Despite what anyone tells you, the joy of driving fast in cars is felt almost exclusively by the driver. Fear, however, is felt most acutely by the passenger. Why? Because driving fast in cars is all about power and control. The pleasure of the open road is the pleasure of having choice. But, in a car, power is not evenly distributed. You can’t half-drive a car. Children know this all too well, being familiar with the math of second-hand speed: Fear equals adrenaline divided by body weight.
I learned this the hard way. As a child I spent countless hours at 100 mph. My father’s Corvette roared down Interstate 5 as I quietly cringed in the passenger seat, hands braced against the dashboard for an impact I thought inevitable. Maybe his performative driving was supposed to make me stand in awe of his dominion over the road, but it only ever made me worry about his dominion over me. There was no joy I could find at speed.
But now, a dad myself, when I find myself alone in a car I reflexively floor it. The truth is that, in a sports car, sedan, minivan, or wagon, there is no better feeling than gunning it from 0 to 60 in two minutes and thirty seconds. Of course, not wanting to replicate the sins of my father, when my boys and wife are in the car, I’m a 25 mph guy. I’m overly, almost comically cautious. But there’s a wrinkle.
My youngest swants nothing more than to go fast. On foot, he runs. On scooters, he zooms. On bikes, he’s a holy terror. He has even developed his own superhero persona, The Blur. “He’s like the Flash,” he explains, “but faster.” Naturally, he finds restraint unconscionable. I have a gas pedal. How dare I not press it?
So I do. When it’s just the Blur and me, brother do we ride.
When I floor it and feel the near instantaneous torque thrust us forward, I hear The Blur squealing with delight in the back seat. So I smoke it out of intersections, much to the understandable chagrin of other more responsible adults, who sneer at me when we brake for the next light. “Where do I think I’m going to get driving like that?” they ask with their eyes. The genuine answer is this: nowhere. It’s dumb, but it makes my kid happy and I want him to feel like he’s my copilot.
What I realized the other day, going 65 in a 45 speed zone in a borrowed Maserati, is that the salient variable is trust. I didn’t trust my dad (still don’t), but my son trusts me completely. In a car, that trust makes all the difference. It’s the opposite of that specious African proverb. We go fast because we go together.
Still, I want my son to be safe. I want his trust in me to be well placed. That’s why I’ve mastered the art of accelerating just to the speed limit and of juicing the engine as we enter a curve so it feels like we’re caroming even though we are decidedly not. The Blur, quick as he is, can’t seem to tell the difference. I’ll get away with this for a while — until he’s old enough to sit in the car and wonder, probably silently, why his old man drives like a fool.
One day — and we’re talking distant future — he’ll be old enough for me to feel comfortable really putting the pedal down, maybe just once, maybe on an open road. On that day, he’ll realize that daddy can drive and that I too enjoy the sensation of speed — that these years of fast starts and gradual braking weren’t the affectations of middle age, but an expression of a father’s love.
And, if he asks me to slow down, I’ll stop on a dime.