June 22, 2014
A Random, Deserted Parking Lot in Sacramento
“Okay, apply the brakes slowly.”
“Sorry! Shit! This rental has touchy ass brakes! We’re good.”
My life has flashed before my eyes no less than four times in the last fifteen minutes. Ben has braked too hard, sent us up on two wheels, and pretended to parallel park between two rocks sending the rocks sailing off halfway across the parking lot. If the rocks had really been cars, they would have looked like accordions by the time Ben turned off the car.
Ben is the worst driver in the world.
And Nick is the calmest person in the world. I know that if I had taken the passenger seat that my foot would have already gone through the windshield. Nick is totally composed, one arm draped across the top of his head.
“Okay, Ben,” he says. “Pretend this is a basketball court. You’ve got to get from one end to the other to make your basket without running into your opponent. I mean that’s the ideal scenario, right?”
Ben stares out the window, a fixed determination on his face. “Right.”
“Well this parking lot is the court and the trees, landscape square-thingys that I can’t think of what they’re called, and that speed bump are your opponents. I want you to drive around the tree, slow down on the speed bump and turn right, go three spaces past the square-thingy--”
“Flower box,” I laugh.
“Yeah, flower box,” Nick stretches out even more. “And then focus on that parking space. That parking space is the hoop. This whole car is your ball. Make the ball go in the hoop, Ben. Do it.”
Ben has been staring out the window the whole time. He grips the steering wheel at 10 and 2 and nods. “Make the ball go through the hoop,” he repeats.
“YOU CAN DO IT!” Nick shouts.
“I CAN DO IT!” Ben shouts.
Nick turns and looks at me.
“Wha? Oh--YOU CAN DO IT!” I shout.
I’m not sure he can do it.
“The key is to keep a logical pace. You know they can always get the guy that goes balls to wall because you’re not in control of your own body.”
Nick’s voice is hypnotic. I’m convinced that if he quit BSB today, that he would be the best driving instructor that the world has ever seen.
Ben doesn’t answer. He is concentrating. Concentrating seems to be the key. The car moves smoothly and I don’t feel like I’m going to see anything horrific like a squirrel being smushed into the pavement. He takes the turn around the tree smoothly.
“You got this,” Nick says softly.
The speed bump in the parking lot has been the worst thing so far. My head has connected with the top of the car no less than five times. As we near it, my hands curl into the seat.
It’s nothing more than a gently bounce.
“Yes...yes…” Nick chants.
Ben turns right. The flower box comes into view with a dazzling display of red and orange flowers. There is a small tire mark from when he rode up on the white concrete fifteen minutes prior.
We pass it without a problem.
“Homestretch,” Nick commentates.
The parking spot is not far and Ben slows, giving himself a much better turning radius than ever before. I hold my breath. Ben’s hands shift positions on the wheel.
Nick has picked a parking spot that will not put us in mortal peril if Ben fails. Then problem is I don’t want him to fail. I want with every fiber of my being to see him succeed.
I close my eyes, but not completely. Through the slits I see Ben turn the wheel.
It is one of the most amazing half-slit views I’ve ever seen. He aligns the car up in the space perfectly. I hear the loud exhale as he turns off the car and holds up his hands.
“YOU DID IT!”
The scream comes from me. I’m reaching over the seat and locking him in a tight choke-hold. He laughs as I kiss his cheek.
“You’re killing him, honey. Calm down. Good job, buddy. You totally had--SHIT GET DOWN!”
My face suddenly lands into the back seat. I see a lot of blonde hair dodging in the front. “Switch me seats.”
“Switch me seats. There’s a cop car pulling up.”
“What? But you said this was okay!”
“I might have lied! Switch!”
My heart begins to pound. I mentally retract my statement about Nick being the best driving instructor ever and I realize that I had been right at breakfast. The almighty Tennessee permit wasn’t good here in Cali.
“Ouch, dad your elbow just jabbed my eye!”
“That’s good! No way they’d think I’d let you drive with a swollen eye!”
“Court, yell at me later!”
A second later Nick and Ben pop up on opposite sides. Nick glances at me.
“Just smile, honey. That usually gets us out of everything.”
I wonder exactly how much stuff I’ve gotten us out of before. I glance back and see the cop car park right behind us. A tall, Tom Selleck-looking cop gets out. My heart is pounding as he walks up to the driver’s side. Ben is still rubbing his eye. Nick takes a deep breath and cranks down the window.
Nick makes fast work or pulling out his license. He hands over the rental paperwork.
“Yes, sir. We’re heading to our place in L.A. tonight.”
“And what brings a Backstreet Boy out to an abandoned parking lot in the middle of an afternoon?” The officer says it with disdain. Nick doesn’t bat an eye.
“The brakes on the rental are a little squeaky and I wanted to test them out before getting stuck in rush hour traffic. I didn’t see a private property sign so I apologize if we’re trespassing.”
Nick is so smooth it makes me want to laugh. The officer looks over at Ben.
“I had a report that someone was driving recklessly through here. I couldn’t help but notice that tire mark on the flower bed over there.”
“Oh, that. Yes, well I’ll admit the sun was in my eyes.”
“Reports said a young boy was driving.”
The officer looks past Nick at Ben. Ben’s stopped rubbing his eye. He looks guilty. This is not going to end well.
“Well, my husband does have a boyish face,” I say way cheerier than I feel.
It works. He turns and looks at me. Recognition lights his eyes and he smiles. He obviously doesn’t hate the Backstreet Boy’s wife.
“Are you Courtney Ford?”
I smile so bad my face hurts. “Yes, I am.”
“My wife loves you,” he almost blushes. “You’re going to L.A. for the concert, aren’t you? We’re heading down for it.”
“Oh,” I don’t know what to say. I’m suddenly reminded that I am expected to sing in front of tens of thousands of people in two days time. I feel sick. The office is grinning at me.
“Do you think maybe I could get a picture with you?”
“What?” I am stunned. I’m wearing old worn knee jeans and a black tank top and my hair is tangled from this ride of doom. “Uhm, sure.”
“I’ll take it for you,” Nick offers.
The next sixty seconds is totally ludicrous. I’m standing in front of a police car with the officer’s arm around my shoulder and I’m smiling so hard that I think my face is going to freeze. Nick is snapping photos on the guy’s cell phone and Ben looks like he’s about to burst into tears and laughter at the same time.
“You folks have a safe trip,” the officer says as Nick hands back the phone. “Watch those brakes.”
Nick grins. “You got it.”
I don’t drop the smile until we’re in the car and the officer pulls away. Nick exhales loudly.
“Like his wife was the fan,” he says sarcastically. “He practically had a woody standing there.”
Ben snorts. “A woody.”
“I don’t think EITHER of you should be joking around right now.”
I fold my arms and look into the rearview mirror. Nick stares back, suddenly sheepish. Ben slouches in his seat.
“The boss has spoken,” Nick says solemnly.
I sit back in my seat. It isn’t until Nick gets out onto the road that I twitch a smile.
I like the idea of being the boss.