradual process by which a campaign or mission's objectives change over time, [especially] with undesirable consequences."

It's a term developed by and about the military, but the term was certainly applicable to what befell me this past weekend.

Youngest Son is learning to drive. He must get 50 hours of parent-supervised driving practice in order to obtain his license (double what his older siblings had to do). That's a lot of hours -- especially when his primary driving destination -- his school -- is only 15 to 30 minutes away, depending on traffic.

So -- I thought -- it would be good to find a destination that would take him hours to reach. But -- even though gas prices have settled at around $2 a gallon -- I couldn't see justify pointing the car in a given direction and seeing which way the wind blew us. How could I ever face Al Gore again? No, there would have to be a purpose.

Older Daughter supplied that purpose.

You'll recall she's getting married... in Indianapolis. In the last several weeks she's picked out a reception hall and identified a hotel that she thought might suit the out of town guests. I printed out directions to these places and to the church. I wanted, I told my wife, to go out and examine the locus in quo.

I wanted to take this trip a couple of weeks ago. But the weather did not cooperate and neither did my health. Thus, the trip was postponed to Saturday. And, so, mission creep....

The first complication was baseball. Youngest Son has hopes of making the sophomore team. While he might have missed a voluntary Saturday workout in January -- he said -- we're only a couple of weeks from tryouts now. There's no way he'd miss on Saturday. So our departure would have to be delayed until after practice. Early, still, on a Saturday morning -- but any delay means an increase in traffic. Any traffic at all on the same road as a student driver only drives up the stress levels of the person required to accompany said student.

The next complication was that this past Saturday was also Older Daughter's birthday. Well, in that case, Long Suffering Spouse said she would have to come along then and we'd have to do something for our daughter's birthday. Older Daughter was thrilled. She and her fiance could show us all these locations... and then she proposed we spend some time with the pending in-laws.

It was at this point that I lost it. Bad enough that we had to wait for baseball. Bad enough that Long Suffering Spouse was coming -- there's a reason why she's had me do almost all the driver training with all five kids: She's a nervous wreck with a student driver behind the wheel. And she lets everyone know it.

But I understood that baseball was going to claim priority. And I understood that Long Suffering Spouse would have to come; I even understood that we'd have to visit with our daughter. But I couldn't stand the prospect of making nice with the pending in-laws on top of everything else. Just getting there was going to be exhausting -- and we were losing track of the purpose of the exercise, namely, getting Youngest Son some hours of driving practice.

And then baseball practice ran late Saturday morning. Not real late, mind you, just about an hour or so. And Older Daughter called, all a-twitter, excited that we were on our way. Only we weren't -- yet. And she was still pushing that we include pending mother-in-law in the luncheon plans. I screamed dark threats and imprecations. Long Suffering Spouse covered the receiver and papered it over.

Finally, Youngest Son called -- finally ready. I went to get him. He drove back and stayed behind the wheel as I shooed Long Suffering Spouse into the van. She didn't start complaining until I told him to head east from the driveway, not west.

There are two ways to get to Indiana from our house. There is the Tollway route, going around the City, and the Skyway route, which takes you through the heart of the City. At rush hour the Tollway route makes sense. But the Skyway route is shorter and, all other things being equal, quicker. (On Friday afternoons, in the summer, just stay home. You can't get to Indiana. Whatever route you essay you will merely find yourself in an impenetrable tangle of vans, light trucks, and trailers pulling boats. Neither can you return from Indiana on a summer Sunday evening.)

The Skyway route is more challenging for the novice driver, even at non-peak periods. Privately, I would have been much happier to be leaving at 7:30 am than 9:30 am -- but I still figured this route was doable. Long Suffering Spouse differed. Loudly.

Still, we got on the Kennedy without incident, if slightly deafened. I got Youngest Son to maneuver to the left hane land so he could get into the Express Lanes. There are no trucks allowed in the Express Lanes. I always feel that increases my odds.

I wanted Youngest Son to get to the left hand lane once he got into the Express Lanes as well. And I was telling him, "Go when it is safe to do so" -- even as he was moving without looking.

I'll repeat that last part.

Without looking.


Long Suffering Spouse was looking, though. She was looking very closely at the overstuffed SUV that we were about to broadside and she let out a shriek that you probably heard Saturday morning and wondered why air raid sirens were going off.

Certainly the other driver heard it. He swerved away. We swerved away, too. No metal was crumpled and no blood was spilled. Except perhaps the trickle that came out of my ear.

But that was the worst, I suppose. At least it was the loudest. Long Suffering Spouse later told me she had her eyes closed for most of the Skyway. For his part, Youngest Son did very well on the drive. Of course, every time a truck passed, he swerved. He occasionally drifted too close to the center line. Other times he drifted too close to the shoulder. Long Suffering Spouse screamed nearly every single time.

Have you figured out yet why I didn't want to make nice with the pending mother-in-law, whom I've met only once and then just to say hello to?

Older Daughter only called a couple of times while we were en route. And, of course, she was still pushing for us to spend time with the mother-in-law. (The father-in-law was out of town for the weekend, visiting his parents in Florida.)

We did visit the places we came to find. We did take Older Daughter and her fiance to lunch. I understand that the pending mother-in-law is kind of miffed at us for not including her. The fact that I hadn't wanted to include any of them was completely forgotten.

I drove home. Youngest Son slept most of the way, understandably exhausted from his effort. Long Suffering Spouse, still on edge, didn't scream nearly as much. But, on occasion, she couldn't help herself.


Cristina said...

OH. I feel your pain. I haven't even gotten on an expressway yet with my younger son who I let drive me home from work every afternoon. A full 3 miles away! LOL!

Barb said...

Aren't families wonderful? :)

You sure it was your ear that got wet?

Steve Skinner said...

When my dad was teaching me to drive, we would always take the back roads through the country. He always insisted that we stop at his uncle’s house along the way so he could get a “shot of nerve medicine” before we continued along the journey. As time went along, my day would just sit and calmly read the Boston Globe as I drove. Occasionally, he would ask me if I had my heavy shoes on today; I finally figured out that I was driving a bit too fast at that point.

Dave said...

A great story. I empathize with Youngest Son, I did similar things.

landgirl said...

I have a hard time conjuring my memory of driving the Skyway to Indiana in my bucolic setting. I do remember that there were times that I screamed myself on that road.

Country roads up here seem harder to drive than motorways--sheep are much more unpredictable than an SUV and cattle and deer do not play by the rules at all.