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One writer’s favorite lesson was getting to know her father during those long rides to and from college

By Stephanie Georgopulos

 

I remember freshman move-in day vividly, even though it’s not a day I think of often: me, crammed in the backseat of my parents’ minivan, Mom riding shotgun and Dad in the driver’s seat, navigating his way to Iona College in New Rochelle, New York—the place where I would spend the next four years. I was understandably agitated—as if sharing the backseat with milk crates of books and desk lamps wasn’t bad enough, I was 17 years old. And everyone knows that the natural state of a 17-year-old is perpetual agitation.

Because I’m an overachiever, agitation was also my natural state throughout high school. My mom’s stay-at-home status designated her Chief Officer of Teenage Angst, but because I saw my dad less, our tension had time to slow-cook, then boil over into arguments that rattled the house and made the dogs bark like they were witness to paranormal activity. Our fights were typical, often revolving around grades, school attendance and my not being home enough—and because I am my father’s daughter, we preferred to yell rather than communicate. It was just our way.

After four war-torn years of high school, freshman move-in day had finally arrived. My mother guarded our double-parked van while my father and I moved my belongings into my apartment. We both sweated profusely in the August heat (a trait I regrettably inherited from him) as we carried box after box upstairs. When it was all over, I gave my parents an artless “Thank you” and got to the business of being a college student, at which I excelled.

Soon enough, the inevitable happened and I had to return home to visit my family. As our clan’s designated driver, my dad would leave his office in Tarrytown to pick me up in New Rochelle, and together we’d drive home to New City. I was still unsure of how to communicate with my father during our first few rides together, so we’d listen to the local classic rock station during the 40-minute ride. Music was one thing I knew we had in common.

It was this commonality that helped me break the ice one night. “American Pie” began to play on the radio. I was telling my dad that Don McLean’s infamous levee (“Drove my Chevy to the levee/But the levee was dry”) referred to a local bar in New Rochelle. McLean, it turned out, had gone to night school at Iona. We began to talk about the tragic plane crash that inspired the song and how highly my dad thought of Buddy Holly. My dad has been playing blues guitar longer than he’s been a husband, a father and even a driver, so his was an opinion I valued, at least in that arena.

Over the course of many long drives back and forth between New Rochelle and New City, our conversations moved away from music and I was continually impressed by my dad’s wisdom. We discussed my classes, and I learned what college was like for my dad in the ’60s. We talked about my post-graduation plans, and he told me what it was like running his father’s flower business. He helped me deal with difficult professors and schooled me on student loans. When I graduated, my dad’s expertise in the working world gave me the inspiration I needed to ask for vacation time, negotiate raises and feel confident enough to shoot for my dream career. Most importantly, these rides in the car gave my dad the opportunity to tell me about the rest of our family, their pasts and presents. I learned more about them—and my dad—than I’d ever known while we were living under the same roof.

Even though our drives together were few and far between, they have enhanced my life and our relationship in ways that seemed unimaginable a decade ago. The cars, the routes and the conversations weren’t the only things that changed during those four years—we did, too. We finally learned to communicate. And that’s not something they teach you in college.

Whether you’re a freshman or a “senior,” the 2013 Equinox will take you there and bring you back, and let you savor the time in between. Because it’s about the journey, not the destination.

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Stephanie Georgopulos is an editor at Thought Catalog. Her work has been featured on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Awl, Gizmodo, The Next Web, Refinery 29 and elsewhere. Email her at Stephanie@thoughtcatalog.com.