Rules of the Road

When you are teaching your child to drive, it’s easy to cover the basics. Stop behind the line. Signal before changing lanes. Look over your left shoulder to check your blind spot. Accelerate to the highway speed before merging onto the highway. Please, oh please! Always do that. And God forbid, don’t slow down until after exiting the highway.

What’s harder are the unexpected situations.

Like encountering a driver traveling the wrong way on the road you are on. That happened recently while I was on my way to pick Daryl up so I made a mental note and used it as an object lesson later on why you have to always pay attention.

Like getting pulled over by the police. Who is ever ready for that? We thought it happened to us recently. I had directed him onto a road after the one we were on became one-way in the opposite direction. Shortly after we turned, sirens started up. We stopped at the stop sign and then the flashing lights came right up behind us.

“Just stay put,” I told him, expecting the officer to go around us. Our street was one-way and we were in the left lane. The road in front of us was one-way as well, traveling from right to left. I guess the officer expected us to go ahead and turn left into some nearby parking spots because he paused behind us. Just long enough for me to draw the conclusion that we were being pulled over.

Just as I began to tell my son where to move, the officer went around us. What a relief. And now my son knows that panicky feeling of being pulled over. Maybe his first real time (you know it’s going to happen), he won’t be quite as freaked out.

Then there’s the matter of stranded motorists. Do you stop to help or not? If you do, do you give them a ride or go get what they need for them? I don’t recall talking to Jane about that 3 years ago when she was learning to drive but she handled it beautifully when it happened recently.

She was traveling into town to pick up Daryl from football practice when she saw a woman standing next to her car trying to wave people down. Jane didn’t stop and she saw the woman’s hands drop down to her sides. She was obviously exasperated that no one was stopping to help her on a section of interstate with no signs of habitation, no businesses nearby.

Jane decided that if the woman was still there when she passed back by, she’d help. And, when she passed back that way, the woman was indeed still there, although now sitting in her car. It was getting dark. So Jane circled around and asked if she needed help.

The woman told her a story of traveling from one place not very close to here, where her mother lived, to another place not very close to here, where she lived. Her car had run out of gas and her cell phone had died. She showed Jane that she had some cash. She said she was a nurse at a hospital and offered to show her ID.

Jane told her that we had a gas can at our house. She’d call her dad and he’d bring some gas. So Jane did just that – called her dad. We paused the show we were watching so that he could go help. Jane didn’t wait for him on the side of the road with the woman. She went ahead and brought her brother home.

“Did I do the right thing?” she asked when she briefed me on the story. “I mean, if it was a man, I wouldn’t have stopped. But. Did I do the right thing?”

“Yes, dear. You did. Running out of gas and your cell phone happens to be dead is a suspicious story. You were right to be on guard. But it sounds like she really needed help so I’m glad you stopped.”

There was so much to unpack there. A young woman and a stranded motorist. What are the rules? Don’t stop if the motorist is a man. Unless you have a man with you. A man, not your teenage younger brother. Don’t approach the car. Or maybe don’t even get out of your car. Don’t let them into your car. Don’t get into their car. Don’t quite trust the story – no matter how vulnerable they seem. But don’t be callous -we are called to help people. But don’t let them get close enough to grab you. Call someone for help. Or call the police? But not 911 because it’s not an emergency.

The story was true, we think. The woman couldn’t stop praising Jane when my husband showed up with a can of gas. She was an older woman. Most of us wouldn’t be on the road without a charging cable for our phone, but an older person? Yeah, totally believable. And the road behind her? It’d been a while since she had been able to see a gas station from the road.

I’m glad my daughter stopped to help. I don’t fault her for not stopping the first time. She was likely too far past the woman by the time she processed what was going on and what she should do. I am disappointed that no one else stopped in the 20+ minutes it took Jane to circle back around.

It has all gotten me to thinking though. Jane heads off for college in less than two weeks. What other scenarios have we failed to prepare her for? Both on the road and in life. How well will she fare on her own? So this is why parents of adults don’t necessarily relax – especially parents of newly-minted adults. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind doesn’t apply to your children.

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TBT: My Car, My Step-dad, and Me

This week’s posts about timid drivers and the discussion about bad day birthdays got me to thinking about my stepdad.  Specifically, some experiences we shared while I was learning to drive.

When I turned 16, I bought a 1972 VW bug in bad need of a paint job from my grandparents.  I paid them something like $50 a month for a year.  In the months and years leading up to that birthday, I had insisted that I would take any car, ANY car, except a bug.  I don’t know why I hated them so much, but I did.  By the time I turned 16 though, an 18 year old hand-me-down bug for $600 seemed just fine, thank you very much.

Now, this car had more issues than peeling paint.  It also had a sticky throttle.  Sometimes I’d pull up to a stoplight and the engine would begin to race.  I’d have to put the car in neutral, engage the parking brake, run around to the back where the engine was, pop the ‘hood’, push the throttle thingy back down, and then race back to the driver’s seat, put it back in gear, and take off before the car behind me honked.  If I was lucky, I was transporting either my little brother or my boyfriend, both of whom had been trained to hop out and do it for me.  Sometimes I wonder how much experiences like that keep you humble.

Anyway, before I was trusted to drive around by myself or with other young passengers, a lot of time was spent driving around the neighborhood with one of my parents.  It was a manual transmission, quite different from the automatics that we learned with in my Driver’s Ed class at school.

The neighborhood had a lot of hills and I’d typically pick routes that would not force me to stop on a steep uphill incline.  I hadn’t yet mastered the (now probably lost) art of balancing my left and right feet on the clutch and gas to keep the car stationary and then gently transition to forward progress.  It seemed like a good plan to get good at that on flat surfaces before attempting hills.

My stepdad had a different view of the world though.  He was more in the tradition of “sink or swim” training.  So one day, he directed my progress and it resulted in me stopping at a stop sign at the top of the steepest of steep hills in the neighborhood.  I protested as we approached, saying I wouldn’t be able to start up again.  He said yes I would.  Shortly after I stopped, a car came up behind me.  I began to sweat.  I rolled (yes, actually manually rolled) down the window and tried to motion them to go around me.

I can’t remember now what happened next.  Maybe I’ve fused several memories into one.  I don’t remember if they went around me or refused.  I don’t remember whether I stubbornly stayed put or gunned it.  I don’t remember if I successfully (but with a really revved up engine) passed through the intersection or if I killed it or rolled all the way down the hill.  It seems like I had all of those experiences.  Obviously, I eventually left the hill.  All I know for sure is that I was irritated with him.

I doubt it was that same trip, but on one such neighborhood tour, he insisted when we returned home that I back into the driveway.  I’ve noticed over the years that most people don’t back into their driveways.  Most pull in and then back out.  Both my mother and my stepfather, however, strongly believed that you should back into the driveway and pull out.  The best explanation that I was given was that on icy days, it was easier to exit if you had previously backed in.  If I pointed out the unlikeliness of getting iced-in during the summer months, for example, I’d be told that it was important to keep good habits.

Anyway, I began to pull into the driveway one day and he told me to back in.  His car was already in the driveway and I told him I wasn’t comfortable backing in with it there.  He told me I needed to learn and to do it anyway.  I insisted that I wasn’t comfortable.  He insisted that I do it anyway.

“Fine!” I finally responded angrily.  I pulled either down the street or into the drive across from us, threw my arm over the seat, and looked over my shoulder as I began to maneuver into the driveway.  Likewise, he looked over his right shoulder to watch my proximity to his car.

“You are getting close to the Ford,” he said.  I corrected my motion some.

“You are getting too close to the Ford!” he said again.  I made another adjustment.

“You are getting too…” {{BAM!!}}  “…You just hit the Ford!”

I quickly adjusted the car and hopped out.  So did he.  We were both angrily yelling at each other about the accident that had just occurred in the driveway.  He was yelling about how he had been telling me I was getting too close and I didn’t adjust.  I was yelling about how I told him I didn’t feel comfortable backing into the driveway but he just wouldn’t listen.  My mom came hurrying down the sidewalk from the front door: “What is going on?!”

“She just hit the Ford!”

“He made me back into the driveway!”

I don’t remember anything after this.  I think they made some deal about them paying for repairing my car and painting it if I just did XYZ.  I never did XYZ.  I don’t know why.  I came to love my little bug in serious need of a paint job and a nice dent in the rear passenger-side fender.  It was a very nice match to my platform shoes, bell-bottom jeans, and rainbow sunglasses that I wore to the band’s “hippie dance”.  And it got me where I needed to go.  Most of the time.