As that great philosopher, Jed Clampett, used to say, “Hot diggity dog!”
The school was abuzz with excitement. Everybody was talking about it. Drivers’ Ed. was coming to Lockeport Regional High School! I enrolled immediately, certain it would be a breeze.
After all, how hard could it be to drive a car?What’s the worst thing that could happen?
You should never ask that question because as my Uncle Herm used to say, The Big Ear is always listening.
I would find out soon enough just how hard it was.
At least with Drivers’ Ed., I would learn to drive by the rules of the Department of Transportation, not Dad’s rules. Dad was guilty of:
- rolling stops,
- never using signal lights,
- making wide turns,
- leaving the tailgate down,
- driving too slow and
- not fastening his seatbelt.
I always found this rather strange because Dad spent more energy pretending his seatbelt was fastened than it would have taken to fasten it.
As Dad’s good friend, Farley Swim, would say, “Lord Jiminy-Dandy, Gene. Just fasten the #%@! thing and get it over with.”
I’m sure many of you remember Dad, Eugene Roache, roaring around town in second gear. That way he didn’t have to change gears. 40 km an hour was probably his top speed on the #103. You may have been stuck behind him at one time or another. One of my brothers even made a suggestion, “Dad, when you see that big line of cars behind you, why don’t you just pull over and let them go by?”
He didn’t think much of that. In fact, he got rather huffy and said, “I pay my taxes; I’m entitled to the road just as much as anybody else.”
I know his grandchildren will find this hard to believe, but there was a time, many, many years ago, when Grampy drove pretty close to the speed limit.
Getting back to the story. If I completed Drivers’ Ed. successfully, Dad would get a 10% break on his Vehicle Insurance. It sounded like a win-win for everybody involved.
The Program began officially in late September or early October. Mr. Sullivan was the instructor. Before hitting the road, we had to complete the classroom theory portion. Mr. Sullivan presented each lesson using an overhead projector. It looked and sounded soooooooo easy.
Next came the part we had all been dreaming of — actual driving. We could not wait to get behind the wheel and floor it. I should take a moment to tell you about Lockeport’s first Drivers’ Ed. Car. It was a 1974 or 75 Pontiac Grand Prix, just a little bit smaller than Noah’s Ark. The hood itself stretched out at least two car lengths.
The car was equipped with a second brake pedal for the instructor to use — just in case. There was one occasion, which I will explain later, that I wish Mr. Sullivan had used it.
After school, we went out in groups of four to put into practice what we had learned in class. Once we were comfortable with the streets of Lockeport, we moved on to Shelburne. Forget Shelburne — I wasn’t comfortable with the streets of Lockeport. The almost perfectly straight West Head Road matched the level of my skills. Pathetic, I know.
One particular day, in February, I was driving when we left Shelburne to return to Lockeport. In East Jordan, Mr. Sullivan instructed me to pull over to give someone else a turn to drive. The snow-covered shoulder made it difficult for a nervous, greenhorn like me, to tell where the shoulder of the road ended and the ditch began.
You can probably guess what happened next.
Yep, I pulled over just a hair too far and the passenger’s side front tire slid over the bank — just far enough to prevent driving out. As you can imagine, I was mortified. I wanted to bury myself in a snow bank or do a disappearing act. I needed one of those portable holes in cartoons so I would never be seen or heard from again.No, I couldn’t do that. I had to face the music. After what seemed like hours, a truck arrived to rescue us. Darkness had fallen by the time we reached Lockeport.
I was dying with embarrassment. My 16-year-old brain was convinced the principal, Mr. Stuart, would broadcast it to the whole school during the morning announcements:
- Senior Boys Basketball Team will leave at 2:00 for their game against Barrington.
- Dance will be held Friday night at 8:00 pm. Teacher chaperones are Miss Mooney and Mr. Oberlander.
- The Grade Eight A class has won the prize for selling the most magazine subscriptions.
- And last but not least, Melda Roache put the Drivers’ Ed. car in the ditch in Jordan.
I would be the laughing stock of the school. As it turned out, my little incident went unnoticed by everyone EXCEPT Mr. Sullivan and me.
You see, I didn’t get a lot of practice outside of Drivers’ Ed. because Dad was a busy fisherman. On top of that, he drove a three-on-the-tree standard transmission. I believe Dad and I went out driving twice, that’s right, two times. Count ‘em. 1, 2. I distinctly remember trying to come up Morton Townsend’s hill in a standard. I was just creeping along until Dad said,
“Meldie, you gotta give ‘er more gas if you’re gonna make it up the hill.”
Darned standard transmission. Why couldn’t Dad drive an automatic like everybody else? Oh, now I remember, he didn’t want to be like anybody else. On another trip, I got too close to the guard rails on the back of the beach and smashed a side mirror. Did that mean seven years of bad luck?
After several weeks of Drivers’ Ed. experience, it was time to take the dreaded road test. Road test? Those words still send shivers up my spine. I had logged a few really good driving sessions which led Mr. Sullivan to erroneously believe I was prepared for the driving exam. Big mistake! I guess you could call it a false positive.What appeared to be skill was mere coincidence. I was no more likely to pass the driving test than those Toronto Blue Jays are — well you know what I mean. Sorry if I offended you.
The driver examiner, whose name I forget, and I got into the humongous Pontiac Grand Prix. I am not exaggerating when I tell you I was a nervous wreck.
My heart raced. My face turned blood red. Every muscle in my body tensed. My palms were sweaty. My head was spinning. My stomach was flip flopping. I had cramps. I was only a breath away from hyperventilating.
And that, dear readers, was a sign of what was to come.
I was supposed to be able to:
- Stop and start, both on a level road and on a hill.
- Make left and right turns.
- Back up.
- Follow another vehicle properly.
- Give proper signals.
- Parallel park.
- Observe and comply with traffic control devices (signs, signals, and pavement markings)
I bombed out big time.
I made every mistake that had ever been made and came up with some of my own. Right off the bat, I entered the crosswalk between the Post Office and Balishes’ Store while a person was crossing. Worse yet, I almost hit the pedestrian. I’m sure getting run over by a student driver had not entered her mind that day or any other day.I think that is an automatic FAIL, so I wish the Examiner had ended the test immediately, but, no, he insisted on prolonging the torture. Next, I made a right turn from Beech Street onto Crest Street. I have no idea if I stayed in my own lane. I inched along to the stop sign at Crest and South Streets with a death grip on the steering wheel. The driving examiner was writing furiously. I now know that is never a good sign. He was not recording all the things I did correctly because there were none.
We left Lockeport and drove across the causeway and up through Brighton to the Bridge Road. That’s where the examiner took everyone to demonstrate their backing up skills. I am eternally thankful we did not end up at the bottom of the Back Harbour. That would have been last straw. The icing on the cake — as they say. From there it was time to return to Lockeport.
For some reason, the examiner didn’t ask me to parallel park. I can’t imagine why. Can you? He had already determined I was a public enemy #1 to the residents of Lockeport and the surrounding area. Nor did he ask me to make a 3-point turn. I’m much better at 1o- point turns. I have no proof, but I’m convinced he shortened the examination because he feared for his own life. And so I parked as instructed and the examiner shared his evaluation of my driving skills. I braced for the worst but hoped for the best. It was downright disastrous. These were his conclusions:
- I failed to give the right-of-way to a pedestrian already in a crosswalk.
- I stopped beside the stop sign rather than at the white line on the road.
- I came within a hair of sideswiping a telephone pole as I turned sharply from Crest Street onto South Street.
- I didn’t check my mirrors often enough. I beg to differ. It is not necessary to turn one’s head to check a mirror. The knee bone may be connected to the ankle bone, but eyes and the head do not work the same way.
- I did not set the emergency brake when parking.
- I drove too slowly, especially when backing up on the old bridge road. He should have counted his lucky stars that he didn’t end up overboard.
Aside from that, I did a fabulous job. The examiner announced the verdict — I had made too many serious, almost fatal errors and had failed the test soundly. If I had had my wits about me, I would have quoted that mighty hunter, Elmer Fudd, and declared,
“Wisten here, you wascally Wabbit, I came here for my dwiver’s wicence, and I’m not weaving here without it!”
After all, I could have made more serious errors, like:
- I could have driven through the sun porch of the old Surf Lodge and killed three residents.
- I could have T-boned a school bus full of innocent children.
- I could have run a stop sign and got flattened by an eighteen wheeler.
- I could have driven up on the sidewalk and right through Ches Laing’s Store Window .
- I could have laid on the horn as I passed a funeral procession.
- I could have clipped a telephone pole, but I didn’t do any of those things, so there, Mr. Examiner.
Thankfully, Lockeport had no stoplights, no one-way streets and no roundabouts like the Armdale Rotary.
The examiner recommended that I retry the test after gaining more skill and confidence. A month later, the second attempt wasn’t much of an improvement. Once again, nerves got the better of me. I truly believe the examiner stopped keeping score after four offences, which was the maximum number permitted. Once again, he did not ask me to parallel park. At the end of the test, he reviewed all my glaring mistakes but he gave me my licence. I don’t think he wanted to risk his life with me a third time. Maybe he was smarter than he looked. (Did I say that out loud?)
At least it only took two tries. I read about a 42-year-old MAN, not a WOMAN, but a MAN, in England who got his licence on the 37th attempt. Did I mention it was a MAN?
And get this. In Austria, you have to pass a psychological test before you can do the driving exam. I bet you can think of a dozen people who wouldn’t be on the road if that were the case here.
With my temporary licence in hand I was eager to drive Dad’s truck. I coaxed my brother, Francis, to go to town with me just to cruise around for fun and to show off a bit. Hey, look at me, I have my drivers’ licence. Off we went. Well, you know what happens to show-offs. Everything was going hunky dory until I stopped at the stop sign beside the old fire hall. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get that good-for-nothing-truck moving again. The fire hall was full of people. We jerked and lurched across the intersection until I got going. I later discovered the problem. (You may have already figured it out.) I was trying to start out in third gear instead of first gear. There is a big difference between first and third. I got the hang of it after a while.
Anyway, it’s all water under the bridge. That was eons ago. I’m a pro now. I love to drive stick; three-on-the-tree, four-on-the floor, five-on-the side, six-in-a fix, — you get the picture. In fact, I am the mistress of the clutch. I love stop signs at the top of steep hills with someone right on my bumper. Finding the right combination of clutch and gas is extremely rewarding. As well, Mr. Driver Examiner, I can drive on the 401 through Toronto, North America’s busiest highway, which at times is almost twenty lanes wide and Montréal too, thank you very much.
I have been a menace, I mean a courteous driver, on the roads for more than forty years. I wanted to add that I have been booboo-free, but that would be a little white lie. Never anything serious, though, and that was in 1979.
I almost forgot to include that now I can parallel park perfectly IF I am the only one in the car. If my husband and kids are with me, Glenn announces,
“Hey, kids, watch this. Your mother is going to parallel park. Hahahahaha.”
I feel it is important to add that the Drivers’ Ed. Instructor, Mr. Sullivan, got the last laugh. It is common for graduating students to ask friends and teachers to autograph their yearbooks. I asked Mr. Sullivan to sign mine and this is what he wrote:
Robert D. Sullivan, “D for DITCH.”
I know that driving is a privilege, not a right, and a privilege can be taken away. I am going to be super careful on the road. Why? Because I am 100% positive that I could never, ever pass another driving exam if I lived to be a hundred. Could you?
Well, I guess it’s time to wrap this up. In the words of that prestigious porcine, Porky Pig,
That’s All Folks!