Friday, November 30, 2007

Scare Tactics for Teens

Yesterday Suzel's Sass did a little post about running low on gas. It got me thinking about how running out of gas is one of my big fears. Yeah. I know, totally irrational, but true. I have never in my entire life run out of gas.

I also tend to be an overly cautious driver.

Here's why:

When I was a youngster my parents always chose a preparatory form of discipline, meaning they would go way overboard with warnings prior to my having done anything wrong. A sort of preemptive strike of tough love, if you will.

The one about gas went like this:
If you ever run out of gas it is your own fault for not paying attention, so don't bother calling us to come help you. We will leave you stranded wherever you are.

Here's another one concerning the fuel tank of the car:
If you ever return our car without the same amount of gas that was in the tank before you drove it, don't bother bringing it back at all.

And yet another teen driving related gem:
If you ever get into an accident while you are driving our car we will take away your driving privileges until after graduation.

Do you know they said all of these things to me before I even got my learner's permit?

Most teenagers (in Ohio anyway) look forward to turning 15 because that is the year you can get your learning permit. You take a written test and if you pass you get a permit to drive with a licensed driver in the car. Most teenagers look forward to learning to drive.

Not me.

All those rules with no room for error?

I didn't care if I never learned to drive. A freakish attitude for a Mid-Western teenager indeed, but I had a bit of an attitude problem about everything generally and didn't ever like to get excited about much of anything. Especially if was something that I saw other teen-age girls getting all charged up over.

I sneered at charged up teen-age squealing.
I sneered at driving.

On my 15th birthday in July of 1982 my parents got me a certificate to get driving lessons from Lazarus, a local department store that offered individualized lessons with a private instructor. They didn't approve of the Driver's Ed classes offered for free at my high school. Not thorough enough they said. They were right too because I didn't know of anyone that took the driver's ed at my high school that didn't have to retake the driving exam at the BMV multiple times to finally get their license.

A few days after my birthday my mom took me to our town's branch of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles and I got my learner's permit. She asked me if I'd like to drive us home. I said no.

In the days and weeks that followed my mother repeatedly asked me if I wanted to drive everywhere. Grocery store? No. Pick up my sister from summer school? No. End of the street? No. Crazy Aunt's house to go swimming (she lived a few blocks away)? No. No. And still NO.

After several weeks of constant nagging I finally agreed to drive to my friend's house that I had made plans to hang out with one Saturday afternoon. I buckled to the constant harping, figuring it would get my mother, who was by this point whipped into a frenzy over my cool aloofness with regard to driving, off my back for a little while.

The poor woman was clearly puzzled and not just a little concerned about why I was not peeing in my pants with excitement about learning to drive. Add this to the her litany of other concerns, Why didn't I have more "normal" friends? Why wasn't I trying out for the dance team? Why wasn't I more interested in boys? For most of my teen-age and early adult life, unbeknownst to me but to my utter delight when I found out years later, she wrung her hands and stayed awake at night worrying that I was a lesbian.

You guys know that I'm kind of an asshole, right?

The truth is I didn't want to learn to drive. It was too scary.

Also I reasoned, based upon the all of the rules and warnings listed above that had been issued and repeated like a broken record over the years, in stern, angry tones, it would be yet one more privilege to be dangled in front of my face and yanked away at their will.

Fuck that.

I further reasoned that if I didn't learn how to drive, not only would my parents have one less way to punish me, but also that my mother would have to continue to drive me around to all of my various teen-age destinations (mall, my best friend Bob's house, etc..), like a station wagon chauffeur and that would just be hilarious. Most of my other friends were learning to drive so they could cart me around since I was spending most of my time with them anyway. Besides, I had a bike.

So the big day finally arrives when I am to drive to my friends house.

My sister was with us, taking her spot in the back seat. She was confused when I got into the driver's seat and my mom got into the passenger's seat. She said, "What you doing?" My mom had been explaining to my sister the whole time that "Lady is a big girl now and she's going to drive a car!" So all of this time, in addition to my mother's constant nagging, I also had my sister asking every time we went anywhere all summer, "Lady gonna drive?, Lady gonna drive?", and my mother answering sadly, "No, not today Honey. Today Mommy's gonna drive".

Once we were all loaded up, my mom handed me the car keys. Which I promptly stuck into the ignition hole thingy (don't look for correct technical terms here) and then we just sat there. She looked at me like I was an idiot and then calmly showed me that I had to turn the key and gently pump on the gas pedal. Then she had to show me how to put the car in reverse. Then we all screamed at the top of our lungs as the car zoomed backwards down our driveway, out into the street, bouncing violently over the curb of the sidewalk and into the grass of the neighbor's lawn across the street.

After a few moments we composed ourselves apologized to our neighbor, who understood as he had himself 2 grown daughters. We eventually got straightened out, took some deep breaths and drove the half block to the stop sign at the end of our street after what seemed like 20 minutes.

By this time, my sister had had enough of this shit.

As she did whenever she was upset, she began bouncing up and down in her seat and banging her forehead rhythmically against the seat rest in front of her, and quietly chanting, "I don't like this, I don't like this, I don't like this..."

The kid was onto something.

But Mom insisted we keep going.

I had no idea what I was doing and this shocked my mother to her core. She had been driving since she was a child and had learned to drive out of necessity on her uncle's farm. She had been driving for so long that for her it was second nature, instictive. She had mistakenly assumed that I would magically know how to drive too. So she kept us moving forward, thinking that at any moment my instincts would kick in.

They didn't.

We carried on with our journey in fits and starts that rocked the car back and forth for the 7 miles between my friends' house and ours. Each time my inexperienced foot touched the gas pedal we lurched forward, scaring the shit out of all of us and causing me to suddenly slam on the breaks in reaction. Along the way I encountered for the first time traffic lights, cars merging into my lane from a freeway exit, pedestrians in crosswalks, railroad tracks, etc..

By the time we got to my friends house all three of us were hysterical and crying.

My sister's chant had changed to, "Mommy you drive now, Mommy you drive now, Mommy you drive NOW..."

I was too shaken up to hang out with my friend so I offered my aplogies, suggested we hang out some other time and Mom and I switched places in my friend's driveway. We went back home in silence. My sister had ceased her chanting, but continued to quietly bounce and knock her head in the seat rest.

I didn't attempt to drive again for several months. The certificate for the Lazarus driving lessons sat untouched in my bedroom vanity for the rest of the summer and well into the middle of the following school year. My mother continued to cart me around, but somehow it wasn't that funny.

My sister, was scarred from the experience for several years afterwards. She would not get into a car with me behind the wheel until after I had turned 18 and had gotten my own car. Even then I had to drive her around the block a few times before she believed I could drive. Also I bribed her by allowing her to sit in the front seat and taking her to the McDonald's drive-thru.

Of course now I'm an excellent driver (Rainman reference). I enjoy it too. In fact MDH calls me "The Ultimate Driving Machine" and prefers that I drive on most of our car trips.

Oh, and I never let us run out of gas either.


Del-V said...

That is weird. All I wanted to do was to drive from the time I was 12 to the time I was 16. Now I hate it. I want my perents to drive me everywhere now like they did before I could drive. That would be so much easier. Not cool, of course, but easier.

The Lady Who Doesn't Lunch: said...

My theory is that you hate driving because you live in Maryland, a truly shitty place to drive (especially if you live anywhere near DC or Baltimore).

Anonymous said...

A great story. I went to SEARS for my driving lessons. My mom and I got into an argument the first time I sat behind the wheel and I gave up with her. Despite all her dire warnings and tales, I've never ran out of gas either!!

The Lady Who Doesn't Lunch: said...

Eventually my mom MADE me go to driving school and we argued in the car in the Lazarus parking lot when she dropped me off for my first day of classroom stuff. She made me get out of the car and then peeled out and left me there.
Good times.

I think running out of gas would make me feel really stupid.

paperback reader said...

Wow. I was never that bad, though I'm still far from the best parallel parker. I just remember taking lessons and driving the instructor to go mail a check, get some food, etc. It was a pretty sweet gig for him, getting people to pay him to take him on his errands.

Family Adventure said...

You know, Lady, I could be totally off target, but I get a very clear sense that you were *hurt* by all of this...and that it still bothers you a little bit.

I do think your parents went overboard with all their warnings - although I'm sure they had the best of intentions.

And your poor sis - thank goodness for McD.


PS - if none of this rings true, then it's probably because I'm still in a husband-induced *mood* :)

Claire said...

I live in Maryland a few miles outside of DC, and "shitty" doesn't quite cover it. My own learning to drive story is nearly as bad...I didn't learn til I was 22 and living in Delaware. I had grown up in working-class Philadelphia, and there were only a handful of kids at my high school who could drive...we walked and took the subway and bus everywhere.
Nice post about your sister. My sister-in-law is very profoundly disabled, mentally and physically. She is why my husband's family came to the US from Korea. I'm sorry you lost your sister so young.

Churlita said...

My aunt wouldn't sign the permission slip, so I didn't learn how to drive until I was 30. Weird, huh?

The Guv'ner said...

Well I'm with you on the couldn't give a crap about learning thing. I had no desire to learn to drive. None. I lived in a city with perfect public transportation and had a sister with a perfectly good drivers license who could taxi me around to my heart's content (if not to hers) so why would I?

Then something weird happened. I moved to MANHATTAN. Yes that Manhattan. The one full of cars, taxis and pedestrians and three million other dangerous entities all occupying the roads and one day I woke up and thought: "GODDAMN! You know what I'd REALLY like to learn to do? DRIVE!"

All my friends were like "What...are you mental? Did you hit your head? Should we be taking you by cab to the emergency room?"

So I took driving lessons. In Manhattan. And on my first lesson the dude picked me up from outside my place of employment at Rockefeller Center, took a few minutes pointing out the basics (how to start the car and make it move, for one) and told me to drive a block west. To TIMES FREAKING SQUARE. That was fun (negative). So my first ever time driving a car was at Times Square - try that for amusement sometime.

After learning to drive and sitting my test in NYC everywhere else seems so serene. I drove all the way from NYC to Florida one year going "WHERE ARE ALL THE OBSTACLES?"

Everyone else still thinks I'm bonkers.

Anonymous said...

I did not drive until I was eighteen. My mom worked in insurance and insisted me and my brother both wait because the rates would be lower. That sort of sucked.

The Lady Who Doesn't Lunch: said...

Pistols - I got really good at parallel parking when I lived in the city and had to park on the street in front of my house. My driving instructor was a nice lady whose voice I still hear in my head while I'm driving, saying things like, "ten and two, ten and two"...

Heidi - I try to make my blog funny, but you're on target, I'm an angry, bitter 15 year old underneath it all. Some day I might write about the real reason why. Until then I'll keep mocking and poking fun.

CDP - oooh, Philly is some bad driving too. I've driven all over this country, alone and Washington DC is the only city that has made me pull over to the side of the road and cry - more than once.

Thanks for your kind words. My sister was a superstar and we were lucky, with all her health problems, to have her on this earth as long as we did.

Churlita - yeah weird, were you in the Midwest then? My mother in law is in her middle 70's and has never learned to drive, but she lives in Boston and so has access to public transport. My granny who lived to be 96 never drove either and she lived in the sticks.

Guv - you are nutty! But I think it's great. I love to drive but I would never drive to Florida - my limit on long car trips is 6 hours. I get annoyed and restless if I'm trapped in the car any longer. After that I am likely to just announce that wherever we are is good enough and stay there instead.

I have never been to Manhattan, but I have a feeling driving there would make me cry even harder than DC.

The Lady Who Doesn't Lunch: said...

Evil - Smart move on your mom's part, but hard to tolerate when you are young. When I did finally start driving I hardly ever drove because I was often grounded from the car, as predicted.

minijonb said...

i loved learning how to drive. in the parking lot of Woodland Mall on Sunday mornings. and i never run out of gas. so i'll just take my annoying perfect ass and get right outta here! =:-)

The Lady Who Doesn't Lunch: said...

Mini - Don't rush off - I'm all on board with not running out of gas.

I'm currently avoiding Woodland Mall (and all other malls) like a plague until after x-mas, but smiling at the idea of a teenage you learning to drive there.

The Guv'ner said...

I am all about road trips. I think it comes from living in Manhattan therefore not OWNING a car - it's stupid when there's great public transport and it's expensive to park. I think if I drove every day I'd get over it faster. But i like to get out there and drive for hours to faraway places. And sing while I do it. While in Florida I learned to drive stick so now I can make great gear crunching noises when I get bored...

Tara said...

Although I was laughing at the imagery of the car stopping and lurching, I'm sure it wasn't funny at the time. I wasn't very enthusiastic about driving either. In fact, I didn't get my license till I was going to college. I still won't drive the highways. Oh and I totally hear you about not letting the car run out of gas. I get nervous when it goes down to a quarter of a tank. My mom goes until the car is just driving on luck. Drives me bonkers!

SkylersDad said...

I grew up driving from my days as a way too young type from my dad. He thought it was important and would take us on back roads to drive when we were too small to look over the dash. We would ride on his lap and just steer, he would work the pedals. I always thought it was just the greatest thrill.

Oh yeah, and he taught me how to 4 wheel up in the mountains we grew up in also!

Thanks for dropping over to my place and for all your words of encouragement.

Anonymous said...

I've just caught up on the last six of your posts - oooh I've missed you and your funny writing. Loved the one about your parents fighting over the furniture and they still don't have an offic chair. hahah.
my aunty has a husband and when he retired a few years back, she suddenly had to come up with ways to avoid him tagging along to any of her activities. she's got quite innovative with her excuses to why he is not allowed to accompany her.

My parents made me go out and work to buy my own driving lessons! and yes, I got all the threats on disrespecting the car etc etc. My Dad used to look at the tyres as well make sure I hadn't been playing in mud. hahaha.

Boldly Serving Up Wheat Grass said...

Good lord, Ohio must be dangerous. In Missouri, it was 16 years old before you could get behind the wheel. I let my little sister drive a few times when I was 18 and she was 12. She got a kick out of it.

Quiet one said...

I begged my mom to teach me how to drive and for some reason she tried to tell me how to put a stick shift in reverse while standing on the driver's side of the car with the door open. Needless to say, I ran her over when the car lurched backwards. My dad taught me after that! I'm a good driver now though.

Loved your story, it'd make a great scene in a movie!