Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Green Light (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of Mom's story about how she learned to drive at the age of 28, fulfilling a long-held dream of hers. Part 1 is here.

I always took it as a given that Mom drove, and that I would drive. I did so as soon as I got old enough. I don't ever recall hearing Mom tell the story about how she learned to drive, or even thinking there was a time when she didn't drive.

In this part, Mom writes of taking her driving lessons with her instructor, and getting ready for her road test. Mom wrote this story in the early 1970s, probably shortly after she learned to drive. The story is undated, but she uses her maiden name, placing it before 1975.

Mom with her new car in May 1973.

The Green Light (Part 2)

My brother-in-law installed the controls and used them on a road test. The control works with the left hand. You push down for the accelerator and push forward for the break, then steer with the right hand. I must add that this control can be set for either side, if you are left handed, or if one hand is stronger. My brother-in-law took me to a parking lot and put me behind the wheel. It's so different, when you are in charge. You are to blame for whatever happens. It gives you a feeling of power, as though you're master and can do anything.

For me, it was a ten-year dream come true! Now there was no limit to what I could do. With all this was a feeling of fear. Up until now I had an excuse for not doing certain things. Now there's no excuse, no turning back. This was definitely the crossing of a bridge. It was up to me.

That afternoon, with my brother-in-law as coach, I drove the car home. My sister was having a nervous breakdown in the back seat. Things always look worse in the back seat. When I parked it, I had the strangest feeling. As though everyone was watching me and asking, "Who in the world does she think she is?"

My first formal lesson came the next night after work. I explained to the instructor how the control worked. He was impressed and he tried them. He took me to a school parking lot, that was hilly and made for practice driving. I got the feel of turning on the hills. We drove to a residential area and made right turns and left turns, up hills and down hills.

In following lessons, I did a lot of driving in residential areas, on the main streets, and on open road. I even drove out on the interstate. Then we started to parallel park. Wow! Trying to parallel park with one hand occupied with the break/accelerator and one hand steering, then trying to turn around to see where I'm backing was rough.That lesson was depressing.

Most of the time he said I was doing well. I remember one time I was turning a sharp corner. I was concentrating so hard on the steering, I forgot the left hand was pressing the accelerator instead of the break. A case of doing two different things at once. No harm done, just a few gray hairs for the teacher.

Another time I came up a steep hill with a train crossing on the top. I stopped, of course, and waited for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, a small foreign car pulled up behind me. Since we were not in a normal driver's education car with a brake for the teacher, it was up to me. Fortunately my car didn't roll back and everything was fine. A few more gray hairs for the teacher.

The big day came exactly one week after I started formal lessons. We drove down to the Armory for my license. My stomach was all in knots as it was every time I thought about driving. Usually the knots left me as soon as I got started. As luck would have it, today my teacher was late. With each passing minute, I started chewing my nails. I hadn't done that in years. When he finally arrived, I really was "up tight." So we drove a bit to relax.

Go to Part 3: The road test

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