By Tim Hayes
The blue Buick Regal sped down the highway, its undercarriage rattling, its shock absorbers pleading for sweet mercy. Spring in Pittsburgh, and the potholes had begun to bloom.
There I sat, feet on the pedals, hands on the wheel, mere days after passing my driver’s test and becoming a licensed operator of a motor vehicle in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Unlike most of my friends in high school, I never went for my license at age 16. After they got their licenses, I just had them pick me up if we wanted to go someplace.
A true late bloomer, I only got my license after starting college and falling spoons over teacups for this girl. She lived in Pittsburgh too, but clear on the other side of town. You had to cross two of the three rivers to get there, for Pete’s sake. Here’s how parochial my worldview had been growing up – I had never even heard of her high school. Thirty minutes away, and life had not given me cause to get within 10 miles of her house for my first 18 years on the planet.
But, boy, I tried to get there by any means possible whenever we came home from college that freshman year. Bus rides took way too long, with transfers and various assorted weirdos and vagrants striking up incredibly uncomfortable conversations. No, at age 18 the time to man up and learn to drive a car had definitely arrived. I had to get to that girl’s house on my own terms.
(By the way, “that girl” is sitting at our dining room table as I write this, completing class assignments while working toward her second master’s degree. She still amazes me, 36 years of marriage later. But I digress…)
The blue Buick rumbled and rambled down the concrete toward the exit for my girlfriend’s house. The highway looked like it had been cluster-bombed. Shock and awe. Or, shocks and ow.
The winter that year – just like the one we’re coming out of now – featured weather cycles where a few odd stretches of really warm days would be followed by frigid cold and lots of snow. The repeated pattern of water seeping into seams in the roadbed, freezing and contracting, then melting and expanding, caused the pavement to crack and crumble into the war zone now being navigated.
Boom! Crack! Pow! The blue Buick smacked into one vicious pothole after the next. It sounded like one of those old Batman shows from the ‘60s. Splat! Crash! Oomph! Then came a voice from the passenger seat beside me.
“Good God, are you aiming for them?”
Dad, the owner of the car currently auditioning for the demolition derby under my slapdash piloting, feared for the suspension of his Buick, even as he feared for his life. Looking back, can’t say that I blame him.
His question – clearly referring to my rookie driver’s inability to avoid potholes in the road – goes a lot deeper, if you think about it.
Are you aiming for them?
As a Type 2 diabetic, I’m supposed to watch my intake of carbohydrates. But nothing tastes better on a Friday night after a busy week than hot pizza and cold beer. They’re not great choices for my health. So, am I misbehaving on purpose? Am I thumbing my nose at my medical advisors, for the sake of a self-serving reward? Questionable choices: Am I aiming for them?
We all do things we know better than to do. Even St. Paul, that old sinner. The New Living Translation of the Bible quotes him this way: “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”
Does that mean we’re aiming for those things? Those shocks to our consciences? Those potholes of the soul? Heavy stuff. That’s when I’m glad to be Catholic. We get to go to confession and start over again!
In all the 40 years of driving since that rickety, rattling trek to see my girlfriend in my Dad’s blue Buick, potholes still have a way of sneaking up on me. I try to skirt around them. I try to straddle the tires over them. But sometimes, you just gotta take the slams as part of the journey, whether it’s while enjoying a drive or living a life. They can be unavoidable. But not always.
The conundrum remains, regarding the choices we make, even when they’re questionable: Are we aiming for them? I dare you to think about it.
Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes