I started driving when I was 8 years old. My divorced parents both believed strongly in continued practice even though there were diminishing returns from that expenditure of effort. There wasn’t much they agreed on. And they didn’t as much agree on this as act the same.
I didn’t “get it” – the do the diminishing returns practice-after-practice (with plenty of feedback) until I started paying increased insurance premiums for a teenager, years later. Duh!
Oh, but of course! Practice!
From the age of 8 on I drove from my grandparents’ mailbox to their farm house. Each and every time we visited – at least monthly. Until I had to start sharing drive-time with my younger brother. On the way home when older I got to drive the old country roads until we got closer to real traffic. We lived about 20 miles away.
It was perhaps 1/2 mile drive from mailbox to farm house – but as an 8 year old it might have been the Daytona 500! The car was a Mercury Comet (1960-1961), sky blue, with a three-speed on-the-column and a clutch. A clutch!
I loved going out to the farm and visiting with grandma and grandpa – I visited for a week twice during each summer school break – and driving in for each arrival and out for each departure – and that was just icing on the cake. That continued until I was 16+.
I hurked and jerked down that country farm driveway, learning the peculiarities of a manual transmission – which I think all should learn/master – for a couple of years before I could just start, go, shift, and not hurk and jerk. So I was now 10-11. And I could start and shift smoothly. Years to go until I got that DL. Still time for practice with those diminishing returns.
Those were outings with Mom. Her parents. Her childhood home. The farm.
With Dad it wasn’t much different. He had me drive everywhere his business took him on weekends once we were out of the really busy traffic.
But when I turned 15 and got that Permit I drove everywhere – if I was in the car. With Mom or Dad. Maximum practice and plenty of feedback! SLOW-DOWN!!!!
After turning 16 and getting that DL- the Drivers License – I moved to live with my father and stepmother and siblings- from the suburbs of Chicago to the suburbs of Kansas City – so now I was driving in Missouri and Kansas. I drove everywhere again. I moved in March. The weather in KC varies tremendously in the winters. Having driven in the icy, snowy winters of Chicago’s far southern suburbs/farmland – I thought I’d had enough practice driving in those conditions.
My father thought different. So the first time it sleeted and then snowed he ordered me out of the comfort zone that I a 16 year old teenager had found – and into the car and down the street and to the local Big Box Retailer’s parking lot – empty – Kansas Blue Laws circa. 1968 – empty but not yet plowed.
I was about to be taught skidding.
Or – more appropriately – the anti-intuitive action of turning into the skid.
It was perhaps 3 to 4 acres of open asphalt. 8 to 10 inches of snow on top of ice. Here is how it looks on Google Maps 40 years later…from above…
We were parked at 12:15 above – when Dad commanded “get the car going 25-30 miles an hour and then slam on the brakes.”
I “gently-punched it” and started skidding a bit – and then gained control – and at the half-point he commanded “turn around and go back.” So I did. Slowly. It was slick.
On my next attempt – when I got it up to 25-30 – he reached his left foot across the transmission hump and crushing my right foot he knocked my foot off the gas as he slammed on the brake and put us into a skid.
“Do that,” he said after we came to a stop.
So he took me from turning away from the skid to turning into the skid. It was hours and hours. I complained several times – adding to the practices I would then have to do to be done.
Why? Was the old man crazy?
No. He knew something I did not. And he was going to train it into me. And – it was his car! His deductible!
Why so much attention – to learning to turn into the skid?
Because it ain’t intuitive.
Or – isn’t intuitive.
Either. That’s when you really needs lots of practice.
Timing is everything.
So 2-3 weeks later I am driving his car on a Friday night date – driving the Impala – and after the HS basketball game that I and my date attended – we come outside and the car and streets are covered by a sheet of ice and 8-10 inches of snow.
Were there any warnings from the TV or radio weather-people prior?
Probably. I wasn’t listening to them – to that. I was listening to FM radio. The beginnings of that anyway.
So I drive VERY CAREFULLY – as trained – for miles and miles from that HS to the girlfriend’s house. I don’t recall if a pizza joint was involved in between. Anything is possible. There were several in between point A and point B.
It was probably a 15-20 mile drive from point-to-point. A to B. It was a slow go. She lived on a lake and the Kansas suburbs of KC are quite hilly. The area surrounding the lake was hilly too. Especially my favorite route around the lake.
And within 2 miles from the girlfriend’s house – YOU KNOW THE STATS – I’m going up a steep drive just off of hole #4’s green – I believe – never played the course you know – and the wheels start spinning halfway up the hill – and then I start to slide.
Not into the hill on my right – but into the abyss on my left. The cliff-side.
It doesn’t look too bad from on high…
Nor from this angle…
But this view is different…
Halfway up the hill I start sliding to the left side backwards! This was not part of Dad’s training, not part of Dad’s test!!!
Sliding backwards, downhill to the left – to the hill-down-to-the golf-course.
So my prior training kicked in. Think! You are going backwards!
I turned around in my seat and turned into that backwards skid with my brakes pumping – not to mention my heart and adrenaline. I turned into the skid and got the wheels all straight enough so that I could try to turn them slightly – and get us back into the middle of the icy road. Going backwards downhill on snow and ice in the dark.
I slowly backed down that hill and the curve after gaining control, turned around with a 3-point-turn-around at the bottom – next to the green and the next tee box – and we went around the lake – the long way. The flat way. To beat her curfew time by a minute or two.
This is the view from where we were headed…up the hill…
Practice makes perfect. Or much better. And saved some major damage and repairs to your car. But then, you knew that. You knew that day would come. As certain as the sun would come up.
The second learning that day – and that came to me much later. Years later. Practice the non-intuitive. Practice that a lot. Make it second nature. Automatic.
Sometimes valuable learning isn’t appreciated until it is really put to the test.
And that was the third Learning – following the first and second Learning. Again, learned much later. After reflection. After the usage.
All from one Lesson from Dad, who passed away in 1991.
And the beat goes on….
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