Thursday, May 31, 2012


A neighbor's son who's home from college was just telling me that his younger sister recently got her driver's license.  He seemed a little freaked that his baby sister would now be 'out there' on the road.   The same road he drives on.  I know that feeling.  When my two nephews, both of whom are now in college, learned to drive, I probably worried almost as much as their mother (my sister) did.  Sam and Ben are very different drivers.  Sam drives like a little old man.  I mean that in the most complimentary way.  He's extremely careful and cautious but drives the speed limit and is a defensive driver.  Ben, the younger one, has a tendency to be the kind of driver that Sam has to defend himself from.  Ben has gotten better over the past two years but he now lives on campus and rides his bike pretty much everywhere.  For now, it's probably for the best.

I took Driver's Education class in high school which pretty much everyone did during the '70's.  I think my parents got a break on insuring me if I took the class.  Football coaches taught the driver's ed classes.  That was pretty much my only contact with these guys.  One taught the classroom portion and the other one rode with us in the cars.  The one in the classroom was a young guy who couldn't have been out of college for very long.   He had a very thick southern accent (possibly Mississippi, George or Alabama) and still had hay in his hair.  I somehow ended up sitting in the front row (which I hated but he may have seated us in alpha order -- I can't remember) and he rarely smiled but seemed to stare a lot.   I still remember coming in one Monday morning and as the coach was calling roll, he looked up at me when I answered 'Here' and this was what he said.

Coach:  "Henderson, did you dye yore ha-yer?"
Me (kind of taken aback):  "No!"
Coach:  "Hmph.  Looks differ'nt."

Nothing like having everyone else in the class trying not to laugh (I heard a few snickers) while the coach continued with the roll call.  This guy rarely reacted outwardly to anything.  Not even the, probably not unusual, incident when the obligatory gross-out this-will-happen-to-you driver's ed film was shown.  It was pretty bad.  I remember the photos on the screen of the victims of a fatal crash including a very young child.  Coach did end up a little startled and I nearly came out of my desk-chair -- you know, the kind where the desk and chair are all one piece -- when the girl sitting next to me fainted.  When she went down, her entire desk-chair went with her onto the concrete floor.  I did jump up out of my seat because the classroom had been so quiet.  The girl was OK after she regained consciousness and was sent to the school nurse.

The fun part of driver's ed is getting behind the wheel.  The cars that the school had available were mostly sedans (big American made ones) and a couple of cute VW Beetles.  Unfortunately, the Beetles were both stick shift and I didn't even attempt stick then.  We had an oval track that we were supposed to drive around next to the school parking lot.  It also had long concrete parking stoppers that were set up for regular parking and parallel parking.  I still remember when one guy named Todd tried to parallel park one of the sedans.  He managed to get the back tire of the car on the side he was supposed to 'parallel' when he got stuck on the parking stopper.  I mean really stuck.  When he tried to drive away, the tire started spinning against the stopper.   Coach and a couple of the guys from class managed to lift the back of the car over the stopper.  Poor Todd.

We weren't supposed to go very fast on the driving course but one day I noticed that one of the Beetles seemed to be flying by.  Jerry, the guy driving it, later told me that he had the car in third gear.  I think he was supposed to save that for the open road.  We had the older coach for our road sessions.  He was a physically small man and nothing seemed to bother him.  I remember that he took three of us at a time in one of the sedans and had each of us take a turn at the wheel.  The other girl in the car drove into a nearby neighborhood known for it's curvy roads with wide trees on the sides.  None of us were wearing seatbelts then and we were all kind of hanging on.  Coach had had us stop at a convenience store on the way out because he hadn't had any breakfast.  His packet of Oreos he'd placed on the dash was sliding from one end to the other.  Luckily, he held on tightly to his Coke.  He didn't say anything to the girl driving since she wasn't speeding -- she just wasn't used to the curves.  I certainly can't criticize because I made the biggest boo-boo of any of us on the way back to the school that day.  For some reason, I ran a red light.  It wasn't yellow and in the process of turning red.  It was red.  When I stopped at the next intersection, I looked at the coach.

Coach:  "Do you know what you did?"
Me (cringing):  "I ran a red light?"
Coach:  "OK.  So long as you know."

I have to say that the school coaches were much more patient than my dad was.  After he took me out one time for practice in my mom's big green Impala, I think he realized he might not be the right person for the job.  It was probably a mistake to let my sister Pam come along in the backseat since this was fun for her.  She wouldn't be able to drive for another two years.  I drove to the parking lot of a junior high school not too far from where we lived.  I wasn't doing too badly when, after parking the car at one of the concrete parking stoppers, instead of backing out I went forward.  I went pretty fast, too, because the next thing I knew the car was straddling the stopper.  I was freaked out and Dad was beyond freaked out.  He was worried about what I might have done to my mom's car.  Pam just thought it was funny until she saw that Dad wasn't laughing.  I knew that I'd either have to back the front wheels back over the stopper or go ahead and drive the back wheels over it to get out.  I can't remember which way I did it but that was one quiet ride back home.  After that my mom took me out for lessons and she was much calmer.  That surprised me because she's always been a bit nervous but this didn't seem to bother her.  Thankfully.

After I got my learner's permit but before I got my license, my dad bought me a beautiful used (one owner) 1966 silver blue Mustang.  I couldn't drive it yet but my friends and I had a great time sitting in it on Friday nights and backing it up and down my parent's driveway.  Ah, the small things in life.


  1. Claire,
    e, how are you? I want to ask permission to use a yard sale picture you have on Google Images: To be used in my book: Good-bye, Germany, hallo Amerika. I am trying to portray to Germans what is different in America. We do not have yard sales, but flea markets. Please let me know if it is okay to use the picture. I tried to copy and paste it in here, but it wouldn't take. I can email it to you if you send me your address. Please respond to Thanks,
    Uta Burke

  2. Hi Uta,

    It's fine with me if you use the picture. It's not a picture I took. I simply found it by searching Google images and used it as an example for my blog.

    Hope this helps!