Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Driving School

I’d never heard of a driver’s safety course and I probably would have considered it a waste of time when I was younger, until I got an up close and personal demonstration of its merits.
My cousin Randall’s family moved off up north when I was very young and they moved back home to Alabama when I was about sixteen.
He’d gone to junior high school in Indiana and one of the requirements there was driving school.
He was an excellent driver. He honored all traffic signs, used his blinkers when making turns and always tested his brakes prior to needing them at stop signs or unexpected animal events (deer darts and dog dares).
His cousins tended to have fun at his expense because as all southerners know, speed limits and traffic signs are simply suggestions for the uninitiated.
Most of us thought (and apparently still think) that turn signals are optional and used mainly by old geezers with faint hearts.
One spring morning as I rode with Randall in his newly purchased (old) Simca, I realized the value of driving school.
I should have been leery of the Simca from the start as it was one of those small cars that resembled a roller skate with windshield wipers. Of all places, the contraption was built in France.
Randall got a good deal on the Simca and had it serviced by a local mechanic. The mechanic had never seen a Simca before but used this repair job as an excuse to buy a new set of metric wrenches.
When we picked the car up, it seemed to be doing fine. For some reason that I don’t recall, we headed through Kershaw Hollow and across Fire Tower Mountain.  Now Fire Tower isn’t really a mountain in the sense that most westerners know, but for us hillbillies here in Walker County it’s about as high as it gets. That’s the reason the forestry service built a fire tower up there.
When we crested the hill, Randall tested the brakes just as his training had taught him. When he pressed the brake, it went all the way down. I could hear metal against metal as the peddle banged repeatedly against the floorboard.
I’ve driven old cars all my life and I knew that sound because I’d heard it many times before.
My cousin never panicked, he simply reached between the seat for the emergency brakes which he expertly ripped up to stop the runaway skateboard with doors.
Not sure what happened, but not only did the car NOT stop, but it pick up speed. The road seemed to drop off before us like a cliff and Randall, still focused on maintaining control, said “hold on."
Now that’s an instruction he really didn’t have to give. I don’t think he’d ever been down Fire Tower Mountain before, but I had. I knew it was a good mile and a half of steady descent with hairpin turns.
With uncanny presence, he whipped the steering wheel this way and that and continued trying to shift down into a lower gear to slow the car down.
The ride down that mountain was like a roller-coaster. Before we got to the bottom, I’d said the worlds longest prayer, confessed all my sins, and said goodbye to mama.
It’s a miracle that we made it to the bottom without flipping over one of the embankments, being thrown out, smacking our heads against oak trees, and being eaten by wild animals before our family and friends discovered our bones.
When I unfolded myself out of the Simca at the bottom, I noticed that there were dents in the roof where my hands had pushed to hold on. I’m guessing the seat covers had a hole made by my backside.
From that day forward, I never made fun of cousin Randall for having gone to driving school. In fact, I think it saved our lives.

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