I walked by the Ronald E. Dougherty County Office building the other day. It was a Wednesday – Road Test Day. For people seeking a driver’s license. Cars were lined up, teenagers, for the most part, sitting nervously behind the wheel; mom or dad in the passenger seat, trying to ease the stress.
“You can do it. Just keep your cool.” It wasn’t the driving part they were talking about; it was the parallel parking part. The number one reason testers fail. Even though you can drive for a lifetime and avoid ever using the skill.
The teens undergo a mandatory training class these days, and many take Driver Ed at school or learn through a private vendor. Most though, are taught by a parent. It’s quite an accomplishment, when you consider the learning environment – a yelling, screaming, screeching and gasping trainer sitting next to you stomping down on a non-existent brake pedal.
Not me, I’m self-taught. I got my training in the driveway, all alone. It started when I was 13 and I begged my father to let me run the car back and forth in the driveway, allegedly, to learn to use the clutch. For some strange reason, he let me. BIG MISTAKE!
It was fine for a while. That’s what I did, back and forth, with fewer and fewer jerks and stalls. All within the limits of the driveway. Then, I started to finish up by circling into the street and turning the car around and parking it in the driveway facing out. I got my parents to agree that it made it easier, and safer for them when they wanted to go out, since we lived on a steep hill and cars came racing down and into your blind spot.
Inch by inch, I pushed the envelope. Instead of turning the car around in front of the house, I drove to the corner and used a side street to turn around. Next, I had a duplicate key made. So, I wouldn’t have to bother my father when he dozed in his recliner. That’s what I told myself; I didn’t mention anything to him, and I used his snoring as a signal to get out there and “practice” some more. When he was in that vegetative state, I’d take a run around the block. Then two blocks. Then three blocks. You see where this is going.
On and on the adventure progressed, until the day he had to come to get me (and the car) in Gettysburg, Pa. It’s a long story and too stupid to repeat, at least in print, but it all worked out and I’m still pretty good with a clutch.
Postscript. – History repeats itself. Years after my oldest two daughters grew up and made their way into the world, I learned that they, with some of the neighborhood kids took turns joy riding in my prized MG when my wife and I were at a meeting or went out to dinner. I was luckier than my father; I didn’t have to travel 200 miles to retrieve them like he did.
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