I had a fun radio show last night with Thomas M. Sullivan author of Life in the Slow Lane about his experiences as a Driver’s Ed instructor. We talked about the following event on the show, but I thought I would share the entire outing with you. This is an excerpt from my book Try and Avoid the Speed Bumps.
“Try and avoid the speed bumps. I mean try TO avoid the speed bumps…not AND…AND is wrong,” I told my daughter as she entered a parking garage in Philly.
“Mom, are we going to have a grammar lesson or a driving lesson? The speed bumps are in the middle of the road. It doesn’t matter if it’s TO or AND. Either way, I have to go OVER them.”
I just shrugged my shoulders and let her do her driving thing. This excursion to downtown Philly was our fifth in our weekly outings we dubbed “the Learning Permit Marathon”. The marathon was my husband’s idea, and it began soon after my daughter got her permit. Let me correct that. It began immediately after she passed her permit test. My husband took her from the DMV to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and told her, “Drive.” Some people thought we were crazy, and expressed their belief that new drivers should be transitioned to highways, but not my husband. In his defense, the professional driving school we hired concurred with his trial-by-fire instruction, and encouraged us to continue in between their lessons.
In weeks 1 through 4, I made her drive to various malls around the Philly area. I purposely picked malls that were not on our main stomping ground. The reward for the highway drives was lunch out or a new outfit. By week 8, she was comfortable on any highway, and her closet never looked better. But this parking garage in the middle of Center City had her unnerved.
I had to admit I had never driven in one of these garages before either. There was no gradual ascending ramp. Instead, the garage had a vertical road that resembled a spiral staircase and to drive it was a dizzying experience. On this sojourn, we had my daughter’s friend in the backseat and when he saw the twisted path to the upper levels he leaned over into the front and said in a mischievous tone,
“Cool! Look at all the black marks on the walls. That’s where people smashed into them.”
Not amused by his observation, my daughter responded, “I think I should turn around; I don’t think I can steer all the way up this thing.”
I knew she was panicked, but there was no turning around, and I emphasized this fact by pointing out that there was a stream of cars lined up behind us and we were stuck.
“I know this looks like a challenge, but either you start steering up this twisty thing or we are going to be killed by the impatient drivers waiting to get into this garage. Just take a deep breath, keep the wheel turned and go.”
Surveying this spiral structure, I realized there was little room for error. So, my daughter inhaled and began her ascent. It went pretty smooth except that she refused to go over five MPH which ticked off the people behind us, and she screamed out loud the entire ascent up the twisted monster. I am not talking a little girly squeal. No, her screams were at such a high pitch that I worried that the cement walls might crumble in pain. I think the screams may have seemed louder than they truly were because Mr. Wonderful in the backseat had opened his windows so my daughter’s hysteria would echo.
Finally, we got to the top level, and we saw light at the end of the tunnel. She sped onto the straight, flat pavement ahead and parked in the first open space. We jumped out of the car, and it might be my imagination, but I think I felt my poor baby (the car – not my daughter) emit a loud sigh of relief. We made our way into the garage elevator where we were joined by two men in business suits. When the doors closed, they started to laugh. We must have looked a bit perplexed because one of the men said,
“We are so sorry. We were behind you going up the ramp. I never saw or heard anything like that in my life. We could not stop laughing.”
“She’s a new driver; she has her permit…” I quickly explained. But before I could get another word out, he put up his hand and said,
“Quite alright. You made our day. But next year, when my daughter gets her permit, there is no way in hell I am taking her here.” He then looked at my daughter and said, “You did really well on the steering by the way, but it was the sound effects that I will always remember.”
My daughter was mortified; I was a bit embarrassed as well, and my daughter’s friend had a good story to share which he gladly did to anyone who would listen. My daughter had to endure about a week of torturous ribbing at school, but then week 6 was upon us, and for this trip, we went nowhere near the city. No, I took her to the Amish Country where the most challenging obstacle she faced was a slow-moving buggy.