My driving teacher was an older lady with no time for anyone’s shenanigans. 

She was a former prison guard and had very strong ideas feelings about racism and race relations that she was not shy in sharing.

She told me, very early on, that if she shouted and ripped the wheel from my hands (I’m paraphrasing), then not to take it personally. But she had a duty to take care of both of us. And if that’s what it took, then that’s what she’d do. She never, I’m pleased to say, had cause to do so. But I expected it every second I was driving beside her. I think, not so deep down, I’m still waiting for it now.

Our first lesson was a low-pressure wander around the neighborhood; our second was a full-throttle dash down a busy freeway. That, maybe, was what broke me in terms of driving. Or maybe it was the time we came back up the freeway and the skies opened in the typical Austin storm – the kind I would later class as an “adventure car wash”. Being behind the wheel for a matter of hours in terms of total experience, and doing 60 on the grown-up roads in very limited visibility, was not something I was mentally prepared for. I look forward to the arrival of affordable self-driving cars.

Over the course of 5 days, she got me from terrified non-driver to terrified non-driver with a driver’s license. Which is an achievement of a sort, I suppose. On our final day, when the clearly unhinged examiner gave me a pass, she seemed genuinely pleased. She told me that I was such a good driver, she’d be happy to lend me her car to drive, and she didn’t say that to everyone she teaches. Which is nice. 

She still insisted on doing the driving as we headed back to drop me off at my apartment, so make of that what you will.

All of the above should make one thing abundantly clear: I was not put on this Earth to teach anyone to drive. My son was a particularly bad candidate for driving student, having spent a number of years in a car with me, watching his primary male role model sweat and make low moaning noises as I carefully and hesitantly inched my way around the roads of Texas. And yet, there we were: Father and son doing the parking-lot tours of Austin. Turning left, turning left, parking, backing up, in empty office lots and behind banks. 

Unlike his father, at no point did he press ACCELERATE when he meant to press BRAKE, so how bad could he have been?

My wife and I did the very best we could, but we were losing as soon as we started. His mind was made up – he was not a driver. And the blame for that was almost certainly mine. Kids absorb the messages we send out, whether consciously or through our reactions and behavior. One of the scariest things about parenthood is never really knowing what lessons we’re teaching our kids. Whatever message you think you’re giving is not necessarily the one being received.

Still, he made it all the way to his test…where he found that he’d forgotten to bring his ID…and that was that. He came back home, pretending to be disappointed and embarrassed for wasting everybody’s time. From that day forth, he became a student of bus routes and timetables – then, as he started earning a little money, of Lyft drivers.

In the future, none of this will matter; he’ll simply be another American in a car that drives itself. Or maybe a bus that drives itself. Either way, his lack of driving license will no longer mark him as an outlier in the land of the free and the home of the pickup truck.

For now, if my wife and I aren’t driving, then he has an app that will let him find someone who is willing to take him anywhere he wants to go. And that’s a sort of freedom, I suppose.

1 Comment

  1. Learning to drive is one of the worst things on Earth it’s the absolute pits but not learning is much worse. I learned to drive via my Dad, four brothers and now husband but hated the lessons with a passion.

    My son just got his provisional driving license but I don’t want him going straight for the driving school lessons. I have plates on my vehicle of tremendous wonder which is a 20-odd year old automatic Toyota Starlet.

    I’ll grab my keys “C’mon lessgo – road trip” and take him out on quieter roads or massive industrial car parks if poss to just get him used to that horrible feeling when a car runs away with you the fist time to let off the handbrake.

    Once he’s cracked the basics and gained a little more confidence behind the wheel, he’ll start lessons.

    Your son can drive 😀 He could do with setting himself a note or target for all the stuff he wants to do, where he’d love to go and give him a timescale of say 6 or 12 months.

    Like

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