Highway to hell in a Cadillac

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

There's nothing quite like knowing you're about to be handed your driver's license for the first time at the wise and mature age of 16.

It's a pivotal moment in your life -- almost as pivotal as the time you watched your friend slip in a puddle of vomit during gym class.

But before that glorious day comes, one must endure the trials and tribulations of a hellish experience known as Driver's Education.

This little prep course teaches us many things, like how the worst actors on the face of the planet usually end up in educational videos and that if you wear a varsity jacket while driving your date to prom, you'll most likely die in a fiery car crash.

And what's unfair is the amount of money some schools get for these programs. Some get so much they can buy cool, sporty cars like a Pontiac or Mitsubishi. My high school didn't have that luxury. In fact, our budget was roughly 28 cents a janitor found beneath the monkey bars on the playground. So we put that money in an envelope along with a note that read "WANTED: DRIVER'S ED INSTRUCTOR."

Then we tied the envelope to a balloon and let it go, hoping it would reach someone capable of teaching a group of idiotic teenagers how to drive.

Our wishes were met when an elderly man with an explosive temper arrived at our school a few days later with the note in one hand and a deflated balloon in the other.

We all began panicking as a group of us went outside with him and found the student driver car, a 1991 Cadillac Deville that from now on I shall refer to as the Hindenburg.

So not only were we afraid to make a mistake around our instructor, but they gave us a car that required its own zip code and we were expected to parallel park it.

Finally, after several minutes of questioning ourselves on whether we actually wanted to learn how to drive, we settled ourselves into the car, becoming engulfed in plush leather seats which had been roasting in the summer sun and had a surface temperature equivalent to that of molten lava.

"OK, turn the car on," he said.

I glanced in the back seat to find my friends looking at me with worried expressions, as if the car would explode if I followed his instructions.

"Now start driving out of the parking lot."

I did as I was told, and began guiding the Hindenburg away from the edge of the sidewalk.

"You didn't turn your blinker on."

"Why would I do that?"

"Whenever you're getting on to a roadway, you should turn your blinker on to warn the other drivers."

"But we're in a parking lot and we're the only car with people in it."

"Just keep driving."

So I did. I drove and I drove, sometimes feeling the car come to a jerking stop even if I hadn't touched the brake. I looked over and realized our instructor had a special brake of his own just in case he felt we were getting a little too out of hand or if the Grand Canyon was to suddenly form in front of us.

"Why'd you press the brake so hard? I knew we were turning here," I told him as my hands continued to melt onto the steering wheel.

"With the 28 cents they gave me I was able to buy this rusty brake so I could irritate you all."

Contact Sam at sdereign@semissourian.com

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