Apr 27, 2017

I’m An Excellent Driver

I remember when I first learned to drive. The year was around 1976 and in order to be able to get your driver’s license, you had to take lessons that included both behind the wheel and in a classroom.

The best lesson that I learned in the classroom was that I “needed to leave myself an out”.

What the instructor meant by that was to always be asking; “If the car in front of me does thus and so, where would I go?” In other words, always be looking for a safe way to avoid an accident.

Even today when I drive I can still hear my instructor’s voce saying; If you remember nothing else; remember to leave yourself an out”.

The rest of the class was a blur except for being told we had the option to not watch the 1959 Highway safety Film; “Signal 30” if we didn’t want to.

 “Signal 30” is the legendary "shock" driving safety film featuring numerous scenes of mutilated cars and injured/dead people and a voiceover lacking in compassion. Produced in cooperation with the Ohio State Highway Patrol and shown to millions of young drivers for over 40 years. It contained many disturbing scenes of violent deaths and accident scenes; as well as cries of crash victims on soundtrack. It brought the point home to most of the students; as well as probably scaring some of them out of driving until they were much older!

The “behind-the-wheel” lessons were a trip in themselves. I went through a local agency that provides an instructor who comes to your house and takes you out four times on both city roads and on the freeway. The cars had brakes on both the driver’s and passenger’s side of the car.

When I got in the instructor’s car, he told me to “start the car, back it up, and drive down the block.” When I told him that I didn’t know how to start the car, let alone drive it; he laughed at me, saying that all kids my age know how to do that.

I told him that I didn’t and that was why we were paying him to teach me how to drive. He shook his head, stating that I must not be telling truth, and proceeded to show me how to start the car.

I gently put the car in reverse as I stomped down on the gas pedal, sending the car (almost) into the pond across the road from our house. The instructor in turn stomped on the brake pedal, sending me (almost) through the rear window of the car. My mom laughed at me as she stood watching from the living room amusing herself with my predicament. Just what you want to see…

Realizing that I had been telling the truth, the instructor took time to instruct me on how to gently step on the gas. I put the car in drive and went down the block; swerving from side to side until I learned how to drive straight.

When we got to the first corner, I took it as widely as humanly possible without going over the curb. Once again, my instructor gave instructions to this pre-novice driver on how to take a corner all the while digging his fingernails deeper into the dashboard in front of him.

After three or four corners (all taken quite widely I must say), he asked me to pull over; which I did. When we came to a stop, he opened the glove box which contained a small drug store of antacids; liquid and tablets. He proceeded to both drink and eat some as he told me to not take this personally, because the student before me had given him the ulcer. He said that I was the better driver.

We drove around a bit and then went home. I was grateful that it was only the two of us in the car because sometimes there may be several students in the car at the same time; each taking their turn individually. I guess this was the old method of safe driving through peer pressure.

I am happy to report that the next three times behind the wheel went better; except he kept taking the antacids. He left me with some instructions; “study hard for the written test and try to strike up a conversation for the behind the wheel test” …he said that this would help me and the other person to be relaxed.

When I took the behind the wheel test, I tried to be friendly by asking the person who was giving me the test about how he was doing, his family, etc. He barked at me that his wife had just divorced him, his kids didn’t like him, and he didn’t want me to say anything; mumbling something derogatory about the instructor who gave me such stupid advice.

Despite everyone’s attempt to sabotage my efforts and my own feelings of inadequacy, I passed both the written and behind the wheel the first attempt with flying colors. I was issued a license to drive a motor vehicle.

My real test came a few days later when my dad, myself, and two of my brothers went to the BWCA. After packing up the family’s Ford LTD Station wagon, my dad tossed me the keys and said that I could drive.

Scared, I told him that I hadn’t ever driven a station wagon (let along one filled with people, camping gear, and two canoes on top); I had only driven a compact car with one other person inside!

My mind flashed to my past experiences with others watching me drive and I looked for a way out. What if I get in an accident or lose my way or have one of the canoes fall off the top?

He looked at me and said; “It’s a long trip and you will have plenty of time to learn how to drive the bigger car. You will do just fine. I’m going to take a nap.” And with that he proceeded to get into the rear of the car along with my next younger brother Joe (who had also gotten his license the same time as I did) and settled in for the long trip.

I climbed into the driver’s seat where my older brother Rick would join me up front to be my navigator. The car looked about the size of an eighteen-wheeler! I slowly backed the car out of the drive way (noticing that my dad had already closed his eyes) and headed out towards the BWCA.

It took me awhile, but (very quickly) I was OK with driving the car. What my dad hadn’t told me was that the smaller cars that I had driven were older and didn’t handle as well. This LTD was newer and had features such as power steering and power brakes and a better stereo system.

That trip is when I really learned how to drive; not the classroom, my practice times, or my behind the wheel instruction. It was this trip when I had time to go through the process of fearing I would crash to trust that I really could drive.

My confidence came from a dad who was sitting behind me in the car if I needed him. He may have gone to sleep, but he was still within reach; and he had left me my older brother to be my navigator.

King Solomon wrote to his son;
“Pleasant words are like a honeycomb,Sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24)

The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; The wellspring of wisdom is a flowing brook.” (Proverbs 18:4)

My dad knew that (sometimes) the best way to learn is to toss someone the keys and tell them; “It’s a long trip and you will have plenty of time to learn how to drive the bigger car. You will do just fine. I’m going to take a nap.”

Even greater than the encouragement I received from my dad is the encouragement that I receive from my Heavenly Father that I can make it. At times it may seem that He is absent (or asleep), but He is nearer than I will ever know this side of Heaven.

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