Driver’s Education. Words that would make the heart of a 15-year-old jump with joy and fear at the same time. That is when it was offered in school. Now, I must admit, since Drivers Ed is no longer a course in many schools, I do not know how youngsters learn to drive.
Parents are of course the first line of teaching. I can just see parents, huddled around a kitchen table, in the middle of the night. It’s dark and quiet and a little chilly. She has hold of the kitchen corn broom, stems up and handle down. He has pulled out two pieces of the straw and holds them, exposed ends equal in height, tight fisted in his hand. “Agreed,” he says, “short stick loses.” She pulls one out and hides her choice until he reveals his. They compare and immediately he yips and she whimpers. She has pulled the short straw. She will be the driving teacher of their teen-aged child who will be turning 15 and a half in two days and will then be getting the driver’s permit and will need to be taught the ins and outs of driving. That is just as soon as the written test is passed.
The written test? Yes, the written test. I had the grand opportunity a long time ago to take up number 85 at the DVM just as No. 42 was called up. I sat and began my wait and took in all the goings on around me. I must admit the most fun was watching the kids being given their written tests and scooted to the roped off area to take the test in solitude. Well as much solitude they could get in a room full of number holders. Few of us were patient while others without thought of these test takers, felt it important to complain-loudly… What does complaining and uttering disgruntled remarks get them? Does the line move faster? Don’t get me started. Moving ahead...
The written test is mostly common sense but it’s a rite of passage. I still remember taking it some 40-plus years ago. Most importantly I remember the two questions I missed. One about which way to turn the wheels when parking on a hill and one about what a yellow triangle shaped sign stands for. Fifty-fifty was the chance on the wheels, I guessed wrong. The sign, which I said was yield in reality was caution. I still to this day say yield means caution. But the instructor, a Mr. Pearce, wouldn’t budge. I got my learner’s permit anyway and to my mother’s chagrin was on my way to becoming a driver. “Hide the women and children,” was what my dad said!
The dirt road going out to Lackawanna was my proving ground. Now it’s a major paved road that leads to the Nevada State prison near Ely. Is there a connection there? To mom’s credit, or maybe it was the Prozac, she was calm, cool and patient. I learned in the family’s’ T-bird. Automatic transmission. Electric everything, even wing windows. I had taken Drivers Ed so I knew the basics but needed a bit of real road work.
The six months between 15 and a half and 16, when in Nevada you can get a duly certified driver’s license, went pretty quickly. Soon, heart pounding in my throat, I was taking my actual driving test with that same DMV agent in the passenger seat. Off in the T-bird we went. Soon, back at the little white building that housed the DMV, I parked and turned the wheels, the wrong way again. We exited the car and with his stern face he said I had passed. My picture taken and the laminating done I was finally issued my license.
The jest of this story? That night with new license in hand I set off to drive my friends up and down main street and cause havoc and commotion within the community. But, and this is a big but, I had to take the family’s old 1966 Plymouth Barracuda, a fine red car — with a standard transmission. Three speed on the column; no problem. Yea, right. I knew in my mind how it worked. But getting it to work was the problem. A car full of giggling 16-year-old girls driving around most of the night in first gear, slowing as much as possible at each red light praying it would turn green before we got there so that darn clutch was not needed — again. I’m pretty sure on a quiet summer night in a small Eastern Nevada town they can still hear that poor 6-cylinder engine being revved up in first gear, the chunk-a-chug, chunk-a-chug of the standard transmission being pushed to its limits.
Thanks to my brother, I now know what the friction point on a standard transmission is. Do You?
Trina Machacek lives in Eureka, Nev. Her book ITY BITS can be found on Kindle. Share your thoughts and comments with her at email@example.com.