I was only 16 years old for a few days when I went to get my learners permit. Once I had the little yellow card that legally allowed me behind the wheel of a car all I wanted to do was drive. There were no hours-in-training requirements to get a bonafide driver license. I only had to pass the official drivers test and I needed the practice. The restrictions on a permit were that I had to have a licensed driver over the age of 18 in the car with me while I learned behind the wheel.
Most of my siblings that were of the legal teaching age were either off to school or were too busy to teach me. My Godmother’s husband, Uncle Brian, took me out a few times but after I ran the stop sign at the bottom of Hoffman and Karen lanes I don’t think his heart could take it anymore.
The only other alternative to get some driving time was with my dad. The only problem with that was his car. I wanted to learn how to drive in a car that was close, in size and handling, to the type of car I would eventually use take my drivers test. My dad’s car was an old “cargo” van.
The old van was a beat up blue Ford with no windows on the side and no seats in the back. I think at one point it was used for a carpet business. The back of the van had a wooden bench bolted to the driver’s side wall, which is where we kids sat going to and from different places. Actually there was only one legitimate seat in the van and that was the driver’s seat. The front passenger seat was the spare tire. On top of that tire was a seat from a different van that was not mounted or fastened to anything. It was just placed on top of the tire so my mom had a place to sit. Whenever the van made a hard turn the seat would lean and slide in the opposite direction.
With no one to teach me I had to ask my father. I needed his approval to get my license anyway so maybe it would work out okay. He drove me out early on a Sunday morning, to the Jefferson Ward parking lot. On the way there, as I bounced back and forth on the passenger seat tire contraption, he explained that the parking lot would be empty and it would be a great place to drive We made a quick stop at the 7-11 to get a cup of coffee and a newspaper.
He pulled into the expansive empty lot and we got out of the van. He tossed me the keys and I jumped into the drivers seat and he climbed into the loose passenger seat. Before I could start the engine he talked about driving responsible and what not. He also wanted to go over some ground rules.
My dad pointed to some trees. “That is a stop sign.” He said. “That trash can is another stop sign. The speed limit on this side of the lot is 25 and on the other side is 35.”
“I want you follow all the painted lines. If you miss a stop sign you fail. If you go too fast or too slow you fail and we will come back again each week until you get it right.”
“Okay.” I said as I started the engine. “Ready?”
“Yes.” He said as he took off the lid of his coffee cup. “And one more thing. I want to be able to drink my coffee and read the paper. If I spill my coffee or I can’t focus on the paper because I am bouncing around, you fail and we will have to come back until you get it right.”
I looked at the passenger seat sitting on top of the tire and knew I would be coming back many more times. My dad is a very patient man. He took me back at least four times.