Sunday, January 19, 2014

Week three of 2014 - Getting my Drivers License

I learned how to drive in the summer between 10th and 11th grades. My driver's Ed teacher was Mr Volick. He was also the boys PE teacher and sometimes a science and history teacher. I had him for History in 7th grade. I was a pretty good student in his class and I liked history so that rather put us on the same page a few years later when he was my Driver's Ed teacher. Every Monday and Wednesday afternoon we would have “on the road” training and every Tuesday and Thursday we would have a couple of hours of classroom training. The local car dealers would donate three sub compact cars each to the school to use for “on the road” training.

For the “ on the road” training, we were divided into small groups of three . Usually a boy and two girls and kids who did not normally hang out together. Would be hard to learn if you had three girl friends in one car. My group was me, a farm kid named John and another girl Betty. I knew both of these kids but we were not friends. John had been driving since he could remember or “could get his foot on the gas pedal of a tractor”, as he told it. He told stories of sitting on the edge of the seat and barely being able to see out the window thru the steering wheel of his Dad's truck. He had driven for years and acted like it. It was full speed ahead. Mr Volick had to rein him in sometimes for fear of getting a ticket in the Driver's Ed Car!

I had limited on the road experience prior to Drivers Ed. Oh I had a couple of friends who would let me drive on the dirt roads around town but that was all the experience I had. Needless to say, when Mr Volick, in his billowing PE Coaching voice, said, “Janet, go first, I thought I might wet myself!” “Really?” I asked! “Yep!” He smiled. “it is your turn!” So I was the first driver and a nervous wreck. I adjusted the seat so my legs could reach the gas pedal. I looked at Mr Volick and realized that his knees are now mashed into the dashboard. He just smiled at me and nodded his head with encouragement. I put my foot on the brake and took the car out of park and into drive and pushed gently on the gas pedal as we left the parking lot and when down First Street. “Wow, I'm driving,” I thought. As I pulled up to the first stop sign, I gently applied the brakes so I did not send Mr Volick thru the windshield. He smiled and seemed to relax a bit and so did I. He has me drive down South Almont Ave to Newark Rd, down Newark Rd to Lake Pleasant Rd and from Lake Pleasant to Bowers Rd. All in all my first 20 or 30 minutes of driving was uneventful. I got much more comfortable about the oncoming traffic, turning, braking and all the nuances of driving. At one point, Mr Volick even encouraged me to increase my speed a little! A few minutes after we turned onto Bowers Rd, Mr Volick had me pull off to the side of the road and we switched drivers.

So now it was John's turn! And I got in the back seat. He moved the seat back as far as it could go and Mr Volick once again had some leg room. John take the car out of gear put it in drive and punches the gas like a punching bag. The dirt and gavel from the side of the road flies everywhere as we skid back on to Bowers Rd. “Hey, easy does it, there John!” Mr Volick says and we are off! John drove for about 20 minutes too. A couple of times Mr Volick asked him to slow down some. He also had to remind him to keep both hands on the steering wheel several times. Somewhere out on Brown City Road we changed drivers again.

Now it was Betty's turn. She looked scared to death...Just a sheet of white. I felt for her...It had just been me an hour or so before. She got in the drivers seat and once again Mr Volick found his knees in his face as she adjusted the seat. She nervously took the car.. out of gear and put it is she push the gas...we started to back up...Mr Volick billowed, “Hey, stop! We need to go forward... it needs to be in DRIVE!” Now she is so nervous and nearing tears!

She stopped, put the car in drive and eased off the shoulder driving down Brown City Road. She tended to drive too close to the shoulder as if she feared the center of her lane. Mr Volick corrected her several time wanting her learn how to stay more toward the center of her lane but awy from the center line. Occasionally she would drop the right tires off the pavement. I could see Mr Volick's tension rising. After Betty drove apprehensively for about 10 minutes she never quite reaching the speed limit. As we neared M-21 and a small grocery store on the corner, I could tell that Mr Volick was thinking about changing drivers. There would be much more traffic on M21, especially truck traffic so Mr Volick told Betty, “Just pull over at the store and we'll change drivers.. We'll have Janet drive us into town from here!” I was shocked...I thought my driving for the day was done but I thought...”OK, I can do is just a few short miles to town and back to the school..” So Betty, neared the store and instead of just pulling off the road as instructed, she turned the steering wheel a hard to the right. Hitting the gas instead of the brake she nearly put us through the wall of the store into the meat counter. She slammed on the brake stopping us a few inches short of the block exterior wall of the store! I was in a state of shock with my heart in my throat. Mr Volick face was a bright red and Betty was an ashen gray. While John said, “Holy shit, man! What the hell!!!”

It took a few minutes for all of us to regain our composure and for the dust to settle in the parking lot. Mr Volick quietly said, “ Janet, can you come up here and take us back to town.” I said, “sure Mr Volick.” So Betty and I traded seats and I drove the rest of the way into town and back to the school.

From that day on, Mr Volick had me drive when ever he had lost his patience with other two students. I got quite a lot of driving time. John did not need much practice time and Mr Volick was just plain afraid of Betty!

After my formal Drivers Ed, I would have to learn how to drive all over again!! Our family car was a manual transmission Ford Station Wagon. You know the kind that had two seats facing one direction and the back seat facing the other direction! It was as long a speed boat and I would need to know how to parallel park it. I also needed to be able to smoothly transition from 1st gear to all the other three gears with out grinding or stalling the car! I remember several days of trying to go from a stop to first gear smoothly with out any clutch hiccups or grinding gears. My father and I laughed until we cried as I tried to learn! Stopping and starting a hundred times along back country roads when there was no traffic. He used to imitate his Grandfather, who he remember from when he was a kid, drove with the clutch engaged all the time!!! So after a few short weeks, I was ready to take the test to get my drivers license. I was able to parallel park “the boat” in downtown Lapeer and safely drove the station wagon all over town without grinding a single gear or a single clutch hiccup. I stopped at all stop signs and used all the correct turning signals.

I got my drivers license but with two older sisters who had their license way before me there would be few opportunities for me to ever get the car. Between Mom and Dad and two sister and one station wagon...there would not be much driving time for me!

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