We sat behind the kid for a solid five seconds… Funny/peculiar how too often five seconds can seem like an eternity and a thousand different thoughts can roll through a subconscious like tumbleweeds blowing through a deserted ghost town of our mind while the tea kettle siren begins to scream with urgency.
“C-mon, kid!” I talked to the young man who couldn’t hear me and most likely didn’t have a clue I was even behind him.
“Be nice, it’s a student driver,” my wife calmly observed.
“Obviously,” I added with sarcasm, “Geez!” I grimaced as though the kid caused me physical pain as I accelerated around him after he’d finally taken the fifteen second corner. I glanced over at the rattled yet excited kid that as far as I’m concerned will never be a great driver… but then that’s how one thinks when one is a hillbilly in disguise… or at least raised by hillbillies.
I eventually felt bad for Nervous Norman as I checked him out one last time as he quickly shrunk into my rearview mirror. By the time I was that kid’s age, I could handle a vehicle with confidence and some skill.
It started for me as a little kid sitting next to my dad in his work trucks. If I slid to the front of the bench seat in the pre-seatbelt wearing years, I could barely see over the dashboard, but that wasn’t a necessity for what would become our tradition.
I can’t recall the exact words verbatim, but know it was something along the lines of, “Can I shift for you?”
“Do you know how?” my dad asked with amusement.
“Yeah,” I said, not out of dishonesty, but true belief in what I’d seen and been around my entire short life. My dad made sure I did know how at first and let my hand go along for the ride on top of his hand that wrapped the knob of the shifter as he went through the gears. Then my dad’s hand on mine until he knew I had the feel for it. Pretty soon my dad could run through the sluggish old truck gears with no hesitation on the clutch, just as if he were shifting it himself. A skill he’d come to regret teaching me at such a young age.
Dirt roads close to our house in the desert were the perfect place to learn to drive my dad’s old work trucks and my older brothers’ cars, not too sure my dad knew about all the exploits… That’s part of the gift of older siblings! I was in the driver’s seat from around ten years of age. By the time I was fourteen I could handle vehicles, manual or not, on winding dirt roads in full blown power slides, to being on steep offramps with cars behind me and not rolling back an inch while feathering the clutch. Back then at that too tender age, I navigated some nastiest backroads and some of the most famous interstates in California and Arizona.
The younger a person starts any physical task the better they’re going to be at it. Period. The problem, of course, becomes the bad habits learned while trying to master a task at a young age. I’ve literally had significantly more traffic violations than years I’ve spent on this planet. I shared about three of them I got thinking I could outrun a cop in a six-cylinder before I was sixteen not too many posts back.
It takes years and a lifetime fighting old habits learned by example and fueled by desire… Legalism started for me even earlier than jammin’ gears… Hard to imagine how many times I’ve broken the law by believing I could keep the law…
After I’m significantly further down the road and the gas tank is noticeably emptier… Something whispers delicately to my conscious that the student driver is better off, after all… now if I just begin to listen…But, old habits die hard…