The Side Mirror Incident: just a chip off the old car

Real Life


It's only been three weeks since my teenager has had my old car.

It's only a sideview mirror.

It's only the beginning.

Certain pivotal, neon words should already be flashing in your mind: TEENAGER. CAR. SIDEVIEW MIRROR. The blanks are not hard to fill in, but I'll fill them in just the same. I need to. Therapy, you could say.

My 16-year-old son has his license -- what license I am not exactly sure. It's either a Maryland provisional license or what they call a Maryland interim, restrictive, substitutionary license or MIRSL, as the kids call it. All I know is that my son's license allows him to now take my old car to Dulaney High. This sweet, coming-of-age event involved him backing up on our narrow, tree-lined driveway.

Someone -- a parent, perhaps? -- had suggested he back the car in, so in the morning he can just drive straight out of the driveway and into yet another exciting and rewarding day in education. The suggestion did not sink in immediately because you just can't rush into parental suggestions; their incubation period is typically 20 years or more.

I know what many of you are also thinking: Aren't teenagers kind of sleepy in the morning after a night of vigorous homework? Isn't it tricky to back up a car in a narrow, tree-lined driveway? Indeed. Ever seen a side mirror sheared off by a tree? Nothing is left but wires dangling like exposed ganglia. The tree doesn't have a scratch.

Trees never blink.

Now, there's more to a side mirror than you might think. They are electric and heated and housed in a color-coordinated, substantial casing that, if pressed into duty, could be converted into a smaller version of the car -- a sort of emergency mini-car. When you kill a side mirror, you have also destroyed an integral car part. You would have been better off slicing off the roof.

Side mirrors -- sometimes called "exterior sideview mirrors" when paying dealer prices for a replacement -- are retractable in newer models. This was a valuable development in the evolution of car manufacturing. The retractable side mirrors essentially enable a car to become skinny enough to, say, enter the Bat Cave. The catch is the mirrors retract backward.

Theoretically, a sleepy teenager could drive too close to a tree, nudge the side mirror, which would then simply retract like a good side mirror. No foul, no harm, no "Real Life" column.

But in real life, things often happen in reverse. A sideview mirror has not been invented (to our knowledge anyway) that can retract forward.

Therefore, until retractable trees are invented, side mirrors will always be vulnerable to teenagers backing out of narrow, tree-lined driveways despite prescient parental suggestions.

Which raises another question: Aren't new side mirrors expensive? Only if you are willing to forgo your child's cost of books in his first semester at college.

Actually, affordable, "off market" car parts can be found on the Internet. You still have to find someone to install the new mirror unless you are handy with (what they call in the trade) "tools." I'd prefer just rigging a mirror from a woman's compact to the side of my old car, but I guess that wouldn't look "cool" in Dulaney's parking lot. I don't know yet what it will cost to install the new mirror, although I suspect my 401K will be involved.

I know, I know, I know: so many worse things happen to people in the world every day. This was just a minor collision. No one was hurt. No tree died.

It wasn't like my son was a grown-up and had just moved to Maryland when he was backing out his wife's minivan from a two-car, divided garage when he heard that awful snapping sound of an expensive exterior sideview mirror getting sheared off at the ganglia. It wasn't like that.

It wasn't like our electric bill just went up $743 a year or something unbelievable like that.

Give me a busted side mirror any day.


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