13 May FIRST TIME DRIVING By Mike X. Wilde May 13, 2016
“If you can start her, you can drive her,” says Pops. His old ’78 red Datsun pickup has been broke down and retired on his 80 acre parcel of rural Southern Humboldt County property, for years. I guess since I’m 12 years old, he doubts my ambition or capability to fix the old truck. So, I take it as a challenge.
I decide to invite twin sixteen year old buddies of mine to come over for a weekend. We simply clean the carburetor, give her a tune-up, hot wire her and she’s ready to roll.
“Teach yourself, that’s how I learned,” Pops would always tell me after I ask him to teach me how to drive. Therefore, today is MY day. The sight of him chasing and cursing through a cloud of dust in my rearview mirror is priceless.
At first, I learn how to shift gears by grinding them, but the more I learn to synch the clutch, the less strain occurs on her gears and my ears. And so I wind my way through the mile long mountain driveway and venture out onto the main county roads.
Years later, I am required by the state of California to log a certain amount of traffic school driving lessons before I can receive my official California Driver’s License. Obviously, the only driving I know is back country. The instructor has a passenger side steering wheel in his private driving school company car I’m to drive. We’re on the Avenue of the Giants Highway, surrounded by Redwood Trees on both sides. This highway is notorious for its severely winding course, usually only two lanes wide, and responsible for many tourist deaths on its nasty switchback corners taken at too fast a speed. So when the sign ahead reads, “25 MPH CORNER,” I see an opportunity to prove to my driving school instructor (who is riding passenger) that I’m far from a tourist. A good four feet of open dirt real estate shoulder is available to the right of the paved lane highway, on a hairpin switchback right turn. I swing that Ford Crown Victoria traffic school vehicle in a – controlled – slide so as to position all three tires on the inside right dirt shoulder, leaving just one rear-left tire biting down traction on the pavement. The result should have been a controlled “drift” – skillfully conquering the “25 MPH CORNER” at 47 MPH. But the moron “instructor” fucks it up for us since he screams bloody murder and fights me with his passenger mounted steering wheel – leaving me no choice but to scream back in panic, hammering both feet down on the brake pedal. Blue rubber smoke and black rubber skid marks trail behind us as our front bumper is now 6″ from a Redwood Tree on the left side of the highway as wide as a billboard sign. He’s lucky he didn’t KILL us, and that’s what I tell him.
Oddly, the old fart appears to enjoy the rush of forced teenage nostalgia. The only thing he has to say is, “You should never use your left foot on the brake pedal.”