Matter of Laugh or Death
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
ACE DRIVING INSTRUCTOR WANTED
“Dad, you’re not helping! You make me too nervous!”
And so another attempt on a Saturday morning to teach my 16-year-old daughter how to drive came to a screeching halt (and I do mean “screeching”), as she once again accused me of being a lousy instructor.
“What are you talking about?” I said, genuinely surprised that she could not grasp the brilliance of my teaching techniques. “I’m telling you exactly what you need to know. You’re just not listening.”
I had planned for this since my daughter was 14 and started talking about the day she could get her license. She would often remind me which cars were currently “cool,” and request that one (“in red or silver, I’m not picky”) be sitting in the driveway with a big bow on the roof (“unless you get me a convertible, then put the bow on the hood”) on her 16th birthday.
Surprisingly, she didn’t put up too much of a fuss when I explained there was no way in heaven or earth that she would get a car for her birthday. (“OK, then I want a horse instead, or a boat, or a big-screen TV in my bedroom, or a trip to Paris, or new parents...”)
If I could not give her a car for her birthday, I vowed that at least I would give her the best driver’s training possible. When I was through imparting all the knowledge and wisdom I had acquired from almost three decades of driving experience, she surely would be the most competent teenage motorist in North America. We spent many hours discussing driving theory and all the mental and physical aspects of safe motoring.
Everything was going great—right up until the moment she actually got behind the wheel with me sitting next to her in the passenger’s seat. Then it all began to unravel. I would calmly and coolly make observations and suggestions as we drove along, with my left hand ready to reach over and gently guide the steering wheel whenever necessary. She would clench her teeth and give me dirty looks and loudly complain, to put it mildly, that my teaching skills were awful.
So, as we sat in the middle of a busy intersection on that Saturday morning, the air filled with the sound of honking car horns and the smell of burnt rubber, my daughter finally said, “I want Mom to teach me how to drive. She’s not a psycho.”
“We’ve already been over that a hundred times, honey,” I replied. “Mom surrendered her driver’s license to the Motor Vehicle Department just before your birthday so she would not be allowed to teach ANYONE how to drive.”
Smart woman, I began to think to myself. “Oh, and by the way, dear,” I said, “You might want to pull through this intersection now before we both die.”
My daughter and I had quite divergent opinions about my performance as a driving instructor. I was convinced my demeanor was identical to Mr. Rogers—gentle and encouraging and always under control—while my daughter was certain that every time she got behind the wheel, the man sitting next to her was really Gilbert Godfried on amphetamines.
The situation was at such an impasse, we decided to take drastic measures. We enlisted my 12-year-old daughter to sit in the back seat with a video camera during our driving lessons. If videotape evidence can successfully identify shoplifters, bank robbers, and rogue cops, then it can prove beyond a doubt that I am the world’s calmest driving instructor.
As soon as we returned home, the three of us ran into the house to replay the video tape. My 16-year-old and I shouted in unison, “Now you’ll see that I’M right,” while my 12-year-old just shook her head and muttered, “I’m never doing THAT again.”
As the tape began playing, my first thought was, “Someone edited this tape! That’s not me!” But there was no denying it. The proof was right there in living color: I was the psycho teacher from Hades. What I thought were clear and cogent instructions were actually squeals of panic. “No, no, no!” “Turn, turn, turn!” “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” (For some reason they always came in bursts of three.) The most embarrassing moment was when I seized the steering wheel with both hands and put my foot up on the dashboard for leverage.
A copy of the video was sent to the state Capitol, and a week later we received a registered letter from the Commissioner of the Motor Vehicle Department: my wife’s license was hereby reinstated, and for the rest of my natural days, I must take the bus.
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