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.

I Need a Sedative

Fake picture. No one teaching a teenager how to drive is that happy.

Posted by Danny

I’m going to need sedatives.

DJ turned 14 last week.  I was quickly informed that at age 14 1/2 you can take Driver’s Ed.  I had no idea.

Jesse recently told me that I needed to get her out in a car at the Fairground’s parking lot so she could begin to get a feel for being behind the wheel.  We were at the lake on Sunday with friends so another dad and I took DJ and her three buds out for a spin on some back roads.

There is a God.  I know this because I am here tonight writing and yesterday at 5 pm I was not sure that would be the case.

I guess I made a few assumptions – like thinking they knew how to start the car, or which way to turn the steering wheel when you backed up, or what a turn signal was.  They have been riding with us for the past 14 years.  I thought perhaps they noticed that we’d gently pressed the plastic bar on the side of the steering wheel 3,459 times each year and that a little green arrow lit up.  Apparently they did not.  They were probably texting.

Our conversation went like this:

“I am going to start a leaf collection.”


“Because you are driving so close to the trees that I can easily pick them from the limbs.”

“Your grandmother could walk faster than you are driving.  Give it a little gas.”

“Stop at the intersection.  This is actually two football fields from the intersection.  Pull up several hundred yards and re-stop.”

“I’m about to pee in my pants” (that was one of the girls talking because she was laughing so hard).  I’ve seen that before and it isn’t pretty.

“What do we do if another car drives by?” 

“I don’t think I understand the question.  You keep driving on your side.  Close to the trees like you’re doing now.”

“I feel like a postman.”


“I can open the mailboxes!  Move to the left a little.”

I remember my Driver’s Ed class.  Our teacher’s name was Scooby.  His mother made his three-piece suits.  I was in the car with Carolanne Rahal.  I was petrified when she was driving.  I’ve never been so close to a telephone pole.  I remember driving down I-95 with Carolanne cruising at 35 miles per hour.  Cars whizzing by – I was mortified.

Scooby had an advantage – he had brakes on the passenger side of the car.  At one point on Monday DJ pressed the gas so hard I slammed on the brakes – at least I tried.  I forgot I was not on the driver’s side.  Pressing the carpet does not have the same effect.

This will take years off of my life.  I may have to call in Jesse for reinforcements.  He’s a bit more daring than I – he might have more of a stomach for this sort of thing.

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