Columns Small Talk

All aboard the birthday express!

Superwoman has nothing on me. I now possess the secret of driving a 15-person van — just do everything very, very slowly.

I am feeling seriously empowered, however, after spending yesterday driving that van from Carlsbad to La Costa to San Marcos to Carlsbad and finally, to Encinitas, as the designated driver for my son’s 30th birthday brewery tour. It was such a treat and a whole lot of fun.

I was seriously flattered when my boychild asked me to be their DD. I felt like the coolest mom ever. These are kids I watched grow up — some since kindergarten, some since sixth grade, some from high school. They made me laugh constantly then, and are still adorable and hilarious, as successful young men and women. They also still call me Mrs. G. I love that, too.

But a 15-passenger van? Oh. Wow. I was mildly terrified. I have actual nightmares about suddenly driving a motor home through a narrow street, and my driving skills have never been stellar. Heck. I have been driving a tiny, low-slung Prius for the past decade. Suddenly I was high and wide, with a strange dashboard. But I “screwed my courage to the sticking place” and by darn, it worked. There were cheers and applause every time I parked or backed up, which was better than a gold medal. Being able to just drive and eavesdrop on the conversations behind me was icing on the cake. They shifted seats at each stop, so I pretty much got caught up on everyone.

Meanwhile, I got to watch my son have the best 30th birthday ever. His clever wife made up “loyalty cards” that got a punch each time guests finished a glass of beer or water. After four punches, they were awarded a goofy hat, visor or headband. They wore them with pride. We laughed our way through lunch, one brewery tour, three more breweries, had pizza and finished at a classic, Encinitas dive bar. What they didn’t know what that I was absorbing their enthusiasm and youth with every breath. I think I might have shaved six months off my age.

I even got some delicious “enforced leisure.” While they were inside tasting (I don’t even like beer), I kicked back in the air-conditioned van and read a good book. Perfect.

They all assured me that driving them around in a van was now a permanent part of my job description, and I am more than good with that. I have a good feeling that before we are through, the van might even be headed for toddler birthday parties and family barbecues in the park.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer who now owns the road. Contact her at