Groups of three or four eligible students took our school’s driver education course during study hall. Mr. Soldwedel sat in the passenger seat beside each driver while the remaining junior operators sat in the back.
Ruth was the first student in the driver’s seat. I joined Dave and John-Paul in the backseat. Earlier that semester, in a hushed tone, our driver revealed to a group of us that Ruth was her middle name. She used Ruth because she hated her first name. After much prodding to tell what the hideous first name was, she looked straight at me and said, “Mary.”Mary Ruth drove from Hartford Central School to our town’s new bypass parking area, where I took over command of our car. I’d show her how an expert driver drove. I carefully looked both ways before slowly pulling onto the main road.
“What country is your family originally from?” asked Mr. Soldwedel.
I didn’t want to make small talk while concentrating on driving, but politely answered, “My father’s side is from England and my mother’s side is Polish and Russian.”
“Ah, that explains it,” he said. “Is that why you’re driving on the left side of the road?”
Stop the presses. Doesn’t left side equate with wrong side? Holy Crap!
I let out a screech and veered quickly to the right. Overcorrecting, I drove onto the shoulder. Before plummeting into the ditch, I skillfully turned to the left and straightened out.
Unfazed, my instructor chuckled. He’d been teaching for several years and took it all in stride. I think he was shell shocked.
Mary Ruth could stop shrieking any time now; my minor foible was over.Dave and John-Paul continued teasing me until we learned how to parallel park. I outdid them all.
Mr. Soldwedel was amazed in a tactless ‘I can’t believe she can do this’ manner as he announced, “You’re one of the best parallel parkers I’ve ever seen.”
I’m sure I was.
I got my operator’s license and continued astounding bystanders with my parallel parking ability. With a minimum of moves, I once squeezed an ugly station wagon into a space with less than three extra feet. Several men up on ladders, trimming apple trees along the park, applauded. I got out and dorkily curtsied, accepting their compliment as my due. It was not the first or last time my parking met with admiration from strangers.
Unfortunately, the same did not hold for my driving skills.
Lesson learned: Leave a wide berth between you and a driver education vehicle. And stay on the right side of the road.
Now it’s your turn: What’s your strongest or weakest driving skill?
Related posts: Chapter Thirteen: Road Warrior
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