I started driving back in 1968, nearly fifty years ago. I can still remember sitting in the driver’s seat of my Dad’s ’64 Oldsmobile, hands at 10 o’clock–2 o’clock position, feet ready to touch the accelerator as my Dad parked himself in the passenger’s seat. The official starter of the event, he signaled me to put the key into the ignition, check my mirrors, choose reverse, and back down the gravel driveway onto our street, Ridge Court, and start driving. Although a bit nervous, I liked being in control of Dad’s car. It put me into a position of command and control I wasn’t used to. I was making things happen and my Dad had to deal with me for the moment from a position of passenger and not driver. From that moment on I found myself most commonly the driver and infrequently the passenger. When I bought my first car that year I relished the role of driver. As far as I can remember I never knew what it was like to be a passenger in my old ’60 Corvair. I drove and everyone else was a passenger. Now decades later I’ve graduated through a number of Corvairs, Pontiacs, Dodges, Plymouths, Chevys, Buicks, and nearly a dozen other foreign and American cars. Passengers have changed over the years as well. My brothers were soon replaced by girl friends, and then my wife. Through it all I mostly drove and others usually occupied the seat to my right.

Several years ago things began to change. My wife Holly was more often the driver and I the passenger. There were a number of reasons for this. A few years back I battled a number of health issues that kept me a passenger. Then there were the knee replacements that made driving an off-agenda item. These however weren’t the primary cause and effect. Night driving began to become bothersome with headlight glare. I didn’t like negotiating parking lots, negotiating unknown streets made me anxious, and, sometimes, I just didn’t feel like driving. As the years go by it is becoming more and more common for me to be sitting on the right and not the left. Holly has always been a great driver, so being comfortable with her driving was never a question. I had always felt that it was my role to drive, so I did. That manly manner isn’t as apparent as it once was. There is a mellowness that comes with the post-60 age environment. I’m there, not so conscious of role as I once was and far more willing to give others more space than I once was. This is especially true of my children. Frankly, I am waning and they are waxing. My “day” has truly come and gone and I am well aware of the implications. What I held in reserve is not as important as it once was. In a way that is comforting and, admittedly, practical. I still step forward to make my presence known, but that step is far more tentative than it once was.

We live in a great land and on this great day of celebrating that land I am reminded of this dichotomy. My opinions about my country, while still important, are not paramount to those who are coming behind me. That generation is beginning to shine and there are a lot of cloudy days for those born out of that great conflict we call WWII. More and more I am becoming the patriotic passenger, experienced, able yet willing to ride and give space to those without my degree of social blindness, and political reaction times that may be, well, a bit reactionary. Nevertheless, waning isn’t all that bad when weighed in the balance of responsibility and duty. My generation, as the ones before me, did their part, made their sacrifice, and now find themselves more and more riding along while others more often than not do the driving. God meant it to be that way; far be it from me to put myself in that driver’s seat. A passenger I will always be in that regard. God bless America!

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Mark Brunner

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