On The Road Again

Michelle Driving

It’s happening again.  I’m teaching a kid to drive.  This is the last one.  Praise the lord!  This is just not my strength.

When I dropped her off for her first day of driving with the school instructor, I literally stopped, closed my eyes and prayed for that man.  He was a young father, the infant seat in his automobile clued me in.  It made me sad to think of his demise at the hands of my child.  I don’t know how much you get paid to teach someone to drive – I do know it is not enough.

After his instruction, the baton was passed to me.

If Michelle could just remember the difference between the gas pedal and the brake this experience would be so much more pleasant.

“Dad, doesn’t it makes sense that the gas pedal would be the bigger of the two?”

“Actually, I would prefer you stop more than you go.”

She asked to drive the family to my parents’ house in Fayetteville for Thanksgiving – down Interstate 95.  It was the week after she completed Drive’s Ed.  I said, “Absolutely not.”  She said, “But dad, I have three days experience.”

I’m not sure I’ll be comfortable with Michelle and I-95 after three years of experience.

I did let her drive to church the Sunday after the holiday.  Her sisters and I buckled in as she backed out of the driveway.  As we rolled toward the street, I gently said, “Brake.”  She accidentally pressed the gas pedal.  A chorus of shouts came at her from every direction.  I did not get angry at my older kids for the curse words that fell from their mouths.  I understood

“It isn’t helpful for all of you to yell at me!”

I explained that when someone was in grave danger, the response was automated, that we couldn’t help ourselves.

Maybe Acura should take her suggestion and make the gas pedal larger.  Or better yet, put the brake on the passenger side of the vehicle.  That would be helpful.

On her way home from the DMV, where she aced the written exam, we pretended to be in England – driving down Lake Boone Trail on the left side of the street.  To her credit, there were cars parked along the curb on the right side.  She was trying to give them a wide berth.  She did.  She gave them a VERY wide berth.  So wide.

She’s actually not all that bad.  I have a tendency to accentuate the rough spots.  And compared to her sisters, she’s not horribly behind.  Once DJ took a curb so tight after a major rain storm that she doused a jogger running by.  I sank into my seat from embarrassment.  He flipped her the bird.  She also got in a three car pileup on her second day of Driver’s Ed.  At least Michelle got through basic training without a moving violation!

Stephanie struggled with the whole gas/brake pedal conundrum as well majorly accelerating instead of braking while trying to park at the Harris Teeter one day.  I think they get that from my mother.  She’s not very good behind the wheel and can hardly see over the seat.  I haven’t ridden with her since I got my license.  I don’t think my dad has ever ridden with her behind the wheel.  He’s a very smart man.

I am so thankful I don’t have four children.  I simply don’t think I could do this again.  I’m anxious by nature – this parental responsibility is NOT a good fit for me.

Lordy, Lordy, Driving Up I-40 (with a teenager at the wheel!)

Lucy driving

Number 2 got her driver’s permit this week.


There are so many times I look at being a father and think, I’m going to miss this so much when they grow up.

I’m not thinking that with this particular task.  I HATE riding with people who don’t know how to drive!

After our two and a half hour visit to DMV (nah, we didn’t even have to take the driving test, and it took that long), I had a choice to make.  I could toss her behind the wheel immediately, or I could let her bask in her glory and put off the pain ‘til later.  I compromised.

I just couldn’t get the courage to let her drive down Wake Forest Road in Raleigh on the way home.  The lanes are as wide as the Food Lion ketchup aisle; even I grip the wheel a little tighter when riding by the TGI Fridays.  Instead, I drove a bit closer to the house and pulled over to switch seats.  That took 15 minutes.  Since there is a good foot between our heights, every mirror and seat setting had to be massively adjusted.  And, I had to remind her to put the car in drive – which is so very important.

After the switch, we headed up a fairly steep hill.  The car behind us was on our tail, because we were going 7 miles per hour.

“Give it some gas baby! Your grandparents are expecting us for Thanksgiving dinner, and we don’t want to be late.”

I understand the potential frustration of those driving nearby.  And yet, I don’t think they get the danger that abounds.  I want a Driver’s Ed sign on the top of my car so that there is an excuse for our roadway behavior.

We were driving down Wade Avenue to church this morning, and Stephanie was using the curbs like bumper cars.  There is more passenger side tire on the curbs in the 27607 zip code than there is on my car!  Why must she drive so close to the curb?  She practicing for a career as a street sweeper?

I never realized how difficult merging could be.   I think her Driver’s Ed teacher chickened out and spent the whole six hours they rode together in an empty warehouse parking lot.  Clearly he failed to make her road ready.

Yesterday I pondered two options for how we could get home.  I chose the one that went closest to the hospital.  The thought literally went through my head: which street would I most prefer to die on?  Lake Boone Trail or Edward’s Mill Road?  Well, Lake Boone is closer to the hospital, and we likely won’t clog up as much traffic there.  Plus, there is a Starbucks, perhaps I could pass through on my way up to heaven – offer Simon Peter a cup o joe… just in case.

I slept on my shoulder wrong last week and have had a massive crick in my neck for eight days.  I think it’s getting a bit better, and then I get in the car with my adolescent chauffeur.   Before we’re out of the driveway, my neck is so stiff I can’t nod.

Plus, she’s teeny!  Too teeny to drive.  She looks like the “Where’s the beef” lady from the old Wendy’s commercials.

I had my Sunday School class put us on the prayer list.  I’m not sure if we are going to die in an accident or if we’re going to kill each other in the process of trying to learn to drive.  Either way, things don’t look good in the Tanner household.

Another Hot Rod Tanner


I remember it being a bit traumatic when DJ got her license.  She drove so slow and so close to the right side of the road that I considered getting a second job as a mailman.  Sitting on the passenger side of the car, I could have easily delivered the mail on our route to school, church or the grocery store.  It would have given me something to focus on other than just how quickly I might die.

Now, it has come time for my second daughter to drive.  Yes, Stephanie, all 5’1” of her, is taking Driver’s Ed.  Whew!  Perhaps even scarier than the first.

Although I have yet to warn my coworkers, we have spent some time practicing in my office parking lot.  I can’t think of anyone I’d like to take out at the current moment, but I’d suggest any of you fellow Y employees reading this be kind to me.  We’ve only practiced on weekends when those dudes in the office down the hall are the only ones still at work.  The ones who invented steel kidneys, or some medical miracle, and who are making a bazillion dollars a year.  But if you miff me, I might put her behind the wheel at 5 PM on a Monday when you’re scurrying to your car.

Other than working to help her remember the difference between drive and reverse – she’s going to have to master that – my biggest concern is how close she has to pull the seat up to get to the steering wheel.

When Stephanie gets in the driver’s seat that I’ve been occupying, it looks like a three-year-old who puts on her 6-foot-four father’s business suit.  She can’t even reach the gas pedal.

She proceeds to use the automatic adjustments to raise the seat to maximum height and shift it forward until you can’t fit a baseball between her chest and the steering wheel.  Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, at 7’ 2”, would have plenty of leg room sitting behind her in the backseat of my 2007 Acura MDX.

She kinda reminds me of the Where’s the Beef lady from the 1980’s Wendy’s commercials, or my mother.  All petite.  All requiring me to contort myself when entering an automobile after they’ve driven.

Stephanie will whip around the parking lot and then jump out of the car leaving me to readjust the seat when I take back over.  I try to squeeze in, my head touching the sunroof and my knees tickling my ear lobes.  It’s kinda like leaving the toilet seat up.  Geeze.

Oh well, I guess it’s inevitable, we’re going to be on the road soon.  So be on the lookout for a silver SUV with Rhea Pearlman behind the wheel and a very anxious father on the passenger side.  Rest assured, I’ll make sure the car’s in drive before hitting the highway.

Curb Side Driving


One day recently I wrote the letters SU on a post it note and stuck it to the glove compartment door in the car.  When DJ climbed into the driver’s seat, she looked over and asked me what it stood for..

“It’s to remind me to shut up when you’re driving,” I explained.

I’m really not a good driver’s ed teacher.  I am impatient with the process.  When we’re in a hurry, I want her to speed up.

At the roundabout at the corner of Oberlin and Hillsborough Streets I might chide, “Go! This is your chance.  You’ve got to be aggressive!”

When she’s seemingly flying down Clark Avenue, 3.7″ from the parallel parked cars on my side of the street, I begin to pray out loud, “Dear Lord God above, for I know we have sinned but please do not punish us this day with death.  Please Lord let us make it this beautiful morning that you have created to the St. Mary’s school driveway.”

I’ve found that neither approach is effective in changing her driving behavior or helpful in calming my nerves.  I actually find that when I keep my mouth mostly shut, she’s does fairly well.  In fact, seven months into this process, I think she’s gaining more confidence on the road, and I’m gaining more confidence in her.

There were some points early on, well let’s just say a cable network would have bleeped me.

“Dad!  Why do you scream like that?”

“I do the same thing when a cobra lurches toward me!  It’s just instinct.  I can’t help it!”

There was the time it had been pouring down rain.  Although just sprinkling at this point, there were still huge puddles of water on the sides of the road from the unexpected downpour a few minutes earlier.

I’m not sure why new drivers cling so hard to the curb, but I recall one of the scariest moments of my life was when I was 15 and riding in the back of my driver’s education car while my classmate Carolanne Rahal moseyed up Roberson Street in Fayetteville, NC.  I leaned in to the third student in the car hopeful to avoid the telephone poles that were dangerously close to my forehead.

On this damp day, I thought DJ was doing pretty good considering the driving conditions.  The roads were wet but she was moving cautiously and had even mastered the delayed windshield wiper setting.  All was good, until we approached an oncoming puddle nearly the size of Lake Michigan.  With cars approaching in the other direction, DJ kept her commitment to a football field’s length between her car door and the double yellow line.

I tried to explain that the white concrete curbing that meets the black asphalt was not a ten inch tire lane and in fact was not really meant for cars at all.  She didn’t listen, she didn’t stop and she didn’t even slow down.

As we powered through the puddle, I noticed two joggers headed our way on the sidewalk.  We all, well all but DJ, saw what was coming.  As the wall of water, more than five feet tall, rose up toward the runners, they crouched to cover their heads from the impending tsunami.  I think crouching just made it worse.  They were doused.  Michelle and Stephanie were in awe.  I was embarrassed, working to wave my hands as a sign of apology.

And DJ?  Although slightly remorseful, she got so tickled I thought she was going to pee her pants.

If her driving is any indication, she should have no trouble parallel parking.  She is very, very familiar with the curbs.

The Learner’s Permit

Check out the “hard top”

Posted by Danny

My nerves are shot. DJ’s getting her Learner’s Permit and I’m about to have a stroke.

I was wondering why this was bothering me so – and then I began to assess what was behind my uneasiness. Perhaps it is my own history with the automobile that brought back this unpleasantness.

My brother once owned a 1973 Camaro Z 28. He’s spent his life savings on this car. It was black with a navy stripe down the side. We lived in the very back of our neighborhood on Rolling Hills Road but we could hear Chad coming when he turned off of Village Drive and passed through the red brick Briarwood entranceway two miles from our house. Apparently his life savings wasn’t enough to fund a muffler.

His long hair blew in the wind as he cruised by Terry Sanford Senior High School, a cigarette hanging from his lips and KISS blaring from the radio.

I, on the other hand, drove my father’s hand me down straight shift Dodge Colt. It was white with a light blue hard top. Why was it called a hard top? All cars that weren’t convertibles seemed like hard tops to me.

We lived on the top of a hill, our driveway a steep, steep incline.

One day I was hurriedly pulling into our drive. Little did I know that my bother was barreling down the same concrete slab, in reverse.

The damage to my car was minimal. My dad and I fixed it with a hammer and jar of model paint. But the Camaro was never the same. The trunk had to be tied shut with a rope. And since my brother had invested all of his worldly possessions into purchasing the car, he had no collision insurance.

Boy was he mad. My mother thought it was funny. She has an uncanny ability to find humor at the most inopportune times.

I once lent my car to a friend. She forgot to wear her glasses. She totaled it at an intersection a couple of miles from where we worked.

On another day, Susie McKinney, a classmate of mine, parked right next to me at school. When we arrived at our cars to head home for the day, I commented on her inability to drive. “Damn Susie! Half of your car is in my space. Watch what you’re doing next time.”

I opened my car door to toss my books in the car.  Although my butt was on the driver’s seat, my legs were still outside of the vehicle.

I whipped my head around as I began to feel pressure on my legs. Susie’s bumper was meandering down the side of my car door as she turned to back out of her space. My chins and calves were trapped between the door and the bottom of the Colt. The further she backed, the tighter the crunch. I screamed, “Stop Susie!” I’m not sure if she heard me – she may have just been miffed that I commented on her parking abilities.

The next day, I had four bruises – one on the front and one on the back of each leg.

I have more stories of speeding tickets and minor fender benders. One time I won a Ford Aerostar Minivan. I drove with my parents to Charlotte to pick it up. On the way home I was so tired I asked my mom if she’d drive for a while. She agreed and after we ate lunch she took my keys and promptly hit a light post as she backed out of the Hardees’ parking lot.

Again, she laughed. I failed to see her amusement.

I guess I’ve been blessed not to have a serious incident, but each of these accidents illicit a negative internal feeling.

The thought of my kid driving, and in particular having a front row seat to the action, is unnerving.

I will say that thus far she is doing well. I, however, am working on an ulcer.

“It wasn’t my fault!”

Posted by Danny

Today’s text message to Dad:

Can you pick me up two hours late from Driver’s Ed?


We’re running late.

Did you get into a wreck?


Maybe the first clue that this Driver’s Ed stuff was going to  be a challenge was when the instructor emailed DJ:

I’ll be in the front circle of your school at 4:00 on Thursday.  Look for a blonde wearing sunglasses

Or, DJ, you could just look for the car with the enormous ‘Driver’s Ed’ sign on the top.

The two novice drivers got to the car and our wise instructor asked, “Either of you ever driven before?”

Driver 1:  “Never.”

DJ:  “A couple of times.”

Kicking her shoes off and bracing her bare feet on the dashboard, the instructor tossed the keys to DJ.  “You’re on.” 

And out to Hillsborough Street, in rush hour traffic, she went – straight toward the newest asphalt edition in town, our first double roundabout.   Had I been the instructor, I would have driven her to a dirt road in rural Chatham County.  But then, I’ve seen her drive before.

Now I love the roundabout – it’s the most efficient way to get down the street – with no stop signs or lights.  I like it so much, sometimes I take an extra loop around just for fun.  But it’s no place for a newby or for about half of the women in my life who tell me they just don’t get the circle of traffic.  They approach a roundabout like I approach a crystal glass, with timidness and care. 

Instead of tapping the breaks and speeding on through, they come to a complete stop – looking in both directions (although it’s a one way circle), and pondering from which direction the next car might approach.  Break dancing doesn’t come naturally to me, roundabouts don’t come naturally to them.

After making it down Hillsborough Street, the instructor had the girls drive by her house four times to ensure that her children were getting the yard work finished.

“Slow down DJ,” the window goes down. 

“John, John, get ALL the weeds in the driveway!  And Sarah, go get dinner started, I’ll be back in an hour!”

I was surprised she made that prediction with DJ behind the wheel.

But indeed she did make it home and DJ did too – on day 1.

Day 2 brought a different instructor.  And a half mile from the gates of the school, DJ came across a car in front of her that was, surprisingly, coming to a stop.  She claims she saw it and was slowing down, but apparently her instructor felt she could have perhaps shown a bit more urgency with her right foot.  So, he slammed on brakes from the passenger side of the vehicle missing DJ’s target.  The person behind him, also a little slow on the draw, and the next two cars behind him not so lucky.

It was around 5:30 pm, and I was in my car headed home and listening to Mix 101.5 when the traffic report came on. 

Traffic is slow on The Beltline and stop-and-go on I 40 East.  And there is gridlock on Hillsborough Street at the Oberlin Road intersection due to a four car pileup.

Little did I know that my daughter was driving the first of the four.

It is true that the accident was not her fault.  It is also true that I am in search of an older model vehicle with a passenger side brake.

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