John Scalzi wants to know about driving in this Weekend's Assignment, and I decided to accomodate. After all, if you don't know by now, I've got a somewhat quirky life, so why should my experience with learning to drive be any different?
I was 15 in when I took my Driver's Ed classes in high-school. The Teacher, who lived in my neighborhood, was a full-blown maniac in both the classroom and behind the wheel. After a childhood spent watching this lunatic blow through stop signs, tear down the streets and generally drive in a manner that left the neighborhood fearing for its life when it came to stepping on pavement, I knew full well that this bastard was perhaps the least qualified person on the planet to be teaching the subtle art of motor vehicle operation. But, the class was required in those days, and we had no choice but to deal with one another when that inevitable semester rolled around in 1983.
Driver's Ed class, Day One: When the bell rang, The Teacher banged a hunk of retread on his desk and spoke. "I know all of you are going to get drunk. And I know all of you are going to drive. I've learned that if you eat an English muffin before you drink, you won't get as drunk, and you won't drive your parents' car into a tree and die. Just make sure you put a lot of butter on it."
And, the madness didn't end there.
"Someday," he continued, "you're going to get pulled over by the cops when you're out driving drunk. When they ask you why your eyes are red, tell them that you got into a fight with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and you've been crying. You're young, and the cops will believe this."
With our minds filled with those valuable pearls of driving wisdom, we moved onto the gruesome, blood-spattered movie Death on the Highway.
"See all that blood?" The Teacher asked in the darkened room as the projector clicked and clacked over a scene showing some mangled teenagers in a mangled car. "It's fake. There's never that much blood."
Then came the "simulation" part of the class where we sat in archaic machines that stunk of mold and the sweat and urine of terrified, nervous teenagers who'd probably pissed themselves in fear behind the wheels of these monstrosities. One student named Dennis wound up in therapy after demonstrating his constant desire to mow down old ladies and small dogs. "You dumb bastard!" The Teacher would wail. "Hit the animals, Dennis, not the people! Look! There's another dog. Hit the gas you idiot."
When the semester was over, and our summer vacations were upon us, we were unleashed upon the world with Temporary Driver's Permits, and, every summer, the city lived in fear as our quiet summer days were punctuated by the squealing of tires, the occasional crunch of metal and the screams of terrified citizens. One mangled wreck of a car was even found abandoned in the sand trap on the seventh hole of the local golf course. Our summers were sheer, bloody terror filled with the stench of burning brakes and clutches.
Eventually, though, the day of our driving tests would come, and we'd wander over to the local DMV with whatever remained of our motor vehicles after a summer spent beating them into the ground.
I took my test in my aunt's turbo-charged Saab since both my parents' cars had manual transmissions. At least, that was the excuse I was given. The test went well for me. I drove absolutely perfectly, and even the person administering the test complimented me before she failed me.
"You're one of the best drivers I've seen," she said that day. "But, I'm going to fail you on principle."
Was I angry? You bet. However, before I could exact my vengence, one of my fellow failed students was arrested for shredding her front lawn by doing donuts with his car one night in a drunken rage. So, in light of that, I was happy when my second test rolled around, and I passed with flying colors. And since then, I've been driving all over the world and I've gone through countless cars.
The first car I bought was a dark green, 1971 Ford LTD. I think the reason it caught my eye was because I remembered seeing one in the Death on the Highway film, and it seemed to have been the one which suffered the least amount of damage when wrapped around a telephone pole. It was a pretty cool car, and I drove it until the engine exploded.
I wish I had a picture of that car, but I don't. However, I think there were several photos taken for insurance purposes during the many years I owned that car.