Learning to drive not easily forgotten

By Jeffrey Fazio
DriveTime Columnist

Itís funny how certain memories just have a way of popping up in your mind more frequently than others. Itís like the tab on their mental file is just a touch taller than the rest which makes them more likely to be chosen at random. Some of those memories for me revolve around when I was learning how to drive.

Learning to drive and getting my license were really pivotal moments in my life. I impatiently waited for that day ever since I first learned to spell C-A-R.

The first time I ever drove a car was in 1990. I had just finished a shift working as a bus boy at the former Mountain Springs Association and my mother came by to pick me up after work in her 1986 Toyota MR2.

This was the first brand-new car she ever bought and she made it very clear to me growing up that I would never, ever drive it. Donít even think about it.

Needless to say I was shocked that night when she told me to jump into the driverís seat and get started. I had just recently received my learnerís permit and was really anxious to get moving. She only let me drive around the parking lot for a little bit that night, but it was plenty to get me going. I was really proud that I didnít stall the manual-shifting car at all.

My next really clear memory took place a few weeks later somewhere in the woods near Wernersville. We were sitting at an intersection. It was either Furnace Road or Sportsman Road and there was the slightest incline to pull out from. Although this wasnít a steep enough incline to cause stress, even to a beginning learner of stick-shift driving, it managed to be plenty enough to provoke my first stall.

I know, who really remembers the first time they stalled a car? Well I do. I know I have issues. Iím working on it.

Back to the story, I ended up stalling the car several more times. Iím not sure how many, but it was a lot. It felt like at least 50 or 60 times. Maybe 183. Anyway, the more I tried the worse I got. My emotions ran high and my frustration higher. My mother somehow maintained patience through all of this, and she finally ordered me to shut down.

She told me to turn everything off ó everything. She wanted me to relax and start from scratch. As I started to shut the car off and put it into neutral, thatís when I finally realized I had the car in 3rd gear. All that time I was trying to pull out from 3rd gear on an incline. Good luck with that.

Another set of memories revolves around my driverís education classes at Reading High School with Mr. Baldwin.

Mr. Baldwin insisted, at my persistent questioning, that he had only ever driven over 55 mph once and that was on a long trip that included a highway that was actually posted for 65 mph. You may recall that back in 1990 most highways were still posted for 55 mph and he swore he always drove within the limits. Who knows, maybe he actually did.

A few weeks later we were out driving and Mr. Baldwin indicated to me that he wished, for at least once, that I would just drive a constant speed. I replied that I am always driving a constant speed. He questioned that and I replied, "Iím constantly driving as fast as I can."

Another memory from that class comes from the day that I was the first student in the car to drive. As the first driver of the day I had the responsibility of getting the driverís ed car out of its parking spot along the curb.

As I was trying to extract the car from the cavity it was in between two mammoth school buses, I asked Mr. Baldwin, "If you really pushed a school bus, how fast do you think you could get it to go?"

He lightly replied, "You really have the wrong attitude about driving, Jeff."

Sitting here some 16 years later, I canít help but wonder if he happens to read my columns about the racing I do now. I wonder if he remembers that I was the impatient former student of his that day-dreamed of driving fast cars.

In retrospect he was right. I really did have the wrong attitude about driving and it cost me greatly over those first few years of driving. It took me too long to get over that attitude, but that still doesnít stop me from occasionally wondering how fast you could get a school bus to go if you really, really pushed it.