Before driver's education, the only experience I had with driving was a lap around a dusty field in my dad's 1978 Ford F150. In fact, it wasn't even a lap — it was only a partial lap.
The truck was a stick on the column. With a three-on-the-tree, you have to put it in first gear, slowly let out the clutch while gently depressing the gas pedal to get the vehicle moving. If this maneuver isn't done perfectly, the vehicle will chug and lurch, or stall completely.
I got the Ford rolling, then I started gathering speed. Then my Dad said, "Shift." He had already shown me how to hit second gear. I had to press the clutch with one foot, let off the gas pedal with the other, lift the shift lever halfway, push it forward, then push it up the rest of the way. Next, all I had to do was coordinate the clutch and the gas pedal again while avoiding the tree-line on the short side of the field.
I swear I felt the gearshift move forward before I pushed it up into second. I swear! Instead, I pushed it into reverse. No, I didn't suddenly go backward, but there was a hefty grinding sound like a handful of bolts being dropped into a meat grinder.
"Stop!" my dad hollered.
I let off the gas and the truck bumped and rolled to a stop. Dad reached over and put the F150 in neutral.
"Let off the clutch," he said. He got out of the truck and walked to the driver's side. He opened the door. "Slide over."
The Ford had a big bench seat, so I slid to the passenger side. We drove home in silence. I never drove again until driver's training.
My first time on the road was terrifying. Not just for me, but for my instructor, too.
I don't want Evien or her instructor to be terrified, so, occasionally, I take her out and let her drive. The first time, I took her to a large, mostly empty hospital parking lot. I figured that if, in the unlikely event she should run someone over, they could get immediate medical attention.
I drove to the hospital and parked in a space with a concrete parking chock in front of it.
"Oh, Dad. You're going to make me back up, aren't you?"
"But I don't want to back up."
"You're gonna have to learn it."
"No, I won't," Evien said. Then she added, (I am not making this up) "I can just park in places where I can pull out."
"Evien, at some point in your driving life, you will have to back up, so you’re gonna have to know how to do it."
"I guess," she said.
Evien and I switched spots. With the keys in my hand, I said, "What do you do first?"
Evien reached up, stretched the seat belt across her chest, clicked it in place and smiled at me.
"Very good," I said. "Now what?"
"Find a good radio station?"
"Oh, you're right, Dad. I can adjust the radio while I'm driving."
"No. You don't fuss with your hair, put on makeup, send text messages or mess with the radio while you're driving. The next thing you do is adjust your seat and position your mirrors."
She did. Then I let her start the engine. I told her that, when backing up, steer in the direction you want to go. Evien put the car in reverse and stomped on the gas pedal, nearly causing me to face-plant into the windshield.
"Oops,” she said. "I got the brake and the gas mixed up."
The next time I took Evien driving, I took her to a large church parking lot. I figured that if she ran someone over, they may need more help than a doctor could give them.
I've taken Evien driving many times now. She's turning into a cautious, conscientious driver. I'm proud of her. She seems genuinely comfortable behind the wheel and she seems to be enjoying the experience.
I'm sure that when Evien begins driver's training, she will be calm, cool and collected. I don't think her first experience on the open road will be terrifying like mine was. And I'm sure her instructor will appreciate that, too.
— By Grant Berry, Tribune community columnist