Always a first time

Surviving driver ed

Always a first time

ktanner@thetribunenews.comJanuary 12, 2012 

— We were heading homeward on Los Osos Valley Road, after battling Costco-area traffic. The red light at Foothill Boulevard stopped us, and I took that moment to look around.

Oh my! Waiting at the light in the oncoming lane across from us was the biggest, baddest, camouflage-painted, lane-hogging 18-wheel military truck I’d ever seen. The monster had heavy canvas over the cargo area, hiding who-knows-what-all mystery equipment in there.

I could well imagine what was happening inside the truck’s cab, however. A big sign across the front of the engine hood read … “STUDENT DRIVER.”

Just think what it must have felt like to be the instructor, or the first-time driver of that military behemoth? It must have been like trying to dock the Queen Mary in a bathtub full of rubber boats.

Heck, it wouldn’t have been too pleasant to have been the captain of one of the rubber boats, either.

I flashed back to when our two youngest sons had fairly new driver’s licenses and new-to-them cars. Gulp.

I asked my mom, “How old was I before you stopped flinching and worrying every time you heard the siren of an ambulance or fire truck?” She gave me “the look,” and said, “I haven’t.”

It wasn’t that she didn’t believe in me, my judgment or my driving skills, exactly, but she certainly didn’t trust the other idiots on the highway. After all, she had been my driving teacher in the wilds of Wyoming. Very early in the morning, we’d find a big, empty parking lot, and she’d make me weave the car in, out and around the big logs that served as tire stops.

Once I’d aced that maneuver, she made me back around the logs, Bondurant Driving School-style. After that, I was supposed to deliberately make the car skid around them, but stop before I ran into them.

Good thing her car had high under-chassis clearance.

However, our middle son Brian still holds the family’s vehicular terror-and-laughter award.

He got a traffic ticket at the age of 7. There were, oh, maybe eight or 10 other homes in the “Top of the World” neighborhood back then. The rest of the properties — and many of the unused streets — were overgrown with weeds and grass.

Where there were street signs, names were merely painted on short lengths of 4-by-4, stuck in the ground and often hidden in the brush. It was an idyllic place for two boys, who developed trails, tracks, forts and tree houses everywhere.

However, locals nicknamed many neighborhood roads “Heart-Attack Hill” because they’re so steep for walkers … and for kids on bicycles, skateboards or other wheeled transportation.

After a potentially serious crime came to an end in downtown Cambria that day, the town was wall-to-wall with lawmen, all of whom wanted to accomplish something on their way home, I guess.

One deputy gave young Brian a ticket, because after an afternoon on one of the dirt tracks, he was riding his Honda 70 up the steep, slippery, red-rocked hill toward home, rather than pushing the motorbike to the top of the steep grade.

Have you ever tried to push a motorbike anywhere?

It was a very unhappy, scared boy who brought his ticket home to Mom.

After weeks of sheer terror, our miscreant went to court in Morro Bay. Judge Schenk looked down at the quivering boy and said, “You know you have to have a driver’s license to ride a motorcycle on the road, don’t you?”

“Y-y-y-yes, sir,” said Brian.

“Then, why were you doing it? You’re not old enough to have a license.”

“No, sir.” Brian said solemnly. Then he looked the judge in the eye and asked, “Do you know the Top of the World area in Cambria, Mr. Judge, sir?”

“Yes, I do,” said Schenk.

Brian threw his hands in the air and raised his shoulders. “Judge, I didn’t know it was a road!”

Once the laughter in the courtroom died down, the judge looked at Brian and said, “I think you’ve suffered enough. Case dismissed.”

It could have been worse, son. It could have been a big, green military truck.

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