We pile into the car, a rusting Buick that was already old when Gran gave it to us after Teddy was born. Mom and Dad offer to let me drive, but I say no. Dad slips behind the wheel. He likes to drive now. He'd stubbornly refused to get a license for years, insisting on riding his bike everywhere. Back when he played music, his ban on driving meant that his bandmates were the ones stuck behind the wheel on tours. They used to roll their eyes at him. Mom had done more than that. She'd pestered, cajoled and sometimes yelled at Dad to get a license, but he'd insisted that he preferred pedal power. "Well then you better get to work on building a bike that can hold a family of three and keep us dry when it rains," she'd demanded. To which Dad always had laughed and said that he'd get to work on that.
But when Mom had gotten pregnant with Teddy, she'd put her foot down. Enough, she said. Dad seemed to understand that something had changed. He'd stopped arguing and had gotten a driver's license. He'd also gone back to school to get his teaching certificate. I guess it was okay to be in arrested development with one kid. But with two, time to grow up. Time to start wearing a bowtie.
He has one on this morning, along with a flecked sport coat and vintage wingtips. "Dressed for the snow, I see," I say.
"I'm like the post office," Dad replies, scraping the snow off the car with a one of Teddy's plastic dinosaurs that are scattered on the lawn. "Neither sleet nor rain nor a half inch of snow will compel me to dress like a lumberjack."
"Hey, my relatives were lumberjacks," Mom warns. "No making fun of the white-trash woodsmen." "Wouldn't dream of it," Dad replies. "Just making stylistic contrasts."
Dad has to turn the ignition over a few times before the car chokes to life. As usual, there is a battle for stereo dominance. Mom wants NPR. Dad wants Frank Sinatra. Teddy wants SpongeBob Squarepants. I want the classical music station, but, recognizing that I'm the only classical fan in the family, I am willing to compromise with Shooting Star.
Dad brokers the deal. "Seeing as we're missing school today, we ought to listen to the news for a while, so we don't become ignoramuses—"
"I believe that's ignoramusi," Mom says.
Dad rolls his eyes and clasps his hand over Mom's and clears his throat in that school-teachery way of his. "As I was saying, NPR first, and then when the news is over, the classical station. Teddy, we will not torture you with that. You can use the Discman," Dad says, starting to disconnect the portable player he's rigged to the car radio. "But you are not allowed to play to Alice Cooper in my car. I forbid it." Dad reaches into the glove box to examine what's inside. "How about Jonathan Richman?"
"I want SpongeBob. It's in the machine," Teddy screams, bouncing up and down and pointing to the Discman. The chocolate chip pancakes dowsed in syrup have clearly only enhanced his hyper excitement. "Son, you break my heart," Dad jokes. Both Teddy and I were raised on the goofy tunes of Jonathan Richman, who is Mom and Dad's patron musical saint. Once the musical selections have been made, we are off. The road has some patches of snow, but mostly it's just wet. But this is Oregon. The roads are always wet. Mom used to joke that it was when the road was dry that people ran into trouble. "They get cocky, throw caution to the wind, drive like assholes. The cops have a field day doling out speeding tickets."