Saturday, August 31, 2013

Student Driver



Carefully navigating the rush-hour streets of Phoenix, Arizona—coming home after a long lifetime of students—you take your position behind the guy parked in front of you at the red light.  That’s fine; you’re working on patience again.  You don’t mind sitting there and watching the world go by, for two and a half minutes, max.

You sit relaxed in the driver’s seat, all limbs splayed everywhere because you’re hot—you’ve adjusted the vents so all air blows on you all the time.  It’s been hot and humid in Phoenix, the air conditioning in your work building hasn’t been working well, plus you are just worn out.  You deserve a cool breeze, maybe more than that.  You’re pretty happy as-is though.  Just gotta get through this stoplight and then you’re home free.

Careening out of your left peripheral view comes a car with a sign emblazoned on the side: Student Driver.  You glance left from your perfectly safe spot to watch the student driver car blast through the left-turn lane as the light turns from yellow to red.  You wonder if the student will get a ticket.  You wonder if the teacher is having a heart attack.

Student drivers have been on your mind lately.  Many of your high school classmates now have teenaged kids who are beginning drivers; you see via Facebook what your parents must have gone through with you, not to mention your four older siblings.

Of course it was never your mother who taught anyone to drive; it was always your dad.

*

In 1984, there was a summer of student driving, not only for you, but for all of your classmates.  These were dangerous times in your small Pennsylvania town.  The year before as sophomores, you’d all been shown movies of bodies burned beyond recognition after careless driving; phy-ed time was re-devoted to drivers ed.  None of you wanted to crash and burn like that, so you kind of listened, but it did seem like overkill.  It was hard to relate to the ash people.

You remember trading off positions with one or two other kids in the student driver car that summer, mainly when you would make a mistake and the instructor would let somebody else have a turn.  You were not the most confident driver from the start.

One afternoon, probably a Saturday, your dad agreed to take you out driving.  You got in the car and made sure everybody had their seatbelts on.  You backed out of the driveway slowly, and headed slowly up your neighborhood street, which ended in a T with two choices: either turn right and keep going up the hill, which was easy to see as totally clear and safe, or turn left.  If you turned left, not only would you be crossing lanes, but you couldn’t say for sure how close any car might be coming up the hill, because that’s how steep it was. 

You floored it and turned left.

In that year, in that neighborhood, and due to your personal circumstances, no one had emphasized the word “pedestrian” yet.  Everyone was worried about crashing cars and killing passengers, but no one was really thinking about running into people who were walking.

As you quickly learned, your father was very concerned about one person walking for a longer time than his car would have allowed if you had kept going in the direction you were heading for, student driver that you were.

Jesus Christ!” your father said, grabbing the wheel about inches away from your hitting the guy walking up Montmorenci.  “Didn’t you see him!?” he said.

Of course you had seen the pedestrian.  You had just seen him too late.

*

You still want to get yourself places; you are an eager traveler.  But you have never rented a car.  You know that other, similar types of people are out there, but you have a hard time finding them.  You would rather walk, or be driven.  

You try not to fall back on the option of not going at all.

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