He’s outside the coffeeshop pacing on the sidewalk, just a few years out of drinking from juice boxes, his face growing more red as he listens. He’s got his dad on the line, making the phone call that just about every teenager, myself included, must someday inevitably make:
“I hit someone’s car.”
This is not my teenager — mine belong to that cohort of their peer group that has no real interest in driving a car. Why would they, when it’s so much nicer just to ride?
It is, however, my car.
It was parked on the street, and the kid backed his giant pickup just a couple inches too far: a slow-motion, reverse T-bone. I intuit this from the smear of dents and scrapes along my quarter-panel; the pickup is almost completely unscathed.
But the teenager is pretty shaken up.
“I’m so sorry,” he says, red-faced, into the phone. “I’m so sorry,” he says to me.
Here’s where I flash back to one night in the 1980s, after I had inadvertently removed one of the side-view mirrors from my mother’s minivan using a tree in a friend’s driveway. And another one, when my sister scraped my father’s Cadillac against the basketball pole the day he had it painted. And when Dr. Lawyer punched a hole in the grill of his mother’s new Thunderbird. And the time Serf backed into a teacher’s car in the high school parking lot.
I stop myself right there. The list of teenage car wrecks is, like the universe itself, constantly expanding. And as far as these things go, this one was fairly innocuous.
“Breathe, kid,” I say. “You’re doing great.”
And because I’m a dad, I can’t resist slipping in a teachable moment.
“Remember this,” I say. “You were only going a couple miles an hour, and look what happened. Driving a car can be incredibly dangerous.
“And hey,” I add. “This happens with new drivers all the time. I mean, all the time.”
“That’s what my dad said,” he replies.
My own teenager gets his license in one week; my time on this side of the teenage car wreck equation has just begun.