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February 23, 2008 / Maleesha Kovnesky

Driver’s Ed

My son keeps asking me for a driver’s license.  He’s three. 

He loves the idea of driving, probably because he’s never commuted.  His favorite thing to do is sit in the driver’s seat and steer the wheel, flip the blinker on and play with buttons and switches.  This usually happens when we get home from the grocery store.  I unload the goods into the house and he “drives.”  Then for Christmas, one of his grammas got him one of those Power Wheels, a jeep with a real radio and a gas pedal.  He loves it. 

It got me to thinking.  Maybe by the time he is ready to get his real driver’s license, he will really know what he is doing.  I often hear “Mom, are you looking at the road?” from the back seat.  When he eventually reminds me to adjust my mirrors, I might just dump him off on the side of the road. 

I jest.  But thinking about this reminds me of my driver’s ed experience. 

Montana gives out driver’s licenses to fifteen year olds (at least they did, not sure about today).  That means that learner’s permits are handed out to fourteen year olds.  The summer after eighth grade, I enrolled in the driver’s ed program offered by the school. 

The first couple of sessions involved watching flicks like Red Asphalt IV and other fine instructional videos.  “Instructional” in the sense that someone out there thought showing teenagers highway brain splatter was a good idea.  I wonder if there will ever be a government-funded study to determine whether or not viewings of the Red Asphalt series resulted in adult violence rather that safe drivers.  Anyway, after we were all sufficiently naseauted, it was time to get in the cars. 

Half the cars were stick-shift, half were automatic.  At fourteen, I had already been traumatized by a stick shift.  My dad had attempted to let me drive his truck, an enormous pickup with an extended cab.  I could barely reach the pedals from the seat.  Stretching my legs to reach them while trying to shift a really sticky shifter was not happening.  After I almost took out several other vehicles in the K-Mart parking lot, the lesson ended. 

Three kids and one instructor per car.  Ann and Jenean were the other girls in the group.  The first couple of times out, our instructor was “Mr. C,” a well-liked wood shop teacher at the high school.  The first thing he did was tell us to put our seatbelts on.  The second thing he did was open up the newspaper.  The third thing he did was tell Ann, the first driver in our group, to start the car and head for I-90. 

Mr. C was the most laid-back driver’s ed teacher in the history of driver’s ed teachers.  One memorable moment occured during a later driving session when we were on top of a ledge on the East Ridge (If you’re from Butte, you know the East Ridge).  I think Ann was attempting to turn around on the cliffy road when she accidently threw the car into reverse.  Jenean and I yelped, certain we were about to roll down the mountain.  Mr. C, never taking his eyes off the newspaper, said “Just tap on the brakes, tap on the brakes” in a calm voice.  I think he may have been possibly trying to set a good example for us, you know, stay calm under pressure. 

One day Mr. C didn’t show up for driver’s ed, so Mr. A took over for our group. 

Mr. A was the high school dean of boys.  He was the kind of guy who liked high school so much, that he decided to stay forever.  (I didn’t know this until I was in high school, and got to see Mr. A in action)  Mr. A didn’t let us get in our usual car, a white automatic.  Instead he made us get in the green stick shift…which none of us could drive yet.  I had the privilege of being first driver. 

I killed the transmission three times before I managed to pull the car out of the school parking lot and on to the street.  Mr. A yelled at me, picking on my inability to push the clutch in while shifting at the same time.  Ann and Jenean sat silently in the back seat.  I glanced in the rear view mirror–their expressions of wide-eyed horror rattled me even more.  Mr. A told me to turn right and I turned left, being as freaked out as I was.

“Don’t you know your G-D left from your right?” he yelled.

 He told me to head for Harrison Avenue, the main street in town.  I shakily navigated toward what was sure to be a busy road. 

Then it started to rain. 

I was buzzing along at 24 miles an hour, just under the speed limit.  Mr. A shouted “Are you in a race?”  I slowed down to 20 and came to a stop sign.  The engine stalled and died.  Mr. A taunted me as I tried to start the car.  A couple of tries later, I was moving again.  Harrison Avenue loomed ahead, just beyond a stop light.  The stop light was green.  I was in the intersection, turning onto Harrison, when the light turned yellow.  Mr. A shouted “It’s yellow!” and I let off the gas.  The car died in the middle of the intersection as the light turned fully red, and other cars were about to start driving toward us.  This really threw Mr. A into a rage.   “G-D it!  Pay some G-D attention! Are you trying to kill me?!” he screamed.  Jenean and Ann were still silent in the back.  I was trying not to cry. 

It’s really a blur, what happened after that.  It must have been so awful that I blocked it out.  I’m pretty sure that Mr. A made me pull over and let someone else drive.  I don’t really remember.  I just remember feeling really, really inferior.

Eventually I got my first car.  I saved up $250 and my parents matched that to purchase the $500 1981 Toyota Tercel one Christmas.  It was red with one orange door.  It was a stick shift.  I learned to drive it after a couple more sessions with my dad.

I still prefer stick shift to automatic.  I like to think that Mr. A would be proud, but I doubt it. 



Leave a Comment
  1. Allison / Feb 25 2008 11:04 am

    Boy am I glad that my driver’s ed instructor was more like Mr. C than A. My instructor brought a portable tv player with him and watch the NCAA basketball games while we drove.

    G-D sounds a bit harsh…I would have crumbled thinking, “The bus isn’t so bad.”

    Go Tercels!

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