Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Head Out On The Highway

My coworker’s son is taking Driver’s Ed and she tells funny stories about his endeavors. Until talking to her I’ve never really thought before how there must be nothing quite as terrifying for a parent as watching your kid watch you in their rear view mirror as they set off in the car, on their own, for the wide open road. Gulp.

Like everyone else, getting my driver’s license was a milestone and, as is the case with most milestones in my life, it wasn’t without its trials and tribulations.

Driver’s Ed was torturous because there were three of us kids in the neon-yellow training car plastered everywhere with STUDENT DRIVER signs, with Coach Tuss strapped into the passenger seat holding his clip board and telling us what to do.

I was never very confident about doing anything in front of others and having to shift into first gear after being stopped at a red light while going up a steep hill was made all the more mortifying by having boys in the car. I bet I stalled on that light on that vertical hill about seven times and was getting more and more rattled as cars were stacking up behind me as the green light kept turning red. Coach Tuss kept saying “give it more gas, Holliday, give it more gas”, so in embarrassed desperation I finally stomped the gas to the floor before releasing the clutch and we burned rubber and squealed off like a bat out of hell through that steep light with Kieran Murphy in the back seat holding up a hand written note to the window that said “HELP! SAVE ME”.

Poor dad tried to teach me to better drive a standard, but that ended up with me in tears and him on his knees in the passenger seat, reaching over and holding my feet with his hands trying to get me to feel how to shift more smoothly. Torture.

With months of build up and practice, I passed the written portion of the test with ease, but manged to fail the driving portion. I remember specifically it was because of parallel parking and, of all things, 4-way stops. That 4-way stop was super busy that day and I completely choked not remembering who in the world was supposed to go next. After about 60 seconds, the instructor leaned over and quietly said, “You can go now.”

I don’t think I’ve ever felt much lower than I did that night shortly after my sixteenth birthday after failing my driving test! Ugh.

But on the second try, I passed and have been a bonafide driver ever since.

And, knock on wood, I’ve always been a pretty good driver. I’ve never caused any accidents. The couple of fender benders I’ve been involved in were always someone else’s fault. However, my first driving disaster is a memorable one.

Mom was such a great sport. Many days, she’d let me drive her car to school, an old-school red Volkswagon beetle. We lived in the country and school was about a 25-30 minute drive, or so, which was awesome for someone who was just discovering their freedom behind the wheel. The set up to this story is this…our front yard was on a much-lower level than the house. Imagine the house built on the ground, but about 10 yards from the front of the house there was a large drop off (about 6-8 feet) to the yard level. I hadn’t had my license very long so was still a bit skittish about the whole thing. Dad had already gone on to work on this day.

I was leaving early for some reason so it was still kind of dark, the sun just coming up so I had the headlights on. As many times as I replayed it in my mind, I still don’t know exactly what happened, but I managed to back out of the garage too quickly and didn’t turn in time, so I backed straight over that ledge. I mean straight over. I managed to slam on the brakes at such a time that instead of the car continuing to back onto the lawn, it stopped in the perfect vertical position. There I sat, sitting in the VW as if it were a rocket about to launch, with my headlights beamingly brightly up into space.

I was scared to death. I was afraid that the car was going to tip over either on the roof if the front end tipped past 90 degrees, or to the side if I tried to open the door and get out. So I just turned off the engine and just sat there in a panic.

For some reason mom was at home – she hadn’t gone to work so I started yelling and she eventually came out to see what the fuss was and when she looked out the garage all she could see were the headlights beaming up into the sky. I think she was pretty mystified at my stupidity. She tried to help but was unsure about the tipping thing, too.

“CALL DAD! CALL DAD! CALL DAD! CALL DAD!” Yep, that has pretty much been my answer to most of my life challenges. I panic. Dad figures things out. I freak out. Dad calmly finds a solution. So mom called dad with a “you’re not going to believe this, but…” and the poor guy had to turn around and drive 30 minutes back out to the country to rescue me.

Those were a long 30 minutes. I just sat there. In the rocket. Waiting for it to launch. Convinced that at any minute the whole things was going to tip. It’s not that the tip would have hurt me – I could have strapped in and sustained any bouncing around. But I wasn’t TOTALLY sure it wouldn't hurt, and it would have dented up the car, which I didn’t want.

Dad finally got there and surveyed the situation. He was partly bemused and partly concerned. He decided that we had to risk me getting out. To balance the car, he carefully opened the driver’s side door and I kind of fell out and scooted down the embankment as he jumped in. The car teetered a little bit as I hauled A out of the way. Dad didn’t sit there long. He started the car up and hooked a hard left. Luckily the front tires swung down instead of back so they grabbed the ledge and he managed to get the car to take a quick, hard, fast turn so it didn’t have time to tip over. Once he turned it, gravity was back on our side and he was able to drive the car onto the lawn then around to where the rise was lower so he could get it back on the level of the house.

It was a sight to behold. Disaster averted and I’m seriously impressed my parents ever gave me the keys to the car again.

Better luck to my coworker’s son!


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