The Condolence Call

Carol Starr Schneider

We know we're in trouble when it takes ten minutes to get their seatbelts on, and another five to make sure they haven't left their house keys behind, and then, off we go to Anaheim Hills to pay a condolence call.  In the backseat, armed with helpful commentary:  my in-laws and brother-in-law.  Two seconds in, the backseat driving begins.  "Get on the freeway at Wilshire," the brother-in-law says. "I know where the freeway is," my husband says.  I take the first of many power naps.

Saturday afternoon, the freeway looks jammed.  "Where's everybody going?" my mother-in-law asks.  "They're getting out of the city," the brother-in-law says, like he's got the inside track.  "Stay in the right lane," my father-in-law says, his Brooklyn accent thicker than usual.  "Take the diamond lane," my brother-in-law says.  "There is no diamond lane," my husband says.  My mother-in-law stays out of the fray.  "It's so nice and cool in here."

On the radio, the Bruins are thrashing the Longhorns, a shocking turn of events.  "You can get all the way over to the right and take that extended Vermont onramp to beat the traffic," my father-in-law says.  "I'm not doing that," my husband says.  "It doesn't make any difference which lane we're in.  It's still gonna take an hour to get there."  "I would've gone a different way," his brother says. "What's the score?" my mother-in-law asks.  "UCLA's winning by a lot," I say.  "They're gonna lose," my father-in-law says, like he's got the inside track.  "Don't say that," his wife says.  "If they win, it's a big upset," my husband points out.  "It'll never happen," his father says.  "Why do you have to be so negative?" my mother-in-law says.  "I'm not negative, I'm realistic."

Forty-five minutes in, and it feels like a week.  "You need to get over," my father-in-law says.  "The 91's coming up in three miles."  "I've got plenty of time," my husband says.  "Not as much as you think," his father says.  "What's the score?" my mother-in-law wants to know.  "We're still ahead," I tell her.  "You gotta get over," my father-in-law says.  I give my husband a loving, "hang in there" pat on the arm.   Two transition lanes appear.  He makes his move.  From the backseat, a volcanic eruption.  In unison, his parents yell, "GET OVER!"  My husband's response, expletives deleted:  "Would you two relax!  Don't tell me which lane to be in.  I've done this before!" "We're just trying to help," my mother-in-law says.  I turn around and smile at my in-laws, and wonder when they got so old.  "There will be no more backseat driving today," I tell them.  "What's the score?" my mother-in-law asks.  "We won," I say.  "I knew we would," my father-in-law says.

The rest of the ride rolls along, blissfully and direction-free, until we get off the freeway.  "Turn right at the Japanese restaurant," my father-in-law says.  "Go two miles, and turn right on Scenic Drive."  "It's so pretty here," my mother-in-law says. "How long do we have to stay?" my brother-in-law asks.  "You just missed the turn!" my father-in-law says  "But that wasn't Scenic Drive," my husband and I say, in unison. "Well, you were supposed to turn there, anyway."

Carol Starr Schneider is a writer living in California.

Return to Back Issues.