by Turtle Jones
Something everyone has to learn. Something that is feared and anticipated at the same time. Something you look forward too, but at the same time don't wanna take the test. Fuck being afraid. This is what you what, what you need to do, and what you are going to do.
I was a kid when I learned how to drive an automatic. You have to learn how to do that when you're so young because of certain circumstances. A 13-year-old kid behind a wheel of a Chevy Nova prolly isn't the best thing you want seeing next to you at a red light. Grandfather passed out in the passenger seat. A look of "I don't really know what the fuck I'm doing" on my face.
But, that's a story for a different day. Besides, that was automatic transmission. I think. Been a lot of years.
But, anyways, when I was getting my learners permit, my dad thought he would take the hardest standard transmission car and teach me what a clutch does. Fucking Volkswagen Rabbit. 197?. One of the old ones that if you looked too hard at it, the car would stall.
My Dad wanted to teach me on the hardest cars to drive and shift in. Fucking Germans. Fuck those cars.
I am convinced Germany is still so pissed from losing every World War that they are trying to get back at us with everything they can. Just to make our life hard. They hold grudges. You ever seen a German toilet? Oh yeah. They made them like that just cause they lost a few wars. Them some sneaky bastards.
What was I talking about?
Dad drove me up to empty parking lot and gave me the key. Made a remark how I smell liked alcohol then jumped out of the car. All day long I learned that damn clutch. It was ugly and painful, but at the end of the day, I had learned how to drive the biggest bitch car there was.
School. Turtle drops a few hits of acid to get thru the day. Hey. School sucks but being high on LSD makes the day a little more bearable. It's just the way it is. Sitting in some math class, my name was paged to come to the office. I sat for about three minutes before they repeated it over the intercom. LSD is fully hitting me now. They didn't say my name. No they didn’t. Did they? I'm just tripping. The teacher asked me what the hell was wrong with my hearing. Crap. I guess I'm not tripping.
Well, this is no good.
I went to the office with the strychnine just hitting me hard. My hands were shaking. I walked in and saw the two eyes I didn't need to see. Staring me right down. Asking me what took me so long to get up to the office.
Mom. Oh shit.
What's going on? My driving test today. In about 45 minutes. We need to leave now.
Oh shit. I forgot about that. I lit a cigarette and walked with her to her car. She knew I was high as fuck. She's not that big of an idiot. Acid starting to hit me hard. I asked my mom if she would buy me a beer before this whole thing got started.
See, I’m such a good son. Whacked out on LSD, smoking in front of my mom, asking her to buy me a beer before I have to take a driving test with some DMV guy who prolly hasn't seen a naked breast since he looked at his man boobs in the mirror the night before.
Appointment - Turtle - 11:30
Well that’s just fucking great. Enough time for me to be peaking and calling myself "Jesus Christ" or "Moses" and asking people if they knew the 11th commandment. Just great.
I watched the clock move as I prayed this wouldn't get any worse before it got better. The time counted down as I could feel it all hit me hard.
"Turtle?" "Yes?" "Let's take your test. Follow me to the car."
Do I really want to do this? Should I just tell them I am not feeling well enough to do this? Being 16, you do some pretty dumb stuff. Fuck it. Let's do it. So I went with him.
My mom looking at me as if this was the end for all my driving privileges. She knew I was high. Just didn't know what I was on. It was like a sad look from her. Like a "Why did you have to do this today???" look. You guys all have had those looks before. But my look from her had Jimi Hendrix singing in her eyes.
I got in the car. Automatic. Cool. Turned the keys on as he pulled out his little "Rate Me" board. Told me where to go. I lit a smoke. He asked me if I was a little to young to smoke. My response was "Let's just get thru this and you can tell me how your mom died of some kind of cancer when this is done, ok?"
Lights. Traffic. A judge, basically, next to you. Seeing three things at once. Wanting to stop at any liquor store just to slow my hands down. Rat poison makes your hands shake like a crack addict who ran out of things to pawn off.
He must have known I was wasted or he just didn't care because I passed. I got my license.
Mom dropped me back off at school.
After she did....
I walked to the nearest liquor store and got drunk. - T
Michele holds the stick next
No one really wanted to teach me to drive. My mother tried. My father tried. It’s not that I wasn’t any good at it. It’s just that I wanted to go. All I cared about was slamming my foot down on the pedal and moving, traffic laws be damned. Who needed to learn five point turns and parallel parking? Just point me to the nearest parkway and let’s see what this baby can do. Jesus, I was learning how to drive in a flaming red Ford Galaxie 500 convertible. Built for speed. Ok, fine. My father decides he’ll take me off the side streets and let me get this speed demon thing out of my system. Long Island Expressway. Trucks bigger than most buildings doing 100 mph all around me. All these lanes. All these exits. All these other drivers. Fuck. Ok, I’ll admit to you all. I got scared. I didn’t like it at all. I managed to maneuver the car through some fast moving traffic and got off the Expressway and let my father take over. My hands were shaking. I was done. The next day, my parents signed me up for driver’s ed. I know what they were thinking. Let some poor schmuck handle teaching her how to drive, because I wash my hands of it. Can’t blame them.
That schmuck turned out to be my history teacher, Mr. D. The class met two days a week after school; one day for driving and one day for classroom lecture.
The classroom lecture consisted mostly of us watching films while Mr D used this wooden pointer to draw attention to the finer points of the film by banging on the screen. Driving was serious business to Mr. D. Because, you never know. He said that a lot. You never know. Driving wasn’t some pleasurable thing to do on a Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t even a means to an end. Driving was a solemn privilege filled with dangers. Oh yes, danger that lurked on the roadways. Death and mayhem were waiting at every turn.
If you are anywhere near my age, you probably remember driver’s ed films. Like most PSAs of the time, the films were meant to scare you into submission. Drugs, alcohol, talking to strange men, dancing too close to each other, the evil Russians - these were all things that warranted a ten minute, poorly produced movie designed to make you live in fear of everything around you. Life came with a warning label back then and there was no was no lesson that couldn’t be taught with a short burst of alarmist propaganda. Driver’s Ed was no exception.
The first film we saw that year would later be referred to as "The Box of Death." It was an animated movie in black and white and starred a teenage boy driving a sports car. Picture this. The carefree teenager speeding down a residential street, humming along to that evil rock and roll music and probably daydreaming about unhooking Suzy’s bra on their big date tonight. And then a look of surprise on his face. What’s this? A box! In the middle of the road! Just a big, white cardboard box sitting there in the street. An thought bubble pops up above the teen's head. We can read his thoughts! We see he has two choices here: A) drive around the box (good choice) or B) drive over the box (bad choice). Cheesy music plays. Tension abounds. This being a scare-tactic film, you know which choice the kid has made. He guns the engine and goes for it.
At this point Mr. D. stops the film.
“Would you like to see what happens? Are you ready to see where a bad choice can lead you?" Damn. He’s reading from the same script as that cop who came last week to warn us, a bit late, about drugs. Those of us who aren't already asleep encourage him to play the rest of the film.
Back to our speeding teenager who made the wrong choice. He is still speeding down the street. His face has changed a bit. He is no longer thinking about Suzy’s tits. This is more like a Death Race 2000 look. He’s hell bent on running down that mysterious box. Closer. Closer. Close up of his face. Determination. Must. Hit. Box. Why though? We don’t know. Teenagers are just inherently stupid, I guess. He finally reaches the box and never lets up on the gas pedal. He hits thing, it makes a loud thud, and the box goes flying in the air. We see it tumbling. Up, up and then.....down. It lands on the sidewalk. The teenager stops his car. Gets out. Has this Home Alone look of surprise on his face. Well, duh, genius. You were aiming for the thing, what did you think was going to happen? He walks over to the box, where it rests upside down and battered. Carefully lifts it up. I don't know what we expected to see. Garbage. Soda cans. Homeless kitties. Gwyneth Paltrow’s head. But, no...we see an......arm. A small child's cartoon arm sticking out of the box, looking somewhat bruised and bloody.
Mr. D waits for us to scream. Or cry. Or recoil in horror or feel associative shame just from being teenagers. Instead, we burst out laughing.
"Is there something funny about a dead child?" Mr. D is not happy with us.
Mr. D. threatens me, and then all of us, with driver's ed failure. Then he lectures on The Box.
“That box you encounter could be filled with anything. Leaves, children, bricks! And yes, there will be boxes! There will be obstacles! There. Will. Be. Boxes!” Pointer slams.
We spend the rest lecture days in a dark classroom, projector rolling and Mr. D. banging the pointer around. We see school buses imploding. Cars going off cliffs. Rag doll bodies being thrown through car windshields. Corpses, brains, body parts and crying teenagers, all ketchup and fake goo and horror movie screaming, set to a 70's soundtrack that sounds as if it were ripped from a porn film. They had titles like "Death Never Takes a Holiday" and "Mechanized Death" and "Blood on the Highway" and we began to look forward to these films the way we looked forward to watching horror movies at Mike's house on Friday nights. We ate that shit up. Get stoned, go to driver’s ed, watch some quality gore flicks. Doesn’t get much better than that.
These films were the Reefer Madness of driving culture. Instead of scaring us into being careful drivers, they served as pure entertainment. Kids who weren't even taking driver's ed would sneak into the classroom just to see "When Death Comes Driving."
We were sad when the semester ended and our car crash gorefest was over. We all passed Mr. D.'s class with flying colors, most likely because he didn't want to see us in his classroom again the next semester. We were the kids who laughed at death. We mocked The Box.
I'm sure Mr. D. would be happy to know that all these years later, I still think of him every time I see a box in the road.
[See: Hell's Highway]
So those are our 'learning to drive' stories. We know you have them, too.
Fail your road test a bunch of times? Crack up dad's car when you mixed up the brake and gas pedal? Don't be shy. We all fucked up our driving lessons at some point.
What's your story?