A Father's Journal / Upfront about the etiquette of riding 'Shotgun'
As we left the Athena Diner the other day, I noticed four teenage girls also leaving. As the girls hurried to their car, I heard one of them shout across the parking lot, "Shotty!"
What was shotty? By the other girls' reactions, I figured she was invoking the time-honored practice of calling "shotgun" to claim the front passenger seat. I asked my teenage daughters, and they had never heard of it, so I looked it up. I found it on the Internet, so it must be true. Kids now are calling "shotty" as an alternative for "shotgun." Really?
It is the same number of syllables, so they are not saving any time. It is also harder to say. You have to articulate clearly or people will think you are commenting on the quality of the manufacture of the right front seat. It's also a hard word for mumblers. Maybe in this hypersensitive, post-mass-shooting time we live in that if you scream "shotgun," people will hit the deck.
Almost two years ago, Bob, a good friend and co-worker died during the busiest time of the year at work. Most of our company traveled to the funeral in a few cars. Some were going to the gravesite, but the others had to return to the office. At the end of the service, as the somber procession with Bob's casket passed a group of co-workers at the back of the church everyone bowed their heads and contemplated Bob's life. Most reflected on their own fates and the afterlife. All except Jim. Jim said, in a voice that was way too loud for the church, "Shotgun!"
A co-worker asked, "What?"
"I just called Shotgun. We are all going back in Catherine's car and I don't want to ride in the back"
"Is that what you were thinking about during the funeral?"
"I just don't want to ride in the back."
Thank God during the funeral the minister did not ask for mourners to get up and share their feelings, since there is no telling what Jim would have said. Jim did get his wish that day. When a man over 50 years old loudly calls "Shotgun" at a funeral, the others are too stunned to argue. The largest co-worker, and the owner of the car (Catherine) had to squeeze into the back with another co-worker. Catherine sat in the middle of the back, squeezed in between two, smelly, sweaty bodies. No matter how you do it, you can't put large people in the back seat. Their hot sweaty thighs are going to rub against your sweaty thighs.
Small people have to sit in the back. As a large man, I can say that. My reasoning is that I am protecting the short people from the airbag going off. But, I also looked up the rules of Shotgun on the Internet.
There are hundreds of websites claiming to be the official Shotgun Rules website. Here is what they agree on: There is an order on who rides shotgun. No. 1 -- Owner of the car. No. 2 -- Significant other of driver. No. 3 -- Someone whose mobility, age, condition, or size makes riding in the back uncomfortable.
After that there are rules about when you can call Shotgun -- most say you can't call it until you have finished the event you attended and are outside walking (or sprinting) to the car. If someone has their hand on the door of the shotgun seat, or is in the seat, they have absolute claim. And you may not call it. There are pages and pages of rules in which I soon lost interest. Many people have clearly spent a lot of time on this.
In the old-old-old days, the shotgun rider on a stage coach or wagon literally held a shotgun to protect the occupants from bandits, and the driver could concentrate on driving. Now the shotgun rider controls the GPS so the driver can concentrate on driving.
Years ago, Bob and I had a co-worker named Pam, who had two teenage children. Each wanted to ride shotgun. She established an odd/even system. On odd days her daughter rode shotgun; on even days the son sat upfront. On months that ended with 31 days she couldn't let the daughter ride shotgun because that would mean two odd days in a row (the 31st and 1st). So on the 31st, both kids were chauffeured around town in the back seat.
I am unsure what she did on leap years. I am unsure if a leap year even fell during the years when her kids fought for the front seat. If it did, maybe she let our co-worker Jim ride upfront.
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Friday.