January 23, 2004
A Generation Gap of Three Car Lengths
by David A. Zimmerman
I worry that I'm becoming more a Chicagoan than a Zimmerman. I started feeling this way while leading a two-car rush hour convoy, with me in front and my dad behind me, from one Chicago suburb to another.
There I was, weaving in and out of traffic, angrily decrying the overaggressive driving going on around me, pushing my way through yellow lights dangerously close to turning red, reading the liner notes to my current favorite CD, writing notes to myself in my organizer.
Behind me was my dad, white-knuckled and out of his element behind the steering wheel of a nondescript rental car, trying desperately to stay within my field of vision without attaching himself to my bumper, probably praying he would be raptured somewhere slightly less populated--Des Moines, perhaps, or the Mojave Desert.
All around us were people tired of their days and eager to get where they were going. Public transportation has not won a majority audience in Chicago, and suburban roads fill with hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans each business day. On this particular day, they were joined by one Zimmerman and one guy riding the fence.
Zimmermans, historically, have been what I like to call "Iowa drivers": the kind of drivers who wave you through at the four-way stop, who scrupulously leave three or more car lengths before them, who see speed limits as a maximum, not a minimum. Moreover, my dad--a Zimmerman from way back--believes strongly in God's "original design": two people, one planet.
But these days I live in a city where drivers honk their horns as Jesse James might fire a gun and where three car lengths are two-and-a-half lengths too many. From the start of this journey I felt the tension of nature versus nurture; I wanted to take my car where my dad's would never go.
Once you're in the car, you might expect that the questions of where you came from and where you're going have been settled already, but days later I still wondered. Who I am is not defined solely by where I am, but where I am does have an undeniable influence on who I'm becoming.
Fortunately, my past keeps catching up with me, and my father is still willing to go to great lengths and great trouble to be present in my life. I'm sure that on our next convoy he'll be back there somewhere behind two SUVs and a VW Beetle. I'll make a note in my organizer to check my rear-view mirror.
Check out my secret identity at www.ivpress.com.