A Door Unopened

A Door Unopened
Knock, knock...

Friday, September 24, 2010

So You Think You Can Drive?

All right, OK. Of course you can drive, but if you have a teenager, you’ll be required to teach him or her to drive. Let’s say you’re a better than average driver. (Most of us consider ourselves good drivers but let’s just settle for better than average and not quibble about it—OK?) Being a good driver doesn’t necessarily make you a good driving instructor. What makes anyone think they are equipped to teach a newly permitted, 15 and a half year old to drive?  More specifically, what makes anyone think they know how to instruct a hormonally supercharged, sleep deprived, knows-everything-without-knowing-anything, “Don’t try to tell me what to do because you’re wrong” adolescent the rules of the road while they’re steering the wheel? Sure, you can do it—I did. But it definitely shaved a few years off my life, grayed some hairs, gave me heart palpitations and made me wonder if I shouldn’t up the pay out on my accidental death and dismemberment insurance.

You're objecting. "It's not that bad" you say. "They have to take a written test to get their permit." Yes. Yes, they do. This would lead you to believe they actually know something. Passing such a test might make you think they have the basics down. The problem is that you don’t know what they don’t know until you’re smack in the middle of an incident.

For example: Yielding the right of way when making a left-hand turn in an intersection without a directional arrow. No-brainer right? That's what I thought until we were turning left in front of a long line of cars at the largest intersection in our town.” No, no, NO!” I sputtered as I pedaled for the brake that doesn't exist on the passenger side. We somehow made it through the junction unscathed with horns justifiably blaring. Did it slow my son down for an instant? No. He gave me that look, that “what’s your problem?” look that drives me mad.

“You have to yield to oncoming traffic on a left turn if you don't have an arrow!” I informed him, my voice shrill from adrenaline.

“Well, how am I supposed to know that!?” he countered.

Hmm…What do they ask on that pre-permit quiz?

The very first ride in the car with my son at the helm was an exercise in self control. Specifically, I controlled my grip on my thigh to avoid piercing my own flesh as we sped too quickly and too close to parked cars on the four mile drive from his father’s house to mine. Perhaps he was trying to demonstrate he was a confident driver.  All I know is we passed parked cars with little room to spare causing me to scrunch up and lean towards the middle of the car, hoping to avoid injury lest the passenger side door was ripped off or the side view mirror of a parked car smashed through my window. “You’re driving too close on the right.” I informed him, attempting to sound calm. “But I just want to stay far away from the center line.” he whined.  I agreed it was good to be far from the center line but insisted an equilibrium needed to be achieved. Ah, the nuances of motoring that don’t occur to the experienced driver. No doubt this wasn’t covered on the permit exam. Some things are so obvious they would seem to require no comment.
The worst 15 minutes I spent in the car with Theo before he was licensed was a Monday morning drive to school. He’d had his permit for a few months so my fear factor had dissipated somewhat and I’d relaxed my white-knuckled vigilance. Two short minutes into the drive, I bent down to pick a paper off the floor of the car and when I looked up again we were zipping towards impact with the car in front of us at the stop sign.
 “Stop, stop, STOP!” I expostulated, “What are you doing!?”  
“I thought he was going.”
“Well, Jesus! We almost ended up in his trunk! Slow down and pay attention.”
“It’s not my fault.”
We were in motion so I didn’t argue his flawed sense of liability, but I did stop trying to pick up things off the floor of the car. Clearly I’d been lulled into a false sense of security.
Within the next seven minutes we were cruising down Novato Blvd., a main artery through town. The traffic light some yards in front of us turned yellow. Concurrently, not looking at what was coming, Theo hit the gas.
“Hey! No! Stop, stop, STOP! What are you doing?!” We were way too far away to even think of making the light. “The light’s red!”
He braked and our chests tested the limits of the seatbelts. “Sorry. I was watching my speed.”
“Well, watch the road, not your speed. You only need to glance at your speed. Don’t watch the speedometer!”
The ride ended after we pulled into his father’s driveway. Theo went inside to get his books. When he came out he walked in front of the idling car, down past the passenger’s side, around the back, opened the driver’s side backseat door, put his books in, sat himself down and put on his seatbelt. He blinked, looked up and around, suddenly realized he was in the wrong spot, shook his head and made for the driver’s seat.
“Nope. Sorry. Three strikes—you’re out. I’m driving now.” I released my seatbelt, got out of the car and quickly slipped behind the wheel.
“Whaaaa? Whaddaya mean!?”
“I mean I just watched you make three major errors and you’re done driving for this morning. No more. My turn now. Get in.”
“I can’t believe you! You’re completely unreasonable! This is ridiculous! You are WAY overreacting.”
 “Too bad. Just get in—unless you prefer to walk.”
I’m sure the neighbors enjoyed all the door slamming. That was by far our worst outing during the permit period.
Happily, the learning curve isn’t quite so steep these days. He’s been driving on his own for a year. To his credit, he did very, very well on his license test. In fact, I think he only had two points knocked off.
I’m waiting for the right time to tell him about my driver’s test. Undoubtedly, he'll feel far superior to know his mother passed by one measly point.

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