The second I turned 15½, I was a man.
Well, at least I thought I was, because at that point I could legally drive a car!
I was enrolled in Driver’s Education, so no force on earth could stop me.
Why anyone in law enforcement or the car insurance industry thought attending Driver’s Ed would make us better drivers was beyond me.
If they thought it would give us enhanced driving skills (HA!), or slow us down (BWAHAHAHAHA!), they must have never attended Norman High School’s Driver’s Ed classes.
These were not taught by skilled race car drivers who had attended the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving school, who wanted nothing more than to teach the next generation life-saving motoring skills.
No, these were “taught” by football and basketball coaches who were padding out their schedules.
And by “taught”, I mean “overseen by grumpy, whistle-wearing men who wanted nothing more than to make it to 3pm so they could do what they did best — scream at smelly, obnoxious teen-age boys.
I had the basketball coach, who was a legend on the round ball court, but didn’t seem that enthusiastic about risking his life in cars driven by teenagers with raging hormones.
I felt like for Coach Max, Driver’s Ed was like serving prison time. He just wanted his time to pass so he could get out, alive, and go coach his beloved basketball. So, as I recall, we spent less time actually driving and more time watching “safety” movies and reading the stupid textbooks that were probably written when people drove mules.
But after we’d whined long enough, Coach Max would give in and let us slowly, cautiously pilot the enormous old, four-door Ford down the road at 25mph, before, carefully, applying the brakes, and gently parking the behemoth back at school, at which point Coach would start to breath again.
But by far, the “best” Driver’s Ed teacher, and by “best” I mean “most certifiable”, was Coach Ray, the linebacker coach. Just like on the football field, Coach Ray preferred to be “agile, hostile and mobile” behind the wheel.
This brought the 260-pounder great mirth, and was hugely embarrassing to a buddy of mine. His eyes were literally rolling back in his head one day after “mobiling” with Coach Ray.
“He made us drive around the OU campus looking for hippies. When he saw one, he’d hang out the window and scream, ‘Heh freak, did your barber die?’ or ‘How can you tell which one’s the girl’, or ‘Don’t you have a bathtub’, then he’d let our that crazy laugh of his. I was sitting so low in the driver’s seat, I was almost looking under the steering wheel. I hope nobody saw me.’
But the best part of Driver’s Ed, and by “best” I mean “grossest”, was when they showed the Highway Patrol-produced movie that showed the goriest, bloodiest, highest-body-count car crashes in the history of automobiles.
This movie, of course, made the girls squirm and, of course, put the boys on their best, most “mature behavior”. And by “mature behavior”, I mean we would compete to say the wittiest things as loud as possible, like:
“That’s his head! Look at that! It’s his freaking head on the car seat! Oh man, they need to drive that thing through the car wash with the windows down. Oh, man!”
In truth, the gore films did have a short-term effect. We did slow down. For about two weeks. But then hormones took over once again.
And as long as you had a “licensed driver in the front seat”, you and your Learner’s License were basically airborne while driving down Berry Road, screech, onto Lindsey, screech, through the Sonic, screech, BUMP, back onto Lindsey Street, screech, through the Hollywood parking lot, screech, chink-chink-chink (sound of beer cans being chucked out the window), ad nauseam.
But, thinking back on all this, maybe we did learn something in Driver’s Ed.
After all, most of us are still alive. Agile, hostile and mobile.