Learning to drive was one of the worst experiences of my teenage years.
Because of the birthday cutoff, I missed being able to take Driver's Ed as an elective at school and so my only option was to enroll with the private driving school in town. The instructors were a husband-wife team and had a reputation for being at little... uneven. Some kids reported that they were cheerful and friendly and some couldn't stand them. I guess many years of trying to make a living dealing with teenagers ranging from flighty featherbrains to mouthy know-it-alls took a toll and you never knew what you were going to get from either one.
The wife of the team taught the classroom portion. She turned out to be strict and demanding and had high expectations of a class with well... varying academic levels. All teenagers want to drive. Not all are good with books and tests. I didn't have a problem with the coursework but didn't like her personally. You could tell she felt like all teenagers were stupid and liars and would do anything to get out of completing the required material. I'm sure this was true of some but it was a broad brush to color all adolescents with. As a result, she overcompensated by being extra strict and extra condescending to everyone.
I remember one boy, who was not the sharpest knife in the drawer but who legitimately tried to learn the material, could not understand when the teacher explained how to curb the wheels when parking on a hill. She drew a picture and said to turn the wheels "in." Confused, he raised his hand and politely asked if she meant "out" based on the diagram she put on the board. "No," she said flatly. "In. Like I've drawn. Just look at the picture." He was still confused. "So... that looks like... out?" "No! In! In! Can't you see? Do you need to move up so you can see the board better? Here's the curb. Turn them in!" Humiliated in front of the class he cried, "But that's out!" She berated him further and actually made him get up and draw what he considered "in." It was the exact opposite of what she was telling us. After many long and painful minutes had passed someone eventually figured out that she was meant "in toward the street" while he meant "in toward the curb."
She was also superstrict with break time. We had a certain amount of time allotted for each break and if we weren't back exactly on time she threatened to give us an incomplete for the course. The vending machine downstairs was bottlenecked during break and there was only enough time for about half of us to get a snack. She didn't like to excuse students during class to use the bathroom because she was afraid we might sneak down to the vending machine. (A problem which could have been avoided if she would have given us a longer break to begin with.) One girl asked to leave to use the restroom, explaining that she had had to go out to her car on break and didn't get a chance. The teacher grudgingly agreed and as the girl stood up to leave the teacher snapped, "What are you doing?" "Uh, going to the bathroom," the girl replied. "No. Leave your purse." "What?" "You heard me. If you're going to the bathroom, you don't need your purse. This is not time to get a snack. Just go to the bathroom and come back." "But I need...uhhh..." "I know what you are doing! Leave your purse!" "It.. uhhh... I just need it..." "You don't need your purse to go to the bathroom. Leave it!" Furious, the girl finally blurted out, "I'm going to change my pad! Is that okay with you!" That was awkward.
Weirdly, even though she believed teenagers to be idiots, the teacher had the attitude that most student drivers were too cautious. She preached hard on making sure you were driving the speed limit (but not over the speed limit) and drilled it into us that if we slowed down without sufficient warning (or really if we ever slowed down at all) we would be rear ended and the collision would be our fault. I completed the classroom portion of Driver's Ed with flying colors but without the faintest idea of how to actually operate a motor vehicle. And in full possession of the knowledge that hitting the brake meant getting into an accident that would be my fault.
You can see why I approached the actual driving portion of my instruction with more than a little trepidation. My first drive was scheduled for the wee hours of the morning. We were to start at my house and end at the high school just in time for the first class of the day. When the little Corolla with the lighted "Student Driver" box sign on top arrived at my house, I was relieved to see it was the husband and not the wife who would be my instructor that day. I was not relieved, however, to discover that it was snowing. Now, unlike many teenagers, I never had the opportunity to "experiment" with driving on a deserted country road or on a farm vehicle or even in the driveway. Literally my first experience driving a car would be with a man who would surely hate me for being too cautious while I drove in the dark in the snow.
I remember we took a lot of time adjusting the mirrors. He stood behind the car, held up his arm, and told me to adjust the mirror so I could see his arm. I couldn't see jack squat in the mirror because it was dark and snowy so I fiddled with it until I could see... something and yelled, "Okay!" He got back in the car, cold and wet, inspected my adjustment and said, "That's where you want the mirror? You could see me?" Uhhh... yup. That's it. "No. It's not right. Let's do it again." He got out, I fiddled some more and he got back in, even more cold and wet than before. "I just can't believe that's right for you! YOU NEED TO BE ABLE TO SEE ME!" I was a bundle of nerves and all I could think was, "Let's go let's go let's go! The snow is piling up and it's not like I'm going to use the mirror anyway! You don't want to be cold and wet anymore? Just adjust the stupid mirror for me! Can you not see the snow snowing down? It's snowing unless you haven't noticed and I HAVE NEVER DRIVEN A CAR BEFORE." We tried again and for good measure and to make sure he had more cold and wet to complain about, he made me stick my arm out and show him the arm signals for left and right.
We did all these things before leaving but he neglected to show me where to turn on the headlights, wipers, and turn signals. It comes naturally now, but there was a time when I had to memorize "up=right turn, down=left turn." And I had to figure all this out in the dark. And the snow. With a driving instructor who thought I was an idiot because I didn't already know how to drive.
Now, it snows a fair amount in Pollock Pines and the foothills, but the elevation drops rapidly so unless it's a really bad storm you can drive for 5 or 10 minutes and change from full on snow to light slush to just rain very quickly. I figured no one would want to be out with a student driver in the dark and snow longer than necessary. So, we'd get on the freeway and head down toward the high school. Wrong. Mr. Driving Instructor was bored and wanted to take all the backroads down the hill.
We ended up driving on (appropriately named) Snows Road, a very narrow two-lane road full of hairpin turns on the side of a cliff. I wonder if Mr. Driving Instructor had a death wish or if he just didn't believe me when I said I'd never driven before. I couldn't see both because of the dark and because of the snowflakes whizzing toward me, catching the glare of the headlights. Mr. Driving Instructor kept sighing that I was driving too slow and when I'd speed up he'd holler, "Not so fast around the turns! The road is slushy! We'll end up at the bottom of the canyon!" It took FOREVER to get off the mountain. When we reached the bottom, the snow had ended and daylight was creeping over the horizon. I was beyond frazzled. Mr Driving Instructor looked alternately frustrated and distracted. We reached a T in the deserted road, He was off in lala land so I took a second to sit quietly behind the wheel and contemplate the beauty of my life which had miraculously not ended with a snowy plummet to my death. He snapped to and hollered, "WELL! Turn on your blinker!! You need a blinker! You can't just sit here! YOU ARE GOING TO GET REAR ENDED! GO!"
"Which way?" I asked meekly.
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN WHICH WAY?" he roared. "TOWARD THE HIGH SCHOOL! WHERE DO YOU THINK WE ARE GOING THIS MORNING?!"
"But which way?" I asked. He looked at me like I was a moron, reached over and slammed his hand down on the blinker. "Toward the high school."
I could tell he didn't want to hear that I had no idea where we were or how we'd gotten there or which was the way to the high school. I dutifully checked the dashboard to see which way the flashing light was telling me to go and pulled out, aware that if I stayed in place for one more moment, I would be rear ended.
To be continued...