Monday, August 22, 2011

Driving And Other Lessons

Have you heard the latest?

Kids are, supposedly, safer in the car when their grandparents are behind the wheel.

Many reasons are suggested: grandparents simply drive slower, do not chat on the phone or text about how Morgan broke up with Brittany during lunch and, in general, are hyper-careful because of the extremely precious cargo they carry in the back seats of their Buicks.

May I also put forth that grandparents know the actual definition of the word "yield," which, based on my own experience entering the Cross Island from the Bronx River Parkway North, is a word that no one seems to be familiar with in 2011.

My mother, who lived in the city for 70 years never learned to drive so the issue of her ferrying my children about never arose.

A driver's license is simply not necessary if you live in Brooklyn. There is more than enough public transportation to take you wherever you wish to go.

When I was 16, however, my mother decided that she should get her license.

On the day of her first lesson, the entire extended family (siblings, in-laws, parents, aunts, uncles plus a few people we'd never seen before), shocked by this bold move, crowded together by the bay window to watch as she took the wheel.

I think my grandmother must have baked for the occasion because I seem to remember strudel and coffee being passed around.
In the city, driving instructors come to fetch you at your door in cars with dual wheels so they can steer you away from the pedestrian you are about to flatten at the stop sign.

My mother's instructor, a gentle soul named Edward, greeted her warmly, holding the driver's door open as she got comfortable in the unfamiliar position of the driver's seat. Those of us hovering by the window munched strudel and waited patiently.

My mother and Edward sat in the car for close to 20 minutes. No doubt he was explaining the basics. We waited.

Eventually, she turned the key and the car, a modest sedan, came to life. Still, we waited.

The moment arrived--she pulled away from the curb. She'd obviously turned the wheel as far to the left as possible because she left the space they'd occupied by the fire hydrant at nearly a right angle, suddenly lurching into traffic and very nearly into a collision with a car that was coming down the street. 

A grandparent was most likely at the wheel because, despite my mother's very abrupt appearance in his path, he was able to stop before she hit him.

Some shouting then occurred.

First between the gentle Edward and the man driving the other car. Then, between Edward and my mother and, ultimately, among the large crowd by the window patiently awaiting disaster, as we reacted to the fracas below and exchanged the cash we'd bet on how quickly she'd screw up.

Most of us had bet that it would occur pretty quickly.

My mother, while talented and very smart, possessed no reflexes as far as medical science could discern.

She'd told tales of how doctors had battered her knees with those little rubber hammers during physical exams to no avail. While a fast thinker, that speed had not seemed to translate to her limbs.

She was simply not designed to drive a "2,000 pound death machine" as I used to refer to cars while my sons were learning so as to terrorize them emphasize how serious the act of driving actually is. You're welcome, my sons.

But back to my mother: The car, still at the right angle, had come to a jarring halt and the door of the driver's side flew open. My scowling mother exited, not bothering to shut the car door behind her and stormed back into the house, never to sit behind the wheel of a car again.

It had taken all of 20 minutes to end her driving career. Thank God.

She arrived upstairs to find us all busy, anywhere but near the window, pretending we'd seen nothing. I think I spent the money I'd won on ice cream.


  1. My Mom had no choice but to drive (Northern New Jersey) but I think I head someone tried to teach my Grandma - with about the same result your Mom had. After all when she was young everthing was delivered!

  2. Sounds like it was good thing for the general public that your mom nixed her driving career early on.

    Having grown up in Houston where mass transit is all but non-existent it's hard to imagine never driving. However, a good friend sold his car and moved to SF 20 years ago and never looked back.

    He's says it's very freeing.

  3. Annette, I don't know why my mohter suddenly decided to learn to drive. It was definitely not her thing but I suppose she had to find that out for herself!

  4. Michele, in cities like SF, NYC and Chicago, you need never drive...I learned early, however but was the first--and only, for quite a while--of my friends.

  5. I learned to drive in my early 30's. Cars that is. Before that I had a tiny motorbike - the kind with a shopping basket on the front (Do you have those there?).
    My city is small and flat. The little bike was perfect.
    Then one day a courier van driver ignored a Stop sign.
    I don't know how I wasn't killed.
    Rick's Mum gave me her old car, and I had lessons.
    I have an automatic car now (which I love)- my mum (who doesn't give much praise) says I am a very good driver.
    But, I still miss my little motorbike...

  6. My God, Janet--thank God you weren't killed. Were you badly hurt? Did that guy get punished?

    We have Vespas and the like but scooters and "tiny motorbikes" are not really the norm.

    We love our big cars here...even with gas prices as high as they are.

  7. No - I wasn't hurt at all. We both got the biggest fright - he charged across traffic to reach me (I had skidded to a halt just missing a parked car). He was a white as a sheet - I didn't have the heart to yell. So we gave each other a big hug and went on our separate ways. I got home, Rick gave me a brandy and then the tears and shaking started...
    I can still see the faces of the other motorists who had witnessed it all - they all had a shock too.