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Driving Miss Emily

(Or, Never Take Small Children to a Car Dealership)

Becky Hearn Burns

It was December of 1998, and our van desperately needed a tune-up. We'd put it off for quite a while, but since we were about to drive it on a long vacation we couldn't put it off any longer. Jack was out of town on business, so it was my privilege to take care of this "routine" maintenance.

Needless to say, I was not looking forward to an afternoon at the dealership's service shop with two small children, especially since I was 4-1/2 months pregnant and prone to exhaustion. Anyone who has ever had small children or has ever waited for a car to be worked on will understand my feelings. But, after learning that the dealership had no loaner cars available, I determined to make the best of it and prepared for a long stay. I packed a suitcase of books and crayons, games and toys, snacks and juice. I was ready. After we arrived and turned our car over, we settled in.

About 30 minutes had passed when two things happened: my supply of activities was exhausted, and the service man came in and said we were in for a 3- to 4-hour wait. He said this with a completely straight face (some people have "I do not have children" written all over them). My look of horror must have registered with him, because he rushed out (I thought perhaps to get me some oxygen). He returned about 15 minutes later and triumphantly said that he had located a loaner car for me. It wasn't new or even particularly clean. I didn't mind... anything to get me out of purgatory.

The car was of the "big boat" variety, and it definitely was not new. Even though it was early December, the outside temperature was very warm, and the car was downright hot. So I turned the car on to get the a/c going while I figured out how to install the girls' car seats. I put the girls in the front seat to keep them out of the way while I worked in the back seat.

It was at this point that my day really started to fall apart. My first indication that something was amiss was when I felt the car suddenly jerk. I looked up just in time to see the car lurch forward right into a pickup that was parked in front of us. Emily was at the wheel. It took me only a split second to realize what had happened. My van, which is fairly new, has a safety feature built in. The gear shift does not engage without simultaneous pressure on the brake. Obviously, this boat-mobile didn't have that feature! Emily had pretended to drive and had naturally pulled on the gear shift. And off we went!

I jumped out of the back seat and shut the door, purposing to reach into the front seat through the open door and shift the car into park. However, Emily had turned the wheel slightly so that the boat-mobile was drifting off to the right of the truck we had just bumped. I had to jump away from the car to avoid being squished between the truck and the car. I also had to shut the car door so that it wouldn't be ripped off as it passed the truck. After the car cleared the truck, it kept going: straight towards the new car lot! I ran alongside as fast as I could (I remind you of my maternal condition) and finally managed to open the door. I could not reach the gear shift, so I grabbed the steering wheel and turned it towards me, away from the cars. We would have been absolutely fine had Emily been driving a compact, but she was driving a boat with a very wide turning radius. We managed to hit only three new cars before I was able to stop the car. At this point, several people came running out of the dealership to my rescue.

All ended well. My girls were fine, and other than a huge case of the shakes, I was fine as well. The dealership people no doubt had a good laugh after I'd left, as did the insurance adjuster when he called me to get the details of the accident. Needless to say, I've never been back to that dealership! I avoid all contact with auto service shops, and most importantly: Emily has been confined to the back seat indefinitely!