The Kids Are Alright
read by thomas sullivan
I start the day teaching two girls. We’re driving past the library when I see one of our cars on the road. I’m not sure who’s instructing, but it’s probably Thomas. I abandon my route for the moment and have my student turn each time Thomas does.
Five minutes into this tailing, my driver asks, “Are we following that car?”
“Yup,” I say, “it’s one of ours. You two want to have some fun?”
“Sure,” the driver says.
Her sister in the back keeps quiet. Thomas’s car turns left and we follow, maintaining our distance.
“Now,” I say as we stalk our prey, “you guys know how much you hate getting honked at, right?”
My driver glances over and says, “Definitely.”
“Okay, this is a learning exercise,” I say. “We’re going to practice what not to do by doing it. Should we ever honk at someone just because we’re in a hurry?”
“No,” the girls respond in unison.
Thomas’s car turns right after halting at an intersection. Focused on her slow pursuit, my driver does a California stop, rolling past the stop sign. She does check for cars, so it’s safely illegal and I let it slide. We’ve got bigger fish to fry here.
“What do we do when someone honks at us?” I ask.
The girl in the back doesn’t say anything, but her sister up front says, “Ignore them and only do what’s safe.”
I’m impressed and tell her so. Thomas’s car stops at a four-way intersection and we slink up behind it. I glance at the girl driving.
“Okay, honk. But do it gently.”
I forget that she’s probably never used a horn before. She leans into the steering wheel with both arms, pressing down like a celebrity chef kneading dough on TV. The horn blares out a sharp, extended honk. The girls erupt in laughter and I see a face pop into the side mirror. It’s Thomas all right, but I doubt if he knows it’s us. Our car lacks the required student driver marking on the front, so we probably appear to be just another impatient jerk. A few second later Thomas’s car turns right and we turn left. We all agree that his driver handled the situation perfectly.
* * * *
Later that day I’m cruising down the road with a young girl doing her second lesson. She’s glumly recounting a lesson she had last week in which her instructor yelled at her for making a right turn too fast. Whoever this is (I don’t ask and don’t want to know), it sounds like a staff infection to me. From my driver’s hesitant tone I can tell that she’s confused by the experience, knowing something isn’t quite right but not sure if she should be bringing it up.
“Were you told to slow down before the turn?” I ask.
“No,” she squeaks, cowering slightly.
“Well then,” I say, “you didn’t do anything wrong, because you didn’t know any better. Case closed.”
We roll up to an intersection and stop for a red light. We sit silently, watching the action in front of us. The intersection is a typical monster for this high-tech suburb, with drivers in multiple lanes each getting a brief chance to turn. Each time a light changes, a pack of cars squeal away from the light like dog-track canines chasing after a rabbit. I watch with dismay, but not surprise, as an SUV guns past us on a yellow turn arrow and squeals through the intersection.
The signal changes to green. My driver pulls away from the light and continues down the road. At the next intersection she swings left onto a secondary road, braking into the turn and accelerating out of it perfectly.
“There you go,” I beam. “Looks like you got the speed down now.”
She smiles and nods, and then admits that her turn with the last instructor was pretty hairy. I laugh, envisioning someone, probably the ex-cop from my training class, gripping the door for dear life.
We pull into a dead end and stop the car. My driver is about to parallel-park for the first time. She breathes in and lets out a nervous sigh.
“What happens if I hit the curb?” she asks.
“Well,” I say, “then we just try again. Don’t worry about it.”
I cover the steps used for parking, and the girl appears to relax. She looks toward the edge of the road and hits the gas to move. The engine revs with the car in place. Realizing that she’s still in park, she looks at me with a small smirk, and I grin back. She prods the shifter into drive, taps the gas, and starts rolling. As we approach the curb she speeds up at the last minute. Why she does this, I have no idea. It’s a first for me. The right-side tires grind violently along the concrete. As we jerk to a halt I tell her to approach the curb slowly and use the reference point. She apologizes.
“Hey, that’s how we learn,” I say. “Plus, what do we care? I mean really, it’s not our car.”
The four of us laugh. This line works every time, instantly putting kids at ease.
Thomas Sullivan’s writing has appeared in Word Riot and 3AM Magazine, among others. He is the author of Life In The Slow Lane, a comic memoir about teaching drivers education. For information on this title, please visit his author website at http://thomassullivanhumor.com.