When you set sail for Ithaca,
wish for the road to be long,
full of adventures, full of knowledge. ~Constantinos P. Cavafis
It’s no secret I’ve been sneaking Kyle short drives here and there on back roads for a few months now. Not to mention, over the years, I’d let him steer, shift and start the car. I never wanted driving to be a totally foreign concept to him.
Kyle got his permit last Tuesday, August 8, 2017. He passed on the first try! Way to go buddy. He’s officially allowed on the open roads with a legit driver.
It’s amazing how many rules and regulations have changed since I took my driving test, a few years ago. (insert wink) Like what? Well, first of all the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is in a different location in Greensburg. That’s right, it used to be closer to downtown Greensburg off Pittsburgh Street. Now it’s in a strip mall leaving Greensburg on the outskirts. Back then we were allowed to get our permit at fifteen and take our test the day we turned sixteen. Or get our permit one day and the next take our test. There was no waiting period. Now the students have to be sixteen to get their permit, log so many hours of driving in all sorts of weather conditions and wait six months before taking the driving test. At first I was sort of irritated over the new rules, but after I thought about it, if this process proves safer for our young drivers, I’m on board.
Last Tuesday, I actually got to meet Kyle at PennDOT before he took his test. Somehow I was the possessor of his social security card. Naturally, he needed it, Aunt Heather to the rescue. Seeing him, even for a brief moment and wishing him luck made my day. Not to mention receiving a text message shortly after, stating he passed his permit test made me even happier.
A week ago today, my cousin Stacey got married. Congrats Stacey!!
I picked Kyle up early and asked if he wanted to take over the wheel. He smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, “I guess.” While backing out of the driveway Kyle remarked, “I’ve never gone over 20 miles an hour.” What? It was then I realized he never logged time behind the wheel. No one took him out at all. None. Zero. Zip. Now we were on our way up busy route 66, to get onto even busier route 22, then through town and finally back roads. Pretty aggressive travel plans for a newbie. My comment? “Well, go slow. You’ve got to learn to drive these roads some day, so I guess it’s today. I’ll help.”
Kyle seemed excited, yet a little nervous. He was lucky it was me instructing him. (Ask Tree when I took her driving in my stick shift. She hit the curb at Legion Keener.) I’m really calm and patient in these situations, and I’m good at supplying detailed instructions, the way Kyle responds best. I wanted to show him I had faith in his abilities, as well as use the opportunity to give him valuable intangible lessons. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. I wanted Kyle to gain experience and build that confidence, while shying away from arrogance. Plus, the more road time he got with an experienced driver, the better.
How did he do? GREAT! He did stress when cars passed us on the opposite side of the road going the other direction. He was also uneasy when cars went around us on route 22. Understandably. Throughout the entire trip, I reiterated, “I know buddy, it’s stressful. For now, just stay to your side and focus on the road. Let everyone else wait or go around us.”
While we were on route 66, before reaching Delmont, not even a mile into our trip, a car passed Kyle illegally. Yikes. He looked at me alarmed, not knowing what to do. I told him, “Stay on course. Let them go around.” Typical Kyle called out, “That’s illegal!” My response? “I know buddy but are you going to arrest them? Let them get in trouble and focus on the road.”
Once we got to the point where a left turn was necessary to merge onto route 22, Kyle was forced to change lanes. He was uneasy. I found out he couldn’t turn his head to look, use the mirrors, drive, and turn on the turn signal. We’ve all been there. He did manage to use his side mirror without drifting into the other lane. I craned my neck to double check for oncoming cars. In fact, I did that entire way just to play it safe. We made a good team.
At the red light a lady in the passenger seat beside us spotted me giving Kyle hand motions in preparation for the turn left, to avoid sideswiping our neighbors and without driving headfirst into the opposite traffic making their turn. At this intersection, if a driver isn’t careful, paths could cross resulting in devastation. Our temporary neighbor lady was sweet. She smiled and gave Kyle thumbs up. Kyle grinned and remained focused on the red light. I told him, “She knows you’re a new driver and she’s wishing you luck. People are generally kind and understanding.” Kyle kept his eyes on the road in anticipation of the left turn and zoned out of our unspoken conversation.
While making the successful turn, I explained we had the right away from merging traffic on our right. Before I could get the words out, a car that was going too fast, cut in front of us without yielding. I guess these are all good lessons for Kyle to learn and to know what to watch out for.
As quickly as that happened, we had to get onto route 22, merging left. Now we were the yielding party on a busy road with cars in front, beside and behind us. This time Kyle strictly kept his eyes on the road ahead. To make a safe transition, I was his lookout spouting instructions regarding fast approaching traffic. Kyle merged gracefully, while seemingly not sweating it. However, upon closer inspection his knuckles were bright white.
Eventually, I’ll have Kyle practice changing lanes on route 22, but I didn’t want to give him added anxiety or press our luck. He handled the road like a champ.
I did find Kyle was already driving like me, too fast. More than a few times I caught him going 60+ miles an hour. All I said, without yelling or freaking out as to not startle my inexperienced driver was, “Kyle let off the gas.” The first time I said it, Kyle looked surprised because he wasn’t doing it on purpose. He glanced at the speedometer and said, “Oh” then did as instructed. After it happened a few times Kyle admitted, “I’m just trying to keep up with the traffic. Everyone is speeding!” I had to laugh, he is so me.
To put things into perspective I said, “Kyle, you don’t have the experience they do. Plus, you don’t have your driver’s license and I don’t know the consequences of getting pulled over for speeding with a permit. And if I get in trouble for your speed, you’re in double trouble.” His reply? Typical me comment, “I don’t think anything would happen to me.” I smiled and retorted, “You don’t think? I bet the cop will make an example of you and take away your license for a year. Maybe even make you retest for your permit. Plus, I’m sure I’ll get in trouble too.”
On a side note, it would be funny for Kyle and I to take our driving tests together. Not an ideal situation, but a good story for later.
Kyle pondered my words and soon after I noticed a big change in him. He kept asking me the speed limit and would confirm his speed out loud, more for himself than for my benefit. He’s so funny. He gives the exact speed. Example:
Kyle: “What’s the speed limit here?”
Me: “Umm, I’m not sure, I bet it’s 45, just go slower to play it safe.”
Kyle: “Yep, it’s 45. (I never saw the speed limit sign). Okay, I’m going 46.”
Me: “You’re doing good buddy. Just don’t go over the speed.”
Kyle: “Okay, I’ll let off the gas a little. Now I’m going 44.”
Kyle never slammed on the breaks when he realized he was going to fast or when he was easing into a stop sign or red light. Sometimes his stop was a little rushed but not totally abrupt. I did explain about people rear-ending him and trying to avoid collisions, his fault or not. His advance was sometimes a rushed. I told to relax with the gas peddle, we weren’t in the Fast and the Furious. We weren’t drag racing anyone. He laughed.
There were a few times cars looked like they were going to back into us, or they stopped without using their turn signal. Every time, Kyle’s reaction was to let off the gas and I saw he was ready to use his breaks. All without panicking. I reiterated my observations to give him constructive praise.
Kyle did crack me up at four way stops. He waved everyone on so no cars would be around when he turned or went through. I remember those days too. I reassured him, “I know it’s a little stressful going around other cars, just take your time. If you use your turn signal and go slow, most people will see you’re a new driver and be patient.” Sometimes cars waved Kyle on. He grunted every time with distress but made it through unscathed.
During the entire 45-minute journey, there were only two scary instances. One was making the right turn onto route 981 from route 22 at the light. Kyle was going a little too fast and didn’t cut the turn tight enough. I told him to slow down and tighten the turn. He responded with, “I know, I am.” Umm. Not really. I had to grab the steering wheel before we grazed the line of cars sitting at the red light. He realized what had happened and I believe he learned from it. Prior to that, when Kyle was in the passing lane in Delmont, he kept creeping toward the centerline. He wasn’t used to that side of the road. Again, minor instances.
During our trip I noticed when Kyle was off center, too close to the side of the road or the double line or he was speeding, he corrected himself before I called it out. Again, each time I gave him positive comments to reinforce good habits.
Kyle drove the rest of the weekend, to the store, the wedding and back home. Each time, I could tell he was doing better and more comfortable around other cars on the road, slightly.
Kyle was also faced with unusual instances. While driving through Latrobe, he had to pull around a person on a bicycle. I could see the fright in his eyes as I told him to go into the other lane to get around. He didn’t like that scenario yet skirted past our bicyclist easily. He also had to go around a parked truck that was unloading.
Finally, let’s discuss parking. Ironically, his issues were mine. I had Kyle pull up to the sidewalk while I ran into a store. I was half expecting him to scrap the sides of my tires. He didn’t and inquired, “How close am I? I need to be within 12 inches.” Not to burst his bubble but to be honest I stated, “Umm. It looks more like 18 inches buddy.” He retorted, “Well that’s the first time I parked like that.” I get it. It takes practice.
Kyle was forced to park at K-Mart, I spared him by not going to Wal-Mart. Playing it safe, he attempted his park job away from other cars, unsuccessfully. Laughing, I told him church people do a better job. He reiterated that he never parked before. No worries, I told him I’d take him out to practice a day of parking. I was never good at it either. We lived in the country and never had lines to park within, or other cars to park between. He’ll learn.
Fun Story. I’m notorious for never putting gas in my car, nor paying attention to how much is in the tank. Ever since I started driving, that task was never a concern to me. Did I run out of gas? You bet. Usually, I’d walk to the closest house and call Ryan to bring me gas. He always had some on hand, probably for me. Did it bother me? No. Maybe that’s why I never paid attention.
Kyle get’s in my car and immediately looks at the gas tank to exclaim I only have less than a half a tank. In my eyes, it’s nearly full. Kyle was not so blasé about the situation. As we were driving, the gas tank must have bothered him because he stated, “I know what I’ll do. When the gas hits the halfway mark, I’ll fill it up.” Yeah, now I’m not so sure we’re related, although, he did sound like my Dad. I told him he can borrow my car any time he wanted. I got a kick out of that comment!
One more funny story. Someone moved my car in my parent’s driveway, close to the side of an embankment. Directly behind it was a burn pile they burn boxes and papers but sometimes other items like nails and such get mixed in. I didn’t want Kyle to run into the pile for fear of puncturing my tires. I stood outside the car and had him cut the wheel into the driveway. He was seriously on edge (pun intended). Making sure he was in reverse (yes if he hit the gas in drive, it would not have been pretty) I gave him instructions. He kept the drivers door open. If I know Kyle he had an escape plan. He yelled at me, “This is illegal you know!” I told him to relax, he’s got it, and he did. If I thought he couldn’t handle it, then I would have taken over the wheel.
Okay, last funny story. Kyle drove us to the wedding. We had to park in a field with all the other guests. I was going to change places with him but he stated he could back into the parking spot. Okay, why not. As I gave him instructions to arch wide to give him enough room to straighten the car so he was backing straight, he misunderstood me. He drove in a big circle in the field. I was dying. The guys directing traffic were confused, as were the line of cars behind us. He did freak out on me, “You told to me to go this way!” I told him, “Calm down. It’s okay.” He managed to back up, with my help guiding the steering wheel.
He drove us home at night too.
Since Kyle was born, there wasn’t a day that’s gone by when I haven’t thought about him (and his Dad) and prayed for his well-being. The older he gets, I find myself adding to his prayer list. I could never handle Kyle meeting the same fate as his Dad. Maybe that’s why I’ve always insisted he gets experience behind the wheel. Ironically, Ryan was a great driver and that situation still doesn’t make any sense. God always has a plan.
On Monday August 21, 2017 was a solar eclipse. Pretty cool. It took place around 2:00 p.m. I texted Kyle and told him he needed to go out and drive around during the natural phenomenon so he could write down in his ledger about the weather conditions. His response. Nothing.