Google Maps doesn’t tell you where Ray Charles spends forever, but my 16-year-old son, Sebastian, can take you there.
I admit that this is an internal work on my part. Sebastian is a piano player who appreciates old crooners. He is also learning to drive. I thought it might scare him to do his first spin around a graveyard full of famous musicians, just inland from the vast tundra at Los Angeles International Airport.
The main advantage of teaching your child to drive in the graveyard is that you probably won’t kill anyone. However, there are other benefits for both young drivers and parents who pump fictitious brakes in the passenger seat. Those forgiving paved loops isolate you from certain threats on the live kick side of wrought iron: speed demons, tail gaiters, mysterious traffic lights that never turn around. Jogging and cyclists, kids chasing the ball on the street, and Amazon Prime delivery vans won’t stop without warning. Driving is just one of 12 technologies that scramble for Sebastian’s attention, so whatever I can do to offset the distractions will help.
Growing up in Scranton in the 1980s, I figured out how to drive before reaching the accelerator pedal. “Good driving” was a valuable asset in the stock of human skills, such as carving turkeys and finding ways to get out of the forest. Your status as a good adult depended on it. My uncle once fell asleep on the wheels and drifted off the road for a short while. No one was injured, but he may have robbed the liquor store, just as my family cursed him. To avoid such suffering, I deciphered the code for surrender and U-turns from the backseat. The day my dad first laid out the Pepsi bottle and drew a figure eight in an empty synagogue parking lot, I was already ready to fly his Buick LeSabre all over the United States.
Today, half of the 1983 16-year-old who I got mine has a license. Currently we have Uber and FaceTime. However, knowing how to operate a magical escape machine called a car will broaden your horizons. Sebastian and I play a game of tombstone spotting at Inglewood Park Cemetery. This is not only as an acceleration and braking exercise, but because there are many fascinating dead in LA if you know where to look. There is Caesar Cardini, who is said to have invented Caesar salad. I have a dad from Kim Kardashian. One afternoon, he moved a broken taillight that managed to slip through a wire mesh fence near where Willie May’s “Big Mama” Thornton was resting. She belted the original version of “Hound Dog,” for only $ 500, lying in a beggar’s grave shared with the two other souls buried that day.
You will learn to drive in the graveyard so that you can avoid the graveyard. That is the paradox. The literal sign of death reminds you — and by you I mean Sebastian — how much is at stake with the £ 3,000 shimmering Prius steer. There is no stop sign at the yew-cypress intersection, snuggling up to your lane as geese and squirrels own the place, and thank you that the granite obelisk is causing a terrible blind spot. I like the metallic blue hearse coming from the little lamb yard in a barrel across our way. I was watching my son brake and move on.
After four or five visits and dozens of bone orchard circuits, I moved on to interior games. Driving between people far away also lays the foundation for those deeper lessons. On the 405 highway, if someone blocks you, the kneeling reaction is furious, the high beam flashes, and your fingers stretch. Of course, that’s always a mistake. You can’t pretend to know what other drivers are dealing with. The graveyard prepares you for this existential reality. It’s great that the winding road pig in front of you may be experiencing some kind of sadness. It makes you a kinder and more defensive driver, and imagine that everyone around you is in serious pain.
In the last session before making a living, I instructed Sebastian to parallel park outside the Golden West Mausoleum. Then you can pay homage to the genius of the soul. It was a quiet Tuesday, a breeze of 80 degrees betraying the sun rising in the blue sky of the perennial and the anxiety I felt about removing the secret training wheels. It took 15 minutes to find the Crypto A32 in the Eternal Love Corridor, where Ray Charles is housed.
After giving the marble a name in brass, Sebastian talked about the phrase Yes Theory he heard from the YouTuber he was following. They are a group of optimistic young space dentists, whose videos promote open mind and positivity. Before the pandemic, they plunged their bare breasts into a frozen lake, bundled them from a helicopter, and appeared in a distant land without a penny or reservation. The line that Sebastian was excited to remember was “Live theme”. From the day you are born to the day you die, you should make your time worthwhile.
Instead of lifting me, the line shook me. I realized that what Sebastian and I were doing was in itself a ride of impermanent joy. Teaching your child to drive is to teach them how to get away from you, get off a lonely highway that you never see, and the dangers of approaching you probably can’t predict. My son’s license does more than just give him the right to order drive-throughs at In-N-Out Burger at midnight and cruise the Pacific Highway without being aware of his destination. It’s a license that fills the space gap as he likes, and my neurotic passenger brakes do nothing at all. The dash is real and he rides it.
I brought us home, more aware of my speed than usual, and of modeling the safe distance between us and the vehicle in front. Sebastian played DJ and put Ray Charles on Spotify. “Departure Jack” We pretended not to sing together and sang. Who sings with his dad at the age of 16?
David Hochman is a Los Angeles writer.