Tom Purcell: Do you remember learning to drive?

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 11, 2021

My son Gideon certainly had a high-octane understanding of the THEORY of driving last winter.

As far as the rubber meeting the road, not so much.

My wife and I were relieved that he was enrolled in drivers education in high school, under the supervision of the football coach; but right before it was Gideon’s turn to get behind the steering wheel, COVID-19 shut everything down for the rest of the school year.

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Gideon received a grade for the abbreviated course, but now it’s back in the hands of his parents to get him ready for his driver’s license. My wife has been elected to be the primary teacher. And by “elected,” I mean she threatened me with a kangaroo court and a firing squad if I traumatize the lad with my stressed-out micro-management.

If I’m along for the lessons at all, my job is to sit quietly in the back seat and refrain from uttering any of the following allegedly disconcerting phrases: “Ramming speed!,” “Bandit, this is Snowman; you’ve got Smokey Bear on your tail” and “I’ve willed all four cats…oops, all three cats… to my brother, just in case.”

We must be patient with Gideon “I brake for…reasons known only to myself” Tyree as he builds confidence. Rome wasn’t built in a day. And apparently the end of the driveway wasn’t reached in a day, either!

I remember my own travails enough to empathize with Gideon’s anxieties about doing something embarrassing or destructive; but my memories have been placed into perspective to the point that they’re no longer a raw wound. Except I hate running into people I know when we’re out for a lesson. (“Gimme five!” “I would, but all 10 are permanently embedded in the upholstery.”)

Gideon has mastered the part of the spectrum that indicates “stop,” “go” and “caution” at a traffic light. But I dread his having to negotiate with other motorists at a four-way stop. My years of driving have convinced me that there is an infrared signal turning everyone’s brains to the consistency of used Pennzoil at a 4-way stop. (“Okay, my PhD can help me with this. The motorist on my right is…is…no, don’t tell me…hey, a turn signal! This must be one of those newfangled cars that comes equipped with one!”)

Gideon is growing up too fast, but I still don’t want an open-ended career as his chaperone when he starts dating. I want him to take responsibility for his own transportation. I just hope he can make it to the point of taking out girls without taking out MAILBOXES.

I don’t ever want Gideon to be cocky about his driving, but I do look forward to his getting more comfortable. Right now, there is the danger of overcompensating when there’s a slick spot or an obstacle.

Granted, some guys NEVER outgrow overcompensating. (“Hey, baby. New in town? Hop in my new sports car. We’ll have a good time… right after I go for my hair-plug appointment, stop at Costco for the bulk little blue pills, drop off this alimony check, make car payment number six of 150 and…Dang! She went from zero to 60 in under five seconds!”)

I know we’ll someday laugh about Gideon’s joining the ranks of licensed drivers; but right now, it’s problematic.

“Got your ears on, Bandit? There’s a big insurance premium increase breathin’ down your neck…”

— Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is syndicated by Cagle Cartoons. Email Tom at