I believe I was the only person in the history of my California high school who ever flunked Driver’s Ed. Here’s how it happened . . .
"Driver’s Ed" was the class that all of the students couldn’t wait to get into. There was an air of excitement in the room as they all dreamed of getting their permits and then their driver’s licenses. I was indecisive about the class, since I can’t even reach the pedals on the Wal Mart coin-operated vehicles that are invariably located outside their stores. I was in the class because it was required in order to eventually graduate. I was NOT in a hurry to learn how to drive. The thought of being behind the wheel intimidated me a little.
I did well on the book work in the class. That didn’t require physical coordination. However, I’d never even been in the driver’s seat of any car I had ever seen, so when I had to sit in an automatic-transmission car simulator, I didn’t know where ANY of the controls were. I instinctively knew how to use the steering wheel, but I was clueless about turning indicators, headlights, dash lights, etc.
My teacher was reluctant to send me to "behind-the-wheel" training, and that was fine with me! However, one day there was room for an extra student, and he decided that I needed some actual experience. I hated the idea of being in a student-driver car with three rowdy, cocky high-schoolers who claimed that they already knew how to drive, but I didn’t have a choice.
Because I’m so small, the Ford Tempo that was selected for the lesson seemed as long as a limousine. It frightened me to think of driving something that big, so when the Driver’s Ed instructor (who was NOT my classroom teacher) asked who wanted to go first, I was happy to be picked LAST.
My three classmates drove confidently and deftly through traffic and even on the freeways around Sacramento, merging and exiting like they had been driving for years. When it was my turn to get behind the wheel, I found myself in a quiet Sacramento suburb, away from traffic.
Okay, I MIGHT be able to handle this, I thought to myself.
The first problem arose when I couldn’t see over the steering wheel and reach the pedals at the same time. The instructor got out and brought me a couple of couch cushions from the trunk. I was MORTIFIED. None of my classmates had to use pillows! They were built like NBA basketball players, with legs that went all the way up to their NECKS. That’s what it looked like to me, anyway, from my vantage point closer to the ground.
The instructor started me off doing some simple right and left turns. He showed me where the turning indicators were and all the other gadgets. I still felt like I was in the cockpit of a 747. It was very intimidating, but I got used to the feel of driving and actually began to enjoy it! Then I was asked to do something that would quickly end my stay in "Driver’s Ed" class: the dreaded "Y-turn".
At some point during the turn, I had to back up. Any of my other basketball-star-sized classmates would have had no problem with it, but as I backed up, I heard a sickening "crunch" as I demolished something buried in the lawn of an expensive-looking house. I stopped, wide-eyed, and parked. My instructor was not happy with me.
My heart sank as he told me that I had destroyed the sprinkler heads of my unsuspecting victim’s house. He sat in the passenger seat and put together a packet of insurance information, along with an apology about an inept student driver who had destroyed their valuable watering devices. As he got out and taped it all to the front door of their house, I unclicked my seat belt. There was NO WAY that he’d let me drive back to the school after what I had done.
When I received my report card later on that quarter, there was a comment that I had to retake the "behind-the-wheel" portion of the Driver’s Ed class. Fortunately, my parents spared me that embarrassment and purchased private driver’s training classes through an ad in the phone book. It was $40 for two hours worth of behind-the-wheel training. It was during this private training that I really learned to drive, and after three classes I was able to get my driver’s license! I passed the road test with flying colors and greatly enjoy driving to this day, even though I STILL have to sit on two couch cushions to see over the steering wheel!
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