Saturday, June 16, 2012

Driving Miss Lainey, Part One

I have never considered myself an especially brave person.  I covered my eyes whenever Hannibal Lector came on the screen during Silence of the Lambs.  I hid my face against my honey's shirt when the evil attack dogs came after Catniss and Peeta in the final battle scene of The Hunger Games.  These are not the actions of a brave woman.  But, never let it be said that Lainey is not a brave woman.  I know I'm not super hero brave or Congressional medal of honor recipient brave.  But, yesterday I was brave enough to let a teenage boy with a learner's permit take me for a ride in my own car.

Yes, you read that correctly.  In spite of the fact that I have no children of my own, I am helping to teach a teenager how to drive.  Let me explain how this unusual turn of events came about yesterday.  My dear friends, The Mynds, have a teenage son.  This young Mynd is affectionately known as Teen Wolf on his father's blog.  Now, Teen Wolf just recently turned eighteen years old and yet he still doesn't have his driver's license.

According to his parents, this thoughtful young lad has been very hesitant to start driving.  What a novel concept, a teenager worrying that he was going to run somebody over or crash his parents' car.  I thought the only thing teenage drivers worried about was looking cool while driving.  Mr. and Mrs. Mynd thought part of the problem might be in his selection of family cars to use for driving practice. 

Mr. Mynd has a compact car with a manual transmission.  In this car, the uncoordinated Teen Wolf would have to use both feet to manage three pedals while driving, plus use his right hand to change gears.  That's a lot of limb coordination required.  Mrs. Mynd has a mom-mobile, a very large mom-mobile.  She motors around in a Chevy Suburban.  Yes, it's an automatic transmission, but it's also the size of a tank.
Mrs. Mynd's Mom Mobile: Imagine trying to parallel park this monster!
Here's where I come into the picture.  My car is much smaller than Mrs. Mynd's, and since it is an automatic, requires much less coordination than Mr. Mynd's car.  In short, my car is much more appropriate for use in Teen Wolf's driver training. But, how did I end up as the driving instructor, you may ask?  As mentioned in a previous blog, I seem to have sucker stamped across my forehead.

So, yesterday morning I turned up with my car at the Mynd's house to begin the first two of many hours of being chauffeured around by Teen Wolf.  I figured I would take him out on the open road and let him get some highway experience.  We could drive to and from Annapolis and Baltimore to fill the two hours of drive time.  In hindsight, my goals may have been a little lofty.

Upon arriving at the Myndscape, I was informed that the family dog, Spanky, had escaped from the backyard and the children were in the middle of passing out lost dog fliers.  Teen Wolf was understandably upset, so I revised our driving plan for the day to cruising the neighborhood looking for the dog.  I gave Teen Wolf the keys, settled in the passenger seat, and began watching a very entertaining safety check.  Teen Wolf hopped into the car, buckled up, handed over his cell phone, and started adjusting things to his preferences.  He adjusted the seat for his super long legs, he adjusted the driver's side mirror, the passenger's side mirror, the rear view mirror.  He inquired about the location of my hazards.  This kid wanted to make sure he knew it all before we started moving.  I found this very reassuring.

Then I looked down and noticed that his left foot was on the brake pedal and his right foot was on the gas.  Uh-oh, I forgot he had started learning on a stick shift, so I explained how his left foot was just along for the ride today and that his right foot would be doing all the work.  I explained about my love of the parking brake and how he would need to put it down before he started driving and he asked about the gear changer.  All he would need was drive and reverse, I explained.  He asked about second and the lower gear and I stumbled through recalling that those were for slowing the car down when going down steep hills and mountains.  Since we live in a relatively flat area, he wouldn't be needing those today either.  These unneeded gears seemed odd to Teen Wolf, but he went with it and soon we were ready to start the car.  That's right!  We'd been sitting in front of the house for over ten minutes and we hadn't even started the car yet.

We finally got rolling and I discovered that Teen Wolf was not as advanced in his driving skills as I had thought.  His neighborhood has fairly narrow, unlined streets and Teen Wolf seemed to have an affinity for driving down the center of them, occassionally he would even drive completely on the wrong side of them.  I calmly and patiently explained how we would need to remain on the right at all times.  I kept my voice soft and soothing, like I was talking to a wounded animal.  I figured if I sounded scared that we were on the wrong side of the road, he would get scared and do something stupid like overcorrect to the right and hit a parked car.  So I soothingly suggested he stay to the right of the crease in the pavement left behind by the roadwork crew, which Teen Wolf did.

When we came to the first corner I discovered that Teen Wolf may have a slight depth perception issue, as he stopped ten feet short of the corner.  I gently encouraged him to pull forward if he wanted to be able to see who was coming on the cross street and know if he was safe to turn.  He inched forward a foot, two feet, five feet, and eventually, we made it to the corner.  He was worrying aloud about overshooting the line and being in the path of on-coming traffic.  Maybe that had been the case when he was driving with his father?  I'm not sure.

We circled the neighborhood, weaving between the right and wrong side of the road and stopping short of corners, for about ten minutes.  At that point, I decided Teen Wolf was ready for deserted parking lot practice, not highway practice.  So I gave him directions to leave the neighborhood and calmly steered him towards the parking lot my mother had used when she first taught me how to drive.  This required a tiny bit of driving on a local thoroughfare to get from Teen Wolf's hometown to my own.  I must say, Teen Wolf handled the traffic circle well and did much better staying in his lane with painted lines to guide him along the roads.

As we traveled from point A to point B, we discussed the finer points of braking and the difference between a sudden stop and a gentle slowing to a stop.  We discussed what to do about drivers that tailgate.  It was a necessity as Teen Wolf was afraid of exceeding the speed limit and began leading a parade down the two lane road out of his neighborhood.  This led to a discussion of the merits of five over versus five under the speed limit.  Teen Wolf seemed to prefer five under, much to the consternation of the drivers behind him.  Once we were on Route 3, the other drivers quickly got away from us and gave Teen Wolf room to manuever.

We got into my neck of the woods and made it to the driveway of the church parking lot I had learned to drive in years earlier before Teen Wolf gave me another blood pressure adjustment.  When he turned into the church driveway, Teen Wolf forgot about that pesky "stay on the right side of the road" rule and turned into the lane for on-coming traffic.  Luckily, nobody was leaving the church parking lot at that time and we were able to course correct before any harm was done.

The next forty five minutes were spent practicing stopping at corners, using turn signals, parking front end first, and gently braking.  During the first fifteen minutes of our driving together, Teen Wolf asked if it had been an hour yet.  After forty five minutes in the parking lot, he was surprised that we had been driving for a whole hour when it had only felt like a couple of minutes.  I had finally found driving practice that was right at Teen Wolf's speed. Yay me!  Yay him!  Yay for happy driving!

We drove back to the Mynd's neighborhood and Teen Wolf got another new driving experience - navigating the drive-thru of a fast food restaurant.  His siblings had requested that we return with lunch when we were done driving.  At first, Teen Wolf was leery of the drive-thru.  "Does it count as driving time if you are getting food?", he asked.  I assured him that, as long as he was behind the wheel and the car was in gear, it counted as driving time. 

His cell phone rang with a call about the missing family dog, which I answered, and immediately I could tell that this driving session was over.  Teen Wolf was instantly in "find the dog" mode, so much so that he had trouble ordering for his siblings at the speaker.  We got back to the house, Teen Wolf left to check out the tip on his dog and his siblings dug into the fast food with glee.  Apparently, they weren't sure he would be brave enough to face the drive-thru line.

I survived teenage driving! Where's my t-shirt?

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