Nothing like an understanding dad when kids begin to drive

By Joan Vesper


One afternoon last May, a teenager had driven his dad’s spiffy Cadillac onto Tourmaline beach. He called for help over his cell phone, “Dad, I’m stuck in the sand.”

“Call a tow truck and I’ll be right down.”

It was late afternoon. The tide was rising. No sign at the top of the ramp had warned, “Lifeguard vehicles only.”

The boy had thought this was a road to get closer to the waves. As he had driven down the ramp and gradually met softer sand, he had reasoned that he better drive to the end and turn around. That’s when the wheels balked and settled deep, angled between waves and a sandstone bluff.

Two tow trucks had responded. The first did not have a cable long enough. The second, Star Towing, had the right cables and experience. Its driver said his company had pulled two cars off the beach and one out of the ocean just this year.

Passing by, I sat down on the pump house ledge to watch. Later, the son sat down to rest.

“I was foolish,” he said, even before he told me what had happened.

Surfers walked in and out of the waves, turning their heads for a closer look at the car wedged in the sand alongside two towels, a foam surfboard, and a canvas beach chair.

“Don’t see this very often,” said one, watching the tow truck operator, T-shirt stretched across his muscled belly, attach a cable to the pump house railing to get a better slant for towing.

“Where’s the police? Or a doctor, to take away the nut who did this?” said another.

I stood by the boy. His dad had arrived and was inside the car, trying to steer as the operator tightened the cable. The boy gave hand directions.

The tow operator lumbered between the bumper of his truck and the car, arms slightly out to his side, down the ramp and up the ramp, on into the evening, stretching the cable, kneeling in the sand to attach it first to one side of the axle, then to another. Wearied, he looked as if he himself might need to be towed.

Onlookers talked to the father, who calmly explained how they were trying to dig the car out of the sand and angle it back onto the ramp, while avoiding sidling it into the sand berm built to protect the bluff from the advancing tide. He took off his jacket. The boy wrapped it around the cable to protect the chrome bumper.

The boy told me his father had taken it well. “Dad told me how he got stuck in the mud when we was a kid, too.”

“We’ve all had two or three of these,” I said. Aside from remembering long-ago personal experiences, I recalled how my husband and I had met another prodigal daughter just last year. She had filled her father’s new SUV with gas (it took diesel).

We had come upon the father on a morning walk along Soledad Mountain Road. His house was just above the recent sinkhole that closed the road to through traffic. It was still open to curious walkers, such as us. The father was siphoning off the gas at curbside.

My husband, a mechanic, started a conversation. Not only had this man’s house been endangered by the sinkhole, but it turns out he was in the mortgage business as home prices were sinking as fast as the ground beneath his property. As his daughter walked up behind us carrying extra buckets, the beleaguered gentleman smiled and winked.

“We’ll get it out,” he said.

A golden sun dropped behind the distant edge of the ocean when Star Towing finally guided the Cadillac out of the sand pits, away from the berm, and up the ramp. A group of parking-lot regulars gathered in the dusk at the view bench and clapped for the operator, for the dad, and for the son, who had switched places with his dad behind the steering wheel for the last few yards up the ramp.

Sweaty, greasy, sandy, the Star tow operator stepped heavily from his cab to the running board to the asphalt of the rutted parking lot and walked over to the father. He handed him the paperwork and said softly, “This happens all the time.”

Joan Vesper is a resident of La Jolla. She writes: “Perhaps your readers will recognize something of themselves in these local incidents about prodigal kids and forgiving dads.”