Feb 4, 2022

Confessions of a Very Bad Car Passenger

Why one can be at ease in the sky but not on the ground

By Ed Goldman

After several decades with the Department of Earth, I’m willing to finally concede that I’m not an easygoing automobile passenger. 

It doesn’t matter how experienced the driver is: a veteran cabbie; a seasoned chauffeur; my late Dad (who drove the front end of a hook-and-ladder truck during his 20 years as a New York City firefighter); or my very capable OSSO (oh-so-significant other). She spent years regularly navigating her way through snowy climes, mountain passes and Biblical downpours, both here and in her native Idaho.

Edgy Cartoon

Front-Seat Driver

My fidgetiness as a passenger is based on mainly one incident, about 14 years ago, when the car I was riding in was “T-boned,” as they say. It left me with about a dozen rib fractures, a mild concussion and a slightly punctured lung. The latter allowed me to double-up on my side-hustle of  doing voiceover work for the next few years, especially when the client wanted someone to sound like an angry bear or wakened giant (as long as I recorded these early in the day; by noon, I was back to sounding like an alto with sinusitis).    

Until I was involved in an accident of this sort, I’d never heard the term “T-bone” used to describe anything but a robust cut of steak.  I realize that “sideswiped” wouldn’t have quite done it, implying a sort of hit-and-run incident in which someone scrapes the side of your car but then dashes off—not unlike Zorro quickly chiseling a “z” on the seat of your pantalones then scurrying back to his magnificent hacienda. But to have been “T-boned” sounded like I’d been provided with a lovely dinner rather than that I spent a few hours coughing up hemoglobin samples.     

Conversely, I’m pretty relaxed as a plane passenger. 

I know that if anything goes awry in mid-flight, there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. I’m secure in the knowledge that no one’s going to run to my seat and ask me to take the controls if, Heaven forfend, the pilot and co-pilot suddenly suffer simultaneous myocardial infarctions—or, more likely, food poisoning, which is what happened in the 1957 movie “Zero Hour.” You may recall that this scenario was hilariously parodied in the 1980 film “Airplane.” (Note to me:  What more can I do to date myself?)

A similar set of circumstances, though with fewer fatal implications, sometimes shows up in a recurring dream I have. In it, I’m settling into my aisle seat, eagerly anticipating the opening notes of the score to “The Music Man”—a favorite play of mine whose leading role I’ve been lucky to perform in two productions: as a high school senior and then, in my early 20s, as a professional actor.

In the dream, an usher suddenly swoops down on me, desperately asking if, as someone in the cast just told him, I once played the part of Professor Harold Hill, the eponymous con artist of the title. 

“Why, yes,” I start to say and then the dream gets all—well, as all dreams are—surrealistic. 

I’m told that the leading man just contracted scurvy.  I’m rushed backstage, outfitted in the character’s costume, assailed with makeup and, in at least one of the dreams, partial hairpieces. I think this might have been the night after (a) a haircut exposed my combover strategies and (b) I’d had pizza for dinner very late.  

Fortunately, I always wake up before I walk on-stage and realize I remember none of the lines. This is something I wish would have happened both times I played the part in real life when I also walked on-stage without knowing my lines.

To recap, I’m not only willing to finally concede that I’m not an easygoing automobile passenger, but also that I should never again be cast in “The Music Man.”

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).