A wise person (certainly not myself) once said: "There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who should teach people to drive and those who shouldn't."
I fall into the latter classification. I could have predicted this as my home category, but instead I had to prove it by teaching my roommate to drive.
Roommate is a nice person. She has all the skills needed to be a good, safe, courteous driver. She has decent vision and adequate hand-eye coordination. She has a car and a learner's permit. We're not talking about training to be a professional athlete here: Just driving around the block and not killing anyone.
Since she already had an hours-long lesson with a professional in the days leading up to Christmas, I thought it safe to taker her out on Christmas morning, correctly reasoning that the streets would be almost deserted.
The dog, who normally likes to ride in the car, refused to join us. This was my first indication that this was not going to be a pleasant experience.
"OK," I said, when we were strapped into the parked car and the motor, after a few false starts, was running. "Look behind you before pulling out into the street. Then go straight to the end of the block and turn right."
Roommate checked for traffic, pulled smoothly into the street and stopped at the corner stop sign before making a very wide, slow, out-of-control LEFT-hand turn. All composure fled as I realized I was in the company of a driver so inexperienced that she had yet to figure out a fool-proof way of remembering left from right.
"STOP," I screamed. "STOP."
Before starting out we had neglected to clarify the absolute importance of her obeying this command. She continued slowly driving down the middle of the street as she looked at me with great irritation.
"You always shout," she said.
This was not a good time for a debate on the different ways she and I handle stress.
"Just pull over and stop, PLEASE," I begged.
She did. We did a quick review of "left" versus "right" and then started out again. Our luck was holding. There was very little traffic on B Street but I had to get us to an empty parking lot. Our luck continued to hold as I guided her over to the G Street Co-op. Not a car in sight. Roommate seemed to be getting the hang of it, too. She drove confidently and quickly.
"OK," I said. "Let's practice parking." We had the entire lot to choose from. "Park in that space."
She made the turn beautifully and nosed the car forward. "Good," I started to say, but I only got as far as "Goo" before she inexplicably hit the accelerator and crashed us into a steel pole.
Now this is where I might just argue with the person who made the offhand remark about people who should teach others to drive and those who shouldn't. Now was the emergency. Now cool nerves needed to prevail. Now was not the time to shout because, for one thing, it was too late.
"Why did you do that?" I asked her conversationally.
"I got mixed up between the accelerator and the brake," she said.
"Oh." I got out of the car to inspect the damage, which was sure to be costly. At least the turn signal still worked.
We'd been on the road for less than 10 minutes but I'd already experienced about five adrenaline rushes and was probably going into shock because we continued the lesson.
We were back on the city streets and headed for home when I saw a van in front of us hugging the curb. It was stopping, starting, pulling over, and pulling back into the traffic lane. Someone was obviously looking for an address or a familiar house and if we didn't let her know we were behind her, an accident could happen.
"Honk," I instructed the new driver.
"Honk?" she said. "How rude. I won't honk."
"HONK," I insisted. "Don't argue with your teacher."
By the time our argument about good manners and the relative merits of honking the horn was over, we were in front of our house.
"How do I park?" she asked me.
"I don't know," I told her. "Just drive around. I'm going in to call the driving school."
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