Driving lessons sometimes became a wild goose chase
I sometimes wonder if whenever Mr. Crankcase, my old high school driver's education instructor, gets a pain in the neck he thinks of me.
Thinking back, my driving skills must have put more stress and strain on Mr. Crankcase and his spine than that suffered by one of those crash-test dummies.
During my first lesson, my right foot slipped back and forth between the gas pedal and brake so quickly and frequently that when I got out of the car Mr. Crankcase's head was wobbling like a bobble-head doll on a jack hammer.
Forget all that hooey about turning sweet 16. That was the first birthday when presents and cake were not the top priorities. Getting my learner's permit was.
It was also my first birthday when my parents blew out the candles on the cake. I later discovered that their birthday wish was that I had been born a year later so they would have another year to get used to the thought of me behind the wheel.
Now there is a considerable waiting period before a 16-year-old can take the test for a driver's license. But years ago, more than a few guys I knew took the test on the day they turned 16.
In retrospect, I suppose some of them could have stood some more experience behind the wheel. For example, there was my friend Chauncey who had a maneuver named after him. He always stopped when his car came to a stop sign; however, he didn't stop until his car was almost halfway into the intersection.
The Chauncey stop really got the blood pumping for the drivers who happened to arrive at the intersection at that moment. It had an even more dramatic effect on the pedestrians who got a sudden urge to jump, dive or sprint for their lives.
Another friend, Jasper, was a good driver with a bit of an unusual sense of humor. He was the inventor and master of the "wheel trick."
This worked best on a narrow street or two-lane road and required perfect timing. When the driver of an oncoming vehicle got near enough to see what Jasper was doing, Jasper would begin.
He would get a maniacal look on his face and pretend to be turning the steering wheel rapidly toward the unsuspecting motorist. That was as effective as a Chauncey stop in getting the other driver's heart pumping double time.
Of course, I was not nearly as skilled at driving when I logged my first hours behind the wheel. I was almost as nervous as Mr. Crankcase when I got behind the wheel of the school's driver's ed car for my first time on the road.
Fortunately, that car was rigged up with a steering wheel, gas pedal and brake on Mr. Crankcase's side of the front seat, too.
Just think of the kind of reaction he would have gotten from approaching motorists if he had done Jasper's wheel trick from the right side of the car! As it was, he was more concerned about using the special gear to keep me from demolishing the school's car.
My newly discovered talent of being able to floor the gas pedal for 20 feet and then slam on the brakes didn't affect Mr. Crankcase noticeably.
The same could not be said for the girl sitting in the back seat waiting for her turn at driving. By the time I had completed my turn behind the wheel, she had second thoughts about the whole driver's license process. She became the only student to ride a donkey to school.
My parents demonstrated that no sacrifice was too great for them to make on behalf of my siblings and me when they both allowed me to log some driving time while they were in the car.
Guiding me in parallel parking was a particularly painful experience for them. Either I would not turn the wheel enough and find myself hurtling down the street in reverse, or I would turn it too sharply and wind up parked on the sidewalk, parallel and touching the front porch.
My Dad went above and beyond the call of duty one Saturday when he let me drive him to a college where he was taking a course. The 180-mile roundtrip was the farthest I had driven to that point. It might have even been more than all the miles I had driven until that day.
Dad showed remarkable self-control and resisted the urge to become what used to be known as a back-seat driver. (Those are rare these days because people in the back are usually watching DVDs and not the driver.)
The only drawback was that he was sitting directly behind me, and when I accelerated above his personal speed limit of 50 mph or approached a place where I had to stop, he would move his right foot, which was directly below me.
Gas was cheap in those days, so I have no idea how many miles per gallon the car got on that trip. But nearly 45 years later, I can tell you I got 2 mpg (miles per goose).
(Walt Kozlowski, a freelance writer from Mount Carmel, composes "Walt's Way" for each Sunday edition.)