Friday, May 29, 2009

My dad, Zen master? Zen driving.

Zen masters sometimes marry. My dad did. He met a girl from Iowa. After they married and had kids, they made a triennial trek from California to Iowa to visit her family. We drove.

For many years we had one car and one driver: Dad. As a result, the 36-hour drive to Iowa was one long haul. My dad was a banker by day, Zen master by night.

On Friday’s the bank was open late, and Dad oversaw the tellers “balancing out.” When we were young, Dad got two weeks of vacation a year. This meant that on Thursday night, my parents would do a trial pack of the trunk with empty suitcases. On Friday, my mom would load clothes in the suitcases, Dad would get home, pack the car, and we left.

This is how you drive from Anaheim, California to Mason City, Iowa in about 48 hours. You leave Friday at 7 PM, drive all night, and all the next day until about 3 in the afternoon. By that time you’ll be in Wyoming. The next morning, you start early and arrive just in time for dinner. (That's 36 hours of driving, 12 hours for eating, sleeping, getting gas, and using the john.)

Friday night on that trip was when Dad and I did Zen driving. He drove, and I kept him company. After a long day of work, driving all night is no easy chore. My dad, suspected Zen master, had two secret weapons: No-doze and Me.

Around 9 PM everyone would fall asleep, and I got promoted to the front seat. My mom moved to the back.

The disciple now had a job: listen to Dad for 9 or 10 hours. If he attempted to move from Zen driving to Zen napping… don’t let him. At 65 miles-per-hour in the dead of the night, Dad was not allowed to “rest his eyes.” And he didn’t.

I learned the meditations of night driving: when to use your bright lights, when to dim, when to pass, how to pass, and how to communicate with other drivers using your lights.

I also learned to drive in attentive silence. I wasn’t just a passenger; I was a companion. I was a co-meditator, and I was important.

There were no close calls. We made the trip to Iowa and back every third summer.

During the year, we also practiced Zen driving on long weekends when we visited my mom’s sister and family in Arizona. That was just a seven-hour trip, also begun on Friday’s at 7 PM, usually on a three-day weekend. On those trips I learned Zen driving on the mountain roads leading to Prescott.

After I grew up, Dad continued his Zen driving, but by then he was retired. He graduated to driving by daylight and sleeping by night: schedules relaxed, and so did he.

And me? To this day, I love to drive. I’ve done a lot of road-trips. The USA out of a car window is a beautiful sight. But I don’t like to drive alone on those trips. I was spoiled: I learned Zen driving in my youth. Now, nothing else will do.


  1. These are beautiful tributes to you Dad.......
    You Dad sounds like a wonderful man with a brilliant sense of humor :)

    Steady On
    Reggie Girl

  2. My dad did have many positive attributes as a father. He developed them despite not having his own dad around much when he was young. Maybe that's why he was around so consistently. He knew the opposite. (I just found this out from my mom. My sister printed out some of these blog entries for my mom to read. My mom enjoyed the stories as well. An unanticipated but sweet by-product of this tribute series.

  3. Hey Dad - I like the stories too - even if I only catch up with them every couple of weeks. I've never heard you tell a whole lot of dad stories before, and of course, he was gone before I was too old, so it's fun to hear a little bit of the family history. And I glimpse how you became the odd Zen master that you are ;-).

  4. Ack! I have a whole series of Zen-related posts to catch up on. The last couple weeks have not been reading friendly...I will try to catch up soon! :)

  5. Joanna: I'm glad you're enjoying the stories, and I treasure your visits and comments. Me? Odd Zen master? I must deny it! I must! ;-)

    Saphron: Always glad when you stop by. Soon summer will come and for us teacher types, the gift of "more" time. At least more "free" time. When it does, stop on by... read... reflect... and respond. I always enjoy your comments.