Friday, August 22, 2014
LUCY BURDETTE: Since my birthday is in January, I first started practicing my driving in winter. The New Jersey roads were icy, my mother was a nervous wreck, and I was not a natural. We had two German shepherds at the time, who would ride in the back seat of the station wagon.
My stops were judged in dogs. A no-dog stop was a thing of beauty--a gentle glide to the stoplight with only the lightest tap on the brake pedal. A one-dog stop meant the old dog with less traction had been knocked to the floor. The two-dogger--well you can picture the rest.
As might have been predicted, I flunked my first try at the driver’s test--knocking the cones dead while parallel parking was the death knell. In a way, it’s a wonder anyone learns to pilot a four thousand pound hunk of metal...how did your driving lessons go?
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I am howling. Lucy, dear, we are sisters. I took drivers ed in high school. The teacher, Mr. Grosskopf. was a former underwater demolition guy, a frog-man, and I do think he was actually more frightened with me behind the wheel than he was searching in scuba gear for underwater bombs.
He once told my mother: "I only let her drive because it's not my car, the school has insurance, and I have separate controls."
My favorite memory:
MR GROSSKOPF: "Watch out for that guy!"
HANK: "What guy?"
I think it was a vision thing. As in: I have no depth perception. Not then, not now. Which may have been exacerbated back then because I was always losing one contact, and since they were expensive then, I would put off telling my parents and just wear one.
I failed my first drivers test, too. The guy said I didn't stop at the stop sign. But DID, I swear. He didn't care. He was probably failing me to protect other drivers.
My mom and I still went out for eggrolls afterward.
RHYS BOWEN: In England you couldn't drive until you were eighteen and it wasn't a given, as it is here. Most people in those days didn't have cars. I got driving lessons for my eighteenth birthday and the instructor came to pick me up outside school. This was a huge status thing, to have the other girls see me drive away in a car--unless I stalled, which I did quite often, as the car had a temperamental clutch. But I passed first time. Not much use as my father wouldn't let me touch his car and I didn't get one of my own until I was working for the BBC. After five years with no practice my skills were rusty, to say the least.
We have now taught four children to drive. They all still quote John's exclamations and instructions. They all seemed to take to it really easily but it was nerve-racking the first time they went out alone.
HALLIE EPHRON: I had a lovely older boyfriend who taught me to drive. I learned on his Porsche (what can I tell you, it was Beverly Hills) Stick shift. Drive a little. Park. Enjoy the view. Neck a little. Drive a little more. It was very civilized.
I taught both of our daughters to drive. One I took to our local supermarket parking lot on Sunday morning (remember when supermarkets weren't all 24-hour?) and she ran into the Stop 'n' Shop. "Brake! Brake!" I shouted. I'd spent so much time explaining the stick shift but neglected to inform her about how to press the brake. Dented the front bumper. The other daughter broke off the windshield wiper control in the middle of a lesson (she thought it was the turn signal.)
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Like Hallie, a lovely (and patient) older boyfriend taught me to drive. Unlike Hallie, it was not a Porche but his parents' Toyota Corolla. And not in Beverly Hills, but Buffalo. It was a stick shift car, and I remember distinctly him making a drawing of what the gears looked like and trying to explain it. Didn't matter — I just wanted to drive — RVOOM! We went to a deserted cemetery and it took me hours (or so I remember) to even get out of first gear.
Still, I have to say that knowing how to drive a stick-shift car has served me well over the years. Living in New York, we don't own a car, but if I ever had to buy one, I'd definitely get a stick shift. More control, better on snow — and plus your European friends don't mock you for driving a "grandma car" (which is what they call an automatic transmission).
LUCY: Oh, Hallie and Susan, learning to drive a stick shift could be a whole different blog. I had a boyfriend in college who taught me that too--in his orange VW. I will be always be grateful. And I helped teach my stepdaughter, who drove my car part way into a marsh. But all was well in the end!
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Hank, I am howling just thinking about your poor instructor. Remind me never to get in a car with you driving! And Lucy, I love the GSD driving test. We still do that with the dogs in the back seat of the Accord.I learned to drive in my father's big cushy Kleenex box of a Lincoln Continental (that was before he got the Mercedes bug...) Can I just say that parallel parking was a--well, you can imagine. But I did it on the test, first time. My first car was a used '65 T-bird. What was my dad thinking??? But I survived that, and then, when I was nineteen, my dad took me to a used car lot and bought me a used Datsun 240 Z. Burnt orange. When we took it for a test drive--on US 75 no less--was the first time I'd ever driven a stick shift. What was he thinking, my sweet, crazy dad? But I learned, and I LOVED that car! I drove it until I moved to Scotland seven years later.
I still prefer a standard transmission, and would have one if we didn't live in a city where you can get stuck in rush hour traffic for hours...
When my daughter was learning to drive, I had a '97 fire engine red Honda Prelude. Oh, dream car, that was! And not one that you want your fifteen-going-on-sixteen-year-old daughter to drive under any circumstances. Practice sessions were a nightmare, and I could NOT teach her to shift. Then my big brother, who in his young, wild days drove in sports car rallies, came to visit and took her out in the Prelude. One lesson, and from then on she drove like a champ. Great for her--how humiliating for me! I don't think parents should ever try to teach their children to drive.
Reds, how did your driving lessons go?