A Comedy Duo
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on December 29, 2007
You think of comedy duos, you think of Abbott and Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Cheech and Chong, or maybe Burns and Allen, depending on your age. However, I think my parents were one of the best comedy acts I’ve ever seen. The driving trip was their specialty.
Somehow, they always thought, first off, that waking up three, four, or all seven kids hours before we usually got up was a good idea. Sure, they’d warn the older ones we would all have to get up early, and there was always a strict deadline to be on the road, like 5:00 am sharp. Of course, that never worked, but it never deterred them in the slightest. They’d drag us all out of our dreams and make sure we dressed, or were dressed. My mom went on to make the sandwiches and boiled eggs, while my dad was doing things to the car. There was barely enough light to see when we all finally stumbled out to the car, and fell back asleep, but not before we were told to pee now or forever hold our pees. That rarely worked either. Somebody always had to pee, of course, before we’d gone a mile or two. That was easy enough when we stopped for gas. I never saw us go anywhere without having to stop and put in a whole two dollars worth of gas.
However, on the return trip, all of the younger kids were asleep, and we were not allowed to stop for any reason. Me and my brother John were usually awake or woke up on the way back, and we always had to pee. My mom was prepared for this after a few such trips. She carried a mason jar with her, and she’d pass it back to us when we had to go. We’d fill it up, and she’d open her door just enough to pour it out onto the road. Woe onto any of us if we lost time or gas mileage because we had to stop. It’s pretty embarrassing to pee with your parents listening a foot away, but having to pass that jar of hot piss to your mom just seemed really odd. We handled it carefully too, since the thought of spilling any in the car seemed terrifying.
Going or coming, my parents were always fun to watch. If my mother was driving, my dad was always reaching over to grab the steering wheel – to straighten out the car, he said. He was nervous watching someone else drive, and couldn’t stand to see her not drive straight down the center of the lane squarely between the lines. Eventually they would teach me to line up the edge of the hood with the highway stripes, and that would put me dead center. I don’t know why it was so vitally important. Of course, since we couldn’t stop, sometimes the driver would fall asleep, and start to drift, so I can understand how grabbing the steering wheel came about. If my father was driving, he rolled the window all the way down, even on a cold night, to help keep himself awake, and we’d freeze our nuts off in the back seat. Even with that, I remember waking up when the car went off the road onto the shoulder. That was nerve-wracking, since the shoulders often sloped down away from the highway, and the car could roll over. My parents always managed to straighten the car. I learned from that that you don’t panic, you keep going, and gradually slow, until you can pull back on the road smoothly. Worked for me one time, but I never went off the road again after that. Nowadays I stop as soon after dark as I can, eat dinner and hit the sack.
By far the best part of the whole routine was watching them trade drivers. Remember, they couldn’t stop the car, even to pee, so stopping to switch drivers appeared to be out of the question too. One of them would suddenly say, “Grab the wheel,” and the other would do it. Then would begin the incredible acrobatics, as one person slipped under as the other climbed over, all while one person held the wheel and the other kept a foot on the accelerator. Keeping the car straight always seemed to work OK; the hard part was transferring power to the pedal. “Get the accelerator!” “I can’t, your foot’s in the way.” “Well, I can’t let go.” “Well let go now, damn it.” And suddenly, they’d be completely on their own part of the seat, and I’d relax. It was the best show I ever watched, and it played a couple times each trip, each and every time. Loved it.