My grandson is driving, and I’m not talking about a bike or the plastic Big Wheel he raced around with when he was a kid–which was yesterday. I’m talking an actual car that weighs thousands of pounds and can go through buildings if you don’t turn when you’re supposed to. He has his learner’s permit, and now he’s driving. (It says something about a state that will allow someone to drive who used to believe the end of my thumb was his nose.)
At least I don’t have to teach him to drive. I taught his mother and I think her teaching him to drive should be sufficient payback. When my oldest daughter, his mother, learned to drive, my wife decided she would teach her. After the first lesson they decided that screaming, “Oh god, we’re going to die,” covering your eyes, wetting your pants and cowering down in the passenger’s seat wasn’t an effective teaching method. My wife got back from the first lesson, rolled out of the car before it came to a stop and kissed the ground. “She’s all yours,” my wife yelled and ran into the house. At the time we had two vehicles, an Oldsmobile Cutlass with an automatic transmission and an old orange Datsun pickup with a manual transmission that I drove to work. I figured if you can drive a stick shift you can drive an automatic. I announced we would be using the pickup for the driving lessons.
The day of the first lesson we got into the pickup with my daughter behind the wheel. My wife came out of the house with a rabbit’s foot, a four-leaf clover and a St. Christopher’s statue which she placed on the dashboard, and we’re not even Catholic. She also handed me an adult diaper. I laughed at her joke and handed it back to her, but my wife wasn’t even smiling.
My daughter adjusted the seat and the rearview mirror so she could check her make-up.
“Why are you wearing make-up?” I asked.
“Because you never know who we might run into.”
“The object is to not run into anyone,” I said.
She rolled her eyes at my joke.
Driving a straight stick is a simple matter of coordination. The left foot on the clutch pedal and the right foot on the gas pedal working together to move the vehicle smoothly along. My daughter has great coordination. She plays the piano and the clarinet. She was the fastest one in her typing class in high school. One time she had a data entry job, and she could enter data faster than any two other employees combined. Her coordination sadly does not run to her feet. In fact, I suspect her left foot and right foot are controlled by two separate people, and neither of them is my daughter.
Give it a little gas,” I said.
Not quite that much,” I yelled,” amazed that a four cylinder engine could be that loud.
Okay, let the clutch out a little,” I said.
“Should I shift into a higher gear?” she asked.
“We really should be moving before you do that.”
“We are moving.”
I opened my door, bent over and drew a line with a pencil on the pavement. Sure enough, we were moving.
“Let the clutch out a little more.”
She popped the clutch and we went jerking down the road until the engine killed.
She checked her make-up and started the truck again.
When I learned to drive a stick shift my dad took me to a hill, made me drive halfway up it and then had me hold the car steady just using the clutch and the accelerator. It gave me a feel for how to make the two work together and have the car do what you wanted it to do. There was a hill close to our house, so I decide to try it. We began the chugging, jerking ride to the hill. We would move along at a snail’s pace, jerk a couple times and the engine would kill. My daughter would check her make up and start the truck again. I thought about walking ahead and getting us a couple of sodas at the next gas station, but the law required a responsible adult, or at least me, to be in the vehicle at all times while she was driving.
When we finally made it to the hill and had jerked our way just about to the top, I had my daughter stop the truck.
“Okay.” I said. “I want you to keep the truck right here by just using the gas and the clutch. Do not use the brake.”
My daughter checked her make-up, nodded and stomped down on the gas and the clutch at the same time. The little Datsun roared like a stock car in the final lap of the Daytona 500 as we rolled backwards downhill at about eighty-seven miles per hour and still gaining speed.
“THE BRAKE! THE BRAKE!” I screamed.
“But you said not to use the brake,” my daughter said, looking at me as if I was trying to trick her as we screamed down the hill backwards toward certain death.
“THE BRAKE! THE BRAKE!”
To be fair to my daughter, I did not specify which foot she should use to apply the brake. She would later point out that since the brake pedal and the clutch pedal look the same, she assumed you would use the same foot on both pedals.
When she took her foot off the clutch pedal, the roaring motor engaged with the gears. The rear tires squealed as the little truck popped up into a wheelie that would have made Joey Chitwood proud. My head flew back against the headrest as the truck started back uphill perched on two wheels. The engine finally killed and the truck slammed down onto its front wheels throwing me into the dashboard. As it rocked to a stop, I was pitched back and forth like a ping pong ball at a table tennis match.
When I had finally gained some level of consciousness, my head was between my knees down by the floor boards. St. Christopher had been knocked off the dash and was lying just inches from my face. (I swear he had his hands over his eyes and was sweating profusely.) I finally straightened up and looked over at my daughter.
She sat in the driver’s seat, her eyes wide with shock and her face spread with worry and concern. In a frightened little girl’s voice she asked, “Did I smudge my make-up?”
At that point, I took over the driving. We went back to our house and got the Cutlass and the adult diaper.To this day my daughter can’t drive a straight stick.
So today my daughter can start teaching her son how to drive, and yes, I exaggerated a little in the story—but not nearly as much as you might think. I just want to say to her: Have fun teaching your son how to drive. Some people say “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” I say it is best served with an adult diaper at fifty-five miles per hour.