When I was a junior in high school, one of the required courses that year was Drivers Education. I didn’t want to take it and pleaded to get out of it, but it was required and that was that.
At the time there was no car in our family. My mother didn’t drive, never had. My father was legally blind. We managed just fine, living in a small town where you could walk to just about everywhere: school, church, movies, etc.
So, there I was, not minding a bit that we didn’t have wheels and not even wanting them.
Dreading my first lesson, I squeezed into the school car with three other girls, all thrilled to be behind the wheel and knowing that their driver’s license would soon be a reality. I was terrified.
Of course it was standard shift and everybody did a fair amount of bumping as we learned about gas/clutch ratio. When it came my turn behind the wheel, I panicked. Every time I tried for a smooth start, I clutched and stalled out. Everybody was getting nervous, especially the instructor. He tried to calm me down, calm my friends down, and finally calm himself down. The next week, the situation was only worse and my instructor suggested I limit my driver’s ed to the written part; I scored 100 there.
Then there never seemed time for me to learn to drive. When I was first married, I lived in Germany and I didn’t want to learn there. For several years after that I was raising four babies and didn’t have time for learning a new skill.
But the babies grew up and I was running out of excuses as my 40th birthday approached and I was still a non-driver.
I signed up and a guy named Frank showed up at the appointed time where I thought we would discuss the fundamentals of guiding a huge hunk of steel around the parking lot. No discussion. He buckled me into the driver’s seat and directed me to the 1-95 entrance ramp right down the street. I stifled my screams and we both survived. The next week he made me drive to and around downtown Bridgeport, Conn.
After a few more lessons, I began to acquire a little self confidence, And then some more. I took my test and acquired my license. And then, I acquired a used turquoise Datsun B2-10. I loved that car and it loved me. I could shift that sucker like Jeff Gordon and never, ever made that gear stripping sound, especially after the salesman said to my husband, “Women don’t do well with standard shift.” Oh, yeah?
Last summer I was doing a baby-sitting gig while my son and his wife went off on a trip. My duties included driving the granddaughters to the horse stables a few miles away.
I got behind the wheel and realized there was something wrong: no clutch. I had never driven an automatic. How hard can it be, I thought, stupid people do this every day. We started off, with me flailing away with my left foot looking for the clutch and then hitting the brake instead, sending the girls flying up against their seatbelts and stalling out the car.
I practiced in the driveway a few times and finally got the hang of it.
I’m just a standard girl at heart.