I’m really glad you weren’t there – and I wish my thirty or so classmates hadn’t been.

In my previous blog entry, I claimed I did well in all grade school subjects but geography. Soon after, another memory crept in, and this entry will correct the previous claim.

Fortunately, the subject in question was not a graded course that affected my overall average. The only course I ever had to repeat was – DRIVER’S EDUCATION!!!

Where many people would brag about their “world records,” I have not reported this to Guinness, and don’t intend to. The only times I mention it are when trying to calm a friend or relative nerving up about an upcoming driving test. I offer from my experience what I think is a simple math question: “Given that the average of my two driving exams was 41, what do you think my passing score was?” So far, no one has gotten the correct answer, maybe due to pre-exam nervousness, or not understanding the context, or me.

Re-visiting an event from ancient times would be difficult, if not for the box of memorabilia my Mom organized for her children when downsizing years ago. Among my “treasures” was an original source – an English 3A-3 theme paper from eleventh grade.***

Unlike today’s practices, Driver’s Ed was part of the high school curriculum, and classes were bussed en masse to the police station for the exam.

What follows is transcribed from the original, hand-written essay, now preserved electronically, a valuable asset for any DNA inheritors needing an excuse for driving as well as geographic difficulties. (Part of the assignment was prolific use of figures of speech, which I’m sure you will notice.)

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Wrong Right

                    It happened last year. I was taking driver’s education from Mr. Kern. Every lesson, as mean as could be, stole three pounds from me – and my instructor. I was the worst thing that could ever happen to a car. For example, it took me four weeks to learn the right turn. On the open highway, it took a month for me to get used to the sensation of driving over thirty miles per hour. I finally became brave enough (about as brave as an amoeba) to shoot the speedometer to fifty. Whenever that happened, “Thunder Road” came from the radio.

Then we came to parallel parking and backing up. I did about three hundred dollars’ worth of damage to the two poles which represented cars. It wasn’t my fault. The poles were only as long as the car, anyway. After I pulled out from between the poles, I checked to make sure Mr. Kern was safe up a tree before I began to back up. Anyone who would have seen me back up – at least seen me from the air – would have sworn that it looked like a “Zorro” advertisement.

I made a few more mistakes, like starting the car in drive with my foot on the accelerator. (I won’t say I cut a corner. I could be taken literally.) Maybe it was all because I was nervous. Whenever it came my turn to drive, Mr. Kern would stop at a store. He would come out with tiny, white tablets, that looked like tranquilizer pills.

After eighteen long weeks, the test rolled around. I optimistically made up my mind that I wasn’t such a bad driver after all. Sure, I was expected to fail. But I promised myself that I would surprise everyone. I did.

I was either eighth or ninth in line. After the full moon had set and risen two times, my turn came. I assured myself I wasn’t scared. My arms agreed, although they were vibrating as fast as a hummingbird’s wings. I was as calm as a bullet about to be suddenly awakened as I walked across the street as loose as an abominable snowman. I paused for station identification. It was my turn, and I would show them. Everything was going perfectly. The door even opened when I pressed a little button.

As fearlessly as Pasternak in Russia, I stepped into the gas chamber. I (now an amoeba) decided to ignore the gorilla beside me in the front seat. I turned on the ignition; I kept it on thirty seconds for good measure. It didn’t work, so I tried it again and got results. I also got results when I spiked the accelerator. Then the radio came on. “Don’t Take your Guns to Town, Son” was playing. When I finally collected about a third of my wits, I started rolling into the road, being ever so cautious. I kept looking around to make sure there was nothing within five miles of me.

I wasn’t careful enough. There was something within five miles. Turning into the street, I hit it. I found out that it was a tyrannosaurus by the name of Pontiac or Oldsmobile. It was big enough as it was, but it didn’t have to be parked so far form the curb. After I hit him, I was told to back up. If the patrolman hadn’t used his part of the dual-brake, I would have backed into another car. I discovered that I had scratched to animal’s rear bumper with my rear right door. I couldn’t believe my ears when the patrolman said to come back next day or Monday.

I had to live through twenty more tests before I could go home. I was as red as a sunburned apple. Everyone wanted to talk to me, most asking, “What was that noise?” One fellow tried to console me by saying that between us, we had a fifty average.

There’s an ending to this story. Thinking I needed more practice, I enrolled for a second semester. (After Mr. Kern was revived, he immediately went to work on a whole box of pills.) I began to improve gradually (very gradually). I passed the test. All I had to show for thirty-six weeks of driving was a forty-one average and a record for the shortest test and lowest test score.

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Postscript to “Wrong Right”:

Demonstrating that positive results can ensue from negative events, following my first test, I received supplemental driving instruction from my Dad. That wasn’t the positive result: he taught me wide right turns to avoid hitting curbs, and sharp left turns for I don’t remember why. But after one such lesson, I slid into home and the car scraped the right side of the garage door. The very next day, Dad replaced our stick shift with an automatic transmission car. My next-in-line siblings probably never realized they owed me a debt of gratitude.

***Postscript to the memorabilia box: Giving credit where it is due, I had to resort to the eon-honored practice of invoking St. Anthony for help finding the original “Wrong Right.” It was not in the memorabilia box. I searched dozens of places where the theme could be, and many where it shouldn’t be, and questioned whether my prayer had been heard, or if I had exceeded my quota for the month. Then I realized I was receiving a message: “Clear out the clutter, go through all the piles and re-piles that appear every time someone visits!” I did, and everything was re-arranged, until the very last folder under the very last pile appeared, with all my projects from two months previous, including “Wrong Right.” Thank you, St. Anthony!

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