Saturday, March 01, 2003
Dave drives home the point
I'm having a far easier time teaching my second son to drive than I had teaching my first, thanks to recent pharmaceutical breakthroughs in prescription tranquilizers. Technically speaking, of course, children are not taught to drive by their parents. They are taught by the High School under the auspices of the Secretary of State. Make no mistake about that, comrade! Meant to standardize drivers’ training across America, this popular compromise between Big Government and Big Education was successfully hammered out as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Having removed parents from the drivers’ training equation, the Secretary of State’s office then devotes a portion of its budget to dragging them back in by its most expedient method, a threatening letter: "Dear Parent of a Future Felon, Your child has reached an important milestone in life, through no fault of your own. He or she will soon be careening down our highways on the way to the store to pick up the hamburger buns you forgot or your carton of cigarettes. While this form of indentured servitude is well within the boundaries of the law (Many of your state officials are smokers!), remember: Today’s young drivers are tomorrow’s old drivers. For your child to become a responsible driver requires more than the disinterested involvement of some faceless, soulless bureaucracy, such as this office. It requires you, or perhaps someone a little less nervous than you. Before applying for a license your teen will be required to spend 25 hours behind the wheel under the supervision of an adult or, depending on how lousy they drive, five or six adults. Enclosed is a chart to record each hour that your child practices driving, the road conditions, weather, location and time of day. When your child applies for his or her drivers’ license please fill it out at the last minute with a bunch of phony data and submit it to the examiner who will throw it away. With my fingers crossed for good luck, I remain, Whoever Is Currently In Office" Having supervised my eldest son, Russell, during his 25 hours to become a novice driver, I knew exactly how to proceed when it came to supervising his younger brother, Brian. "You do it, Honey," I told my wife. "That’s silly, Dave. We’ll take turns." "You’re not getting me, Hon. This isn’t one of those ‘We’re equal partners’ situations. This is more like a ‘You do it all yourself while I stand at the window anxiously wringing my hands until you get home’ situation." "You’re being dramatic." "Hon, I served one tour of duty with Russell. Sat right next to him as he merged into highway traffic at one-half mile per hour, or sat with him at stop signs—stop SIGNS, mind you, not stop LIGHTS—waiting for them to turn green. It destroyed my nerves. Look at my hands shake. I can’t hold a scalpel steady!" "You’re not a surgeon, Dave." "I never will be now!" For the sake of our child we compromised. During practice drives with Brian, my wife would ride shotgun, calmly correcting his mistakes and quietly praising his skills while I sat in the back screaming orders like the captain of a cruise liner that’s taking on water. This would probably be an unfair stress on Brian who was already hampered by the knowledge that, according to his high school driving instructor, he was failing left turns. His right turns were developing nicely, said the instructor, but when required to turn left into a multi-lane roadway Brian tended to end up over the curb and inside the lobby of the Wal-mart, just a little. To ensure a quality experience for driver trainees it is recommended that supervisors establish their own safe driving rules. These might include: • No distracting music or CDs, with the exception of Nat King Cole’s rendition of "Mona Lisa" or anything from the White Album • No cell phone use, especially by drivers in other cars, and • No trips to Wal-mart. Another "good driver" tip is to familiarize the trainee in the use of the tire jack in the event of a flat tire. I had planned to show Brian the secret compartment in the trunk where the jack is stored, but of course I have been unable to locate that compartment since the second week after I bought my car. I know it is somewhere under the spare tire, but that’s locked in place with a bolt that can only be loosened with the handle of the jack—a conundrum that has mystified mathematicians since the Industrial Revolution. Instead I advised Brian to call a service station should he have a flat, but not to use a cell phone! Here we all are one day, Brian behind the wheel, my wife seated beside him, and Captain Stubing of the Love Boat in the back seat, on our way down the driveway at a brisk two miles per week. "Very nice, Brian," she says. "Now head to the end of the block, then turn left." "Mom, don’t you want to go right? There are lots of great places to go to the right." "Abandon ship! Abandon ship!" "Dave, please! Brian, turn left." Several bumps later my wife says, "Well Brian, we’ll have to work on those turns. But since we’re here, we might as well pick up several cases of paper towels, toiletries and cleaning products."