Student Driver: Keep a Safe Distance

My father’s old Rover, a British Racing Green stick shift sedan, was the car in which I first took to the road. It ended up in at least one ditch, but men in a pick-up winched it out, and the driving lesson continued. I must have passed the road test, of which I have no recollection.

I do recall that my mom and I were both amused and annoyed at having to show up at the insurance agent’s office to prove that I am female, my unusual name notwithstanding. The guy was probably looking for an excuse to lure my glamorous mom into his office.

Six months after the arrival of child number three in So Cal, where driving is unavoidable, my back & I were tired of jamming kids into the back seat of a sedan. The boys were pros at every bucking-bronco car-seat-spurning move. So I popped the baby in the stroller, walked down the hill to the local Ford dealer, and bought my beloved Ford Windstar minivan. It was “champagne” in color. Sure enough, I baptized its bumper at the local toy store the very next day.

Two coasts and many cars later, I never thought I’d be a student driver again. Just yesterday, I allowed “the kids,” as I now call “the baby” and his friends, to take my Acura to a folk music festival in PA. Their cell phones are all turned off, so life at the festival and in their new tent (early graduation gift) must be good.

Since my car was always the road trip, camping, ski trip, kid car, I have not driven a stick shift in many years. Today I asked my husband for a morning ride. When he was late picking me up, I decided the time had arrived for me to get behind that wheel. Five minutes later, I triumphantly texted a friend that I was ready for my yellow Lamborghini. You know, the one in the Bond movie.

Two hours later, I expected, but was not offered, a ride to an appointment further away. Relatively confident and a bit late, I took the shortest route. Traffic was backed up a busy, hilly street. Creeping stop-and-go traffic on a hill is not the neo-novice’s driving dream.

It started raining right before I left the house. Not knowing how to operate the windshield wipers and the bunny-hop jumps up the street should have been sufficient signs to plead for help. But I was in “I can do it myself” mode. And off I went. The traffic and “the fool on the hill” (Lennon-McCartney) were a problem. I braked and put the car in neutral, and was sure not to give it too much gas when it was time to inch up the hill. I forgot all about the hazard of sliding backwards into the car behind me, and very nearly did so.

At that moment, I earnestly wished to bring out my “student driver” sign, but I have none. Choosing between the lesser of two evils, I mercilessly rode the clutch, left leg shaking a bit, up that hill. I made it to my appointment, stalling out only once, in the destination parking lot.

I was a zippy, if slightly choppy, driver on my way home, but I was right: I can do it myself!

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One thought on “Student Driver: Keep a Safe Distance

  1. ABE

    Freedom comes at a cost – and you will get good again quickly. But hills and rain would have given anyone pause.

    I always found the trickiest part was that I, the parent (their father did little, if any, of it), was required to sit next to the student driver with his or her 6 hours of on-the-road instruction – and do the real driving instruction, for six months. What the teacher gave them was instructions on how to operate the machine – and the minimum necessary to get a driver’s license.

    The real part – in rain and on hills, merging on and off interstates, and turning left – that was my little bundle of fun.

    I’m happy to say all of us survived, and there were no accidents. It seemed almost a rite of passage – half the kids I knew had an accident the first year. I thought you were going to write about having to learn to drive because your kids had taken YOUR car.

    Reply

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