Driving 101


Melissa Stagnaro

A co-worker admitted to me this morning that she didn’t consider herself a good driver. There was no sugar coating. I believe what she said was “I tend to crash a lot,” but maybe I shouldn’t quote her on that.

We were discussing driving, not in light of any recent mishaps, but because her 17-year old cousin is working on getting her driver’s license.

This co-worker (who shall remain nameless for the time being) is worried that she may not be the best person to instruct a new driver in how to make a three point turn or parallel park, skills she admits she has not used since passing her own driving test. A test which she strongly believes her parents only allowed her to take because they believed she would fail.

I was, of course, reminded of my own experiences learning how to drive. (Yes, there were cars back then.) My father was my primary instructor, or shall I say tormentor, in the process which shaved years off both of our lives.

Oh, it started simply enough, driving in endless circles around the Oxford Primary school parking lot. And then driving in reverse along that same path. From there we progressed to back roads, where I invariably hit every pothole and rock I tried to avoid. Then we tackled actual paved thoroughfares where there were other cars and my father expected me to drive at or at least close to the posted speed limit. I was so not ready. The day he made me drive on Route 12 for the first time, I cried.

I would like to tell you that it was the first and last time I cried in that car, a white Buick Lesabre, during my quest to obtain my drivers license. But I won’t lie.

I didn’t think that my father would ever deem me ready to take the test. Our “lessons” became more and more infrequent and finally, in an effort to force the issue, I decided to sign up for the driving test at DMV.

I had been told that it was typical to wait for several weeks for an open appointment, but thanks to good old Murphy’s Law mine was less than a week away. I was so screwed.

Needless to say, I was unsuccessful in my first attempt. My downfall? Not the difficult stuff like parallel parking and K-turns. Hand signals. My examiner? The same woman who had failed my sister 15 years before. I was convinced it was personal.

I was devastated, of course. And so traumatized that I refused to drive for more than a month. My father was persona non grata around the house.

I signed up for driver’s ed before taking the test again. Our driving instructor was Mr. Todaro, who I believe is still training Oxford’s youth to obey the rules of the road. The class gave me the confidence I needed to retake (and finally pass) the driving test. And having to arrange my transportation to and from the school during the summer months was suitable punishment for my father.

My father successfully taught many non-family members how to drive and he’s an amazingly patient and thorough flight instructor. The two of us in the car together was stressful to say the least, but I love him dearly. I wouldn’t trade him in for anything.

I made it through okay in the end and I consider myself a safe driver. Especially compared to my co-worker.