Day 39 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Thursday, April 23, 2020 – Live to Blog from God Knows Where

#alonetogether

I saw my car key on my key ring this morning and barely recognized it. I haven’t driven in a long time now…but I’m mostly sure I still know how. If I do, I credit my Driver’s Ed teacher for having taught me well. Thank you, Mr. Parrish!


Driving with Mr. Parrish

Mr. Parrish was my Driver’s Ed teacher and, for a while, my golf coach in high school. I don’t know that he actually knew much about golf as I never saw him hit a golf ball. He did try to be be easy to find on the golf course though during our matches and tournaments. He wore bright red slacks and a bright red sweather vest so it would be easy to see him on the golf course. Unfortunately, for a good portion of my life, I’ve had difficulty seeing dark red colors. So he just seemed to blend into the dark green background until I he was about 50 feet away.

You know, I think our Driver’s Ed car was about this same stunning color.

I do remember him as a good Driver’s Ed teacher and an awfully courageous one at that. Fundamentally Driver’s Ed teachers have to be brave and calm under pressure. I suspect they also have to have a death wish. Can you imagine careening down the highway with three 15 year-olds in the backseat eagerly awaiting their turn to drive with another behind the steering wheel on the verge of panic and regretting she/he was going first? To make matters worse, we were all packed into the 1969 landboat known as the Plymouth Fury (see photo).

The Plymouth Fury, like many cars of the 1960’s, was a huge gas hog, was obviously designed to appeal to our grandparents, and was difficult to drive. When you sat behind the wheel it seemed like the car was as wide as a football field and just as long. When you turned the wheel it seemed to spin forever before the car finally began to go in the direction you wanted. Braking…wow…I remember it felt like you had to stand on the brakes to make them work.

The dealership had rigged up another brake on the front passenger side so if Mr. Parrish saw trouble coming, he could hit the brake for the youngster in the driver’s seat. Too bad they didn’t give him a steering wheel as well. We all needed it a few times.

The only place more terrifying to be than Mr. Parrish’s seat was anywhere in the back seat. There we were absolutely at the mercy of our classmate and in the hands of who we hoped was a loving God. We had all the characters in our class:

  • The brazen student who looked for every opportunity to go as fast as possible.
  • The timid driver who didn’t want to drive the minimum speed on the highways, including the interstate (which, by the way, is 40 mph).
  • The forgetful driver who never used a turn signal (yes, there are many, many decendents of that person on our roads today).
  • The literal driver who tended to actually stop on top of the stop sign.
  • And, my favorite, for a really good scare, the frightened one whose eyes would automatically close when the car reached 70 miles per hour (the legal daytime speed on two-lane highways in Iowa at that time).

Growing up in the 1960’s in Iowa we had a particularly dangerous highway we had to learn to drive on. Doing so successfully was the ultimate test for us. Locally it was called a “gutter” or “curbed” highway. These were U.S. highways built, or rebuilt, in the 1930’s as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), part of the country’s recovery program from the Great Depression. Many of the WPA highways in Iowa were narrow and had curbs. When it rained heavily, the whole highway became a gutter as it drained the water from the land around it. They were so narrow it was often necessary to run the passenger tires up to the top of the curb to avoid hitting an oncoming vehicle, especially wide trucks. Near where I lived it was U.S. Highway 218 which ran from Keokuk, Iowa to Owatonna, Minnesota, a distance of nearly 350 miles.

As part of our Driver’s Ed training we had to learn to drive on U.S. 218, typically the section just below Iowa City, Iowa. The skill we had to learn was to first drive the car at the daytime speed limit (70 mph). Then inch it up on the right side of the road until the passenger side tires were either riding at the top of the curb or had dropped off to the other side (in many places there was a drop off because of erosion). Finally, we had to return the car safely back to the highway. “Safely” meant without flipping it or bringing it back so quickly that we’d veer into an oncoming car. The day I had to do this, I remember sweating so much I stuck to the vinyl seat of the Fury from my knees to my shoulders.

Mr. Parrish forever has my admiration for daring to teach this skill to that range of characters in my Driver’s Ed class. It is a lesson I have never forgotten and that I have used more times than you can imagine. (How do you do it, by the way? Foot off the gas, let the car slow down on its own to no more than 40 mph, and, then, the tricky part. With a small, quick move, “snap” wheel to the left to bring the car back onto the road.)


Chickenman – Episode 8

Chickenman (aka Benton Harbor) is called into action to deal with The Strangler. Not even a broken pencil can stop him from his duty!


Your weekly dose of Some Good News


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and stay off the top of the curb!

Tom

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