Driver’s Choice


It was a gray day in San Francisco. Kay was behind the wheel on our journey home, to Oakland, across the Bay Bridge – not an easy place to get to from the Richmond District – especially at 5pm on a weekday. This was going to take a while.

“Are you planning to take Oak Street to Octavia or stay on Geary and get on the bridge at First Street?” I said.

Kay gave me a stern glance, then she stared at the road.

“Geary,” she said.

Wrong answer, I thought. Octavia would be faster, maybe way faster.

“I think we should take Oak to Octavia,” I said. Then I made my case as to why.

Kay did not like my idea, but she liked bickering even less, so she took the Oak Street approach to the bridge, where we got stuck in a dead standstill on the section of I-80 that we would have bypassed had we taken Geary to First. So now Kay was mad at me for making us drive into a quagmire, and I was mad at her for being mad at me for suggesting a good idea that happened to turn out poorly, and we were both mad at the universe for inventing traffic jams. It was a quiet ride home.

The next day, we talked it through.

“We need to come up with a way to end the spats in the car,” I said.

“That’s an easy fix,” Kay said. “Quit telling me how to drive.”

“But we’ve always worked together on navigation,” I said. “We have to, around here. We agreed on that.”

Kay considered. “How about this? Let’s use Anna’s line.”

Anna is my editor. For twelve years, she has been telling me, “I suggest, you decide.” Those four words go a long way at preventing ego damage for all involved.

“Great idea!” I said, thinking of the many words I say in the passenger seat. Then I remembered that Kay often disapproves of my lane selection. “But what about when I’m driving?”

“Same thing,” she said. “If you want to slog along in the slow lane, that’s your choice. I’ll have no say in the matter.”

“But what about when I need you to help navigate?”

“You mean, like, always?” We smiled. “I’ll give good advice as usual,” she said, “but it will still be up to you which route to take. Driver’s choice.”

“Driver’s choice.”

We sat on that for a few seconds.

“Just to clarify,” I said, “the rules of Driver’s Choice would be that the passenger can suggest routes and lane changes, and then it’s totally up to the driver to use the suggestion or not. In other words, the passenger has the right to speak up, in exchange for a promise to accept rejection without complaint or debate. What do you think?”

Kay laughed. “Really? No pouting?”

“Yep, that’s the deal. And that goes for you too. No blowback. That’s the rule.”

She paused, and nodded. “Okay. We can try it.”

A few weeks later, we were in the kitchen, cleaning up after dinner. I was doing the stove and counters and Kay was at the sink. We were discussing in congratulatory fashion today’s trip to the grocery store…

I was driving, heading south on Shattuck, when Kay suggested that we take Alcatraz Avenue to Claremont instead of Ashby Avenue to Tunnel Road.

“Driver’s choice,” I said. Kay hitched, then smiled, and sat back.

“So it is,” she said, and there was peace throughout the car.

Then I changed my mind at the last second and took Alcatraz because it was a good idea.

During kitchen cleanup, we were laughing at that last part of the story, and that’s when I noticed what Kay was doing.

She was cleaning the Le Creuset pot, with a sponge.

“The brush is better for that job,” I said, “because—”

She silenced me with a glare, followed quickly by a smile. She went back to work on the pot and in a sing-song voice she said, “Driver’s choice.”

Wow. Just wow. We had already field-tested the Driver’s Choice contract on Shattuck Avenue and it worked. But that’s what it’s for, to use while driving, not for scrubbing pans. Or folding sheets, or skinning a squash, or painting a rusty handrail. Or was it?

This was solid gold. Driver’s choice could save the day any time one of us has an opinion as to how the other one of us should be doing something. The mere anticipation of smoothing out so many bumps in our emotional landscape made me giddy.

“Honey, I think you just solved life.”

“It’s what I do.”

“New house rule,” I said. “For any task, whoever takes the initiative and does the deed is automatically the project manager.”

“The driver.”

“Right. This way, we won’t miss out on any good ideas, because either one of us can safely make suggestions and provide rationale.”

Kay didn’t object, which meant she agreed. So I kept going…

“How about if I make a case for using the brush on the Le Creuset, and then you choose between the brush and the sponge?”

“I have a better idea.” She placed the heavy orange pot upside down on the dish drainer. “Let’s watch Big Bang Theory.”

On the surface, it looks like Driver’s Choice favors the driver. After all, the driver gets to do whatever they want while the passenger swallows their rejected idea in silence. But really, the big winner in this game is the passenger, if they can play by the rules, and let go.

When I manage to let go of one of my grand ideas at the exact moment when one more word would cause conflict, it’s euphoric. It’s like the whole world breathes a sigh of relief, using my lungs. By relinquishing control, I slay resentment. By turning the matter over to you, I am released from pain. That’s the spirit of Driver’s Choice, to let go of me, for your sake and mine.



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