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drive, she said

'Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown," said King Henry in Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 2. All this tells me is that old Hank didn't drive a car, because we all know the driver of a car holds all the power, and holds it comfortably at that.

Drivers break down into Alpha and Beta types, just like animals. Beta drivers are happy to surrender the wheel or walk, because driving is just another chore – or at least not a combat sport – and all about getting from here to there. Alpha drivers are better drivers; just ask them.

Two Alpha drivers in the same household is an unwise choice. In successful partnerships, people are allowed to play to their strengths, and peace reigns when you take out the garbage and I pay the bills. We could trade, but why would we?

Generally, one person will automatically head for the driver's seat. On long trips, sharing the driving happens when Alpha is forced to combine two opposite though distressing facts: you can't make good time while driving for 24 straight hours on your own. This means Alpha will surrender the wheel for an hour or two, but never actually sleep because Beta can't really be trusted. The fact that Beta is more likely to drive the speed limit, follow the set course and keep both hands on the wheel doesn't matter; Alpha recognizes that driving is a sport to be engaged in, not observed from the sidelines.

Anyone who finds driving tiring or stressful is happy to have an Alpha on board. Thankful, even, to have the anxiety reduced, the decisions resting in another's hands. It's a small price to pay even though Alpha's bladder will dictate pee stops, and travellers will eat when Alpha gets hungry.

Alpha controls the music (or lack thereof) and the temperature. Alpha gets to yell "buffeting!" when someone in the back drops a window without prior notice. Alpha is automatically excused from the following:

  • Making children behave
  • Making the dog settle down
  • Cleaning up bodily fluids (kid or dog)
  • Opening their own coffee
  • Holding their breath passing a cemetery
  • Lifting their feet over a bridge

There are pros and cons to both types of drivers. Betas are more likely to stay cool if they miss an exit, but also more likely to make an unexpected detour to see a chocolate factory or the world's biggest ball of string. Alphas will get you there in the best possible time, but also be more likely to tell a passenger to throw up in his backpack so that record time won't be jeopardized.

An Alpha teamed with a Beta make an excellent driving team. Enablers in a positive way, everybody gets to do what they do best, while silently whispering a thank you that the work of the other isn't falling to them. Two Betas can get murky; two people both intrigued by how the navigation system can keep rerouting after a wrong turn are more likely to repeatedly test it, even if only for fun. An Alpha knows part of the game is being ahead of the directions, not reliant upon them.

You rarely have to worry about two Alphas driving with one another. If they're siblings, they're driving in different cars, and if they were themselves married, the acrimonious divorce was years ago. The worst combination? A current Alpha and a former Alpha. An Alpha who, for various reasons, can no longer drive. Perhaps it's age or a medical condition; doesn't matter. There is no way they gave up those keys willingly, and in many respects they haven't. Whoever is driving that car is merely doing so by proxy, because Former Alpha is still calling the shots.

A Beta driving a former Alpha can keep it in check. They know they're going to keep hearing "wait!" and "watch!" and "why didn't you go?" and "you should have stopped!" They know Former Alpha will be stomping an imaginary brake pedal; they know Former Alpha will block the side passenger mirror as they check for traffic; they know Former Alpha will bark more than a pooch locked in a breezeway all day.

No, this is nowhere near the worst driving duo. It's when current and former Alphas team up that everyone else should just take the bus. Every Alpha knows how long it takes to get to various destinations. These are called "best lap times." The only reason for living is to beat your own best lap time or, ideally, someone else's. Especially if that someone else is sitting beside you telling you how to drive, or is in the back seat yelling it.

Like most things in life, the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle. We all need to get where we're going, but even a king should visit a chocolate factory once in a while.

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