The stories about teachers shared on Sunday's post made me think it's probably time to share my horrible driver's education experience.
To get the proper context for this story, you have to understand that I was terrified of driving. At one point I said I never wanted to learn to drive, but by the time I got to high school I decided I'd go through with it. Then, I had time to get worked up about it because I turned 16 in November of my sophomore year but couldn't fit driver's ed into my regular school schedule, so I took it during summer school the following summer. (I missed the cutoff by a month to take it the summer before I turned 16.)
My dad took me out for some lessons once I got my permit, and I was just a nervous wreck. I remember one time he asked me to turn and I put on my turn signal, but I was so focused on the thousand other things I was trying to remember that I forgot to actually turn. My dad was smart enough to wait until I was past the intersection to calmly mention that I was supposed to turn, but that it was OK and I could just turn at the next light. I was embarrassed, but my dad was incredibly patient with me.
Several of my friends were taking driver's ed through school the same summer and we were allowed to pick our driving partners, so I figured it wouldn't be too bad. My best friend Missy and I paired up, which was great because she and I were always supportive of each other and I didn't have to worry about feeling judged.
By her, anyway.
The driving instructor we got was supposed to be one of the good ones, as I remember, probably because he was "cool," with his buzzed hair and sunglasses and his loud, joking style. If I'd had the kind of self-awareness then that I have now I probably would have realized that he was not going to be a good fit for me. Not that I could have done anything about it, but maybe I would have at least been prepared for what lay ahead.
Two problems became immediately apparent. The first was that he clearly favored Missy over me, something she doesn't dispute. This will become painfully obvious when I tell you about our final driving test.
The second was that he liked to listen to talk radio. LOUD talk radio. And no one was allowed to change the channel, least of all me.
(To be fair, it was actually a music station, but one that had a morning show during the time we had our lesson, so it was mostly talk.)
For Missy, he would sometimes change it to a country station instead, her favorite kind of music. Still ear-splittingly loud, but at least you could kind of mentally drown out the music in a way that I couldn't do with the talk radio. I always ended up listening to what they were talking about instead of thinking about the 50 different things that you have to remember when you're first learning to drive a car.
Considering how anxious I was and how hard it was for me to focus even with my patient dad in a silent car, you can imagine that my driving skills didn't exactly improve when I was put into a car blaring talk radio with an instructor who thought that my protests about the radio were hilarious. He would always say the same thing, "You need to learn to drive with distractions! What if people are talking in your car?" And I would always reply, "I am not distracted by people talking in the car. I am distracted by this radio station, and when I am the driver I will not choose to listen to loud, distracting radio stations, because that is something I have control over."
On one of the rare occasions that I argued with him so much that he switched to the country station, I must have started unconsciously singing along while he was talking to Missy, because I remember him saying, "Look! She's singing along! The music relaxes her!" I started to protest and he busted up laughing.
So that was the atmosphere in which I learned to drive.
I was an overly cautious driver. (See also: I was terrified of driving.) I usually waited until I had lots of space before I would turn out of a neighborhood onto a main road. And naturally, my instructor would berate me for "taking all day" to get us out of the neighborhood and just generally insult my judgment of when it was safe to move. I will never forget the one time he had to use the passenger-side brake to stop me from turning out in front of a car that was coming up too fast; I was mortified, but looking back it's not surprising that after having my safety instincts routinely insulted for several weeks that I would eventually go in the opposite direction and get overly daring just to shut him up.
You may be wondering why I didn't report our instructor for harassing me during our entire driving experience. This was because he happened to be the brother of the guy who was in charge of the whole driver's ed program, a guy who himself didn't have much of a reputation for being friendly. I decided I was safer just grinning and bearing it.
So then it came time for our final driving test. I don't remember exactly how it worked, but I think you had to pass your driver's ed final in order to get clearance to go to the DMV and take the actual written and driving tests to get your license. You would have points deducted anytime you made a mistake and you couldn't have more than 30 points deducted or do anything that was an "automatic fail" like the instructor having to use the passenger-side brake.
In case there was any doubt that he favored Missy over me, I present you with some snapshots of my driving final vs. Missy's driving final*:
- Me: Told to stop on a neighborhood street and then do a "hill park." Note that the street in question, like many streets in Illinois, was completely flat. I asked whether I was supposed to do an uphill park or a downhill park. He gave me a smirk and said, "I can't tell you that," then refused to tell me if I did it correctly and whether he took any points off.
- Missy: Tried to back around a corner and drove up onto somebody's lawn. His comment: "Hope they didn't like their grass!" No points deducted.
- Me: Pulled up to a T-stop, to the left of which there was a row of big trees you couldn't see around. Stopped maybe a foot past the stop sign (still well behind the corner) so that I could actually see around the trees before turning right. The instructor said, "You just failed your final. ...But I'm going to be nice and only deduct 8 points instead."
- Missy: Turned left in front of an oncoming car that had almost reached us. The instructor said, "Wow, you almost killed us there! ...But since we didn't die, I'll only take 4 points off."
Then, since our town's DMV was rumored to try to trick people into failing, my mom took me to a DMV in another town where most people there were really old people renewing their licenses. I almost cried with relief when the DMV examiner said she was going to try to give me slow, clear instructions and that if I had any questions or needed her to repeat anything, to just let her know. I was thrilled when she asked me to "please do an uphill park" (on yet another flat street, of course). I did everything perfectly -- except right at the beginning, when I was so nervous I put the car in Neutral and then hit the gas. Whoops.
Needless to say, driver's ed was a pretty terrible experience for me, and this doesn't even include the fact that the classroom portion was so incredibly boring it hurt. Like, I understand the phrase "bored to tears" now; I was so bored in that class that I wanted to break down crying because I felt like I was trapped in the classroom and that it would never end.
And each time it did end, I got to go spend half an hour being humiliated and harassed about my driving skills. Yippee!
Please share your driver's ed experiences in comments! I hope they were better than mine.
*I should note that I'm not trying to imply that Missy is or was a bad driver, because she totally isn't. These were probably the only two mistakes she actually made during her test, but they just stood out in my mind because of our instructor's extremely muted reaction to them compared to his apparent determination to fail me.
Also, I got Missy's permission to use her name in this post :) Thanks, Missy!