Driving lessons

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Rick Ryckeley

A recent event had me remembering a childhood story I’d forgotten, and with good reasons. It was a traumatic event for both my dad and me. In all my short life, I’d never heard Dad swear as much as he did that day. Sure, when bad things happened, he’d let out a little profanity now and then. Like the time he smashed his finger with a hammer. Now that was one doozy of a cuss word! Never knew nails had mothers before that.

Dad also swore when my brothers and I accidentally set fire to the vacant lot across the street. But in our defense, we didn’t know magnifying glasses could actually start a huge fire. Guess we shouldn’t have left smoldering piles of leaves and grass clippings when Mom called us in for lunch.

Dad also cussed when The Sister was accidentally launched out of that giant tractor tire she was riding inside. Guess a few bad words were warranted. After all, it was my brothers and me that said the Giant Tractor Tire Ride would be a safe game to play. I still feel bad about her broken arm to this very day.

All the swearing I’d heard Dad utter in my entire life paled in comparison to one day in July when I was 15 years old. The onslaught of colorful language reverberated off the inside confines of his tan van, a van that Yours Truly was driving.

“Stop!” he yelled that hot afternoon. Even though the windows were rolled down in the van, the volume from the one-word command had my ears ringing. The bellow was so loud, it even garnered attention from the kids at the playground located at the bottom of the hill, the very steep hill we were currently careering down.

They immediately stop playing, looked our way, and then scattered. Guess they were right to run. After all, it’s not every day you see a van hop a curb and drive onto the playground.

Having only received my learner’s permit three months earlier, I was keenly aware that one driving mistake and Dad would snatch the permit from me, and it would be a long time before he gave it back. That day I made not one but two, but neither was really my fault.

First: my failure to stop at, or even notice, the stop sign at the four-way intersection at the bottom of the steep hill wasn’t my fault. The fault lay solely with the Varsity and those two chili cheese dogs, large FO, and that plate of onion rings. We’d stopped in and had lunch an hour earlier. The consumption of all that wonderful food combined with no air-conditioning in Dad’s van meant I was driving around in a food coma.

I blew right through that stop sign without even slowing down. To be honest, I didn’t even see it. It was bad enough to get me grounded. What happened next was even worse but, again, not my fault.

A special note to all those dads out there with teenagers learning to drive: Stomping on the floorboard as hard as you can with both feet and yelling, “Stop!” while flaying your arms out in front of you will not help at all in stopping the vehicle — especially if you’re in the passenger’s seat.

All of Dad’s yelling, stomping, and arm-flaying was enough to overcome the Varsity-induced food coma. Jarred fully awake, I jerked the steering wheel. And that’s how we hopped the curb and headed straight for the kids on the playground. If Dad hadn’t startled me, we would’ve surely stayed safely on the road.

“No way. That really didn’t happen,” exclaimed my teenage driver. Our Lovable Icky Teenager had been practicing driving me around for the last two hours. She had just slammed on the brakes at an intersection with a green light.

When asked why, she stated nervously, “I didn’t want to block the intersection.” With horns from angry drivers still ringing in our ears, we pulled into the nearby coffee shop with the green roof to review why one doesn’t do such a thing and so I could make a point, by way of this story, that she shouldn’t feel bad. She isn’t the first teenager to make mistakes while learning how to drive.

“Yes, way, it did happen,” I replied. Over coffee, she asked if I’d ever been in an accident. Taking a sip, I thought back, smiled, and then answered, “Yep. Drove four hours just to have my heart broken, flipped the car, and then ran right through the front doors of a Dairy Queen.” But that’s a story for another time.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001. To read more of Rick’s stories, visit his blog: storiesbyrick.wordpress.com.]