The rise of the student driver

As noted in previous columns, we have an up-and-coming driver in our family. Austin went from being fairly ambivalent about driving to deciding it was an urgent need. This was mostly prompted, I think, by seeing his friends take to the road in all its freedom-inspiring glory.

“I’m buying this car,” he announced recently.

“Oh, really?” I said, my mind doing an instant calculation of a variety of things, up to and including:

  • Where the hell he was going to park it;
  • How often I was going to be out there helping him work on the junker;
  • How insurance would be handled and how stunned we would all be at the cost;
  • The surge of horror we will feel when we watch him driving down the road, weaving a bit, perhaps in a cloud of exhaust smoke.

“Yeah, it’s got 90,000 miles on it, and my friend only wants like $1,000 for it.”

No more details were available, such as the make, model, year or condition. But Austin was convinced this would be the car for him. He also had it on good information from one of his buddies that insurance would only run about $200 a year.

Yeah, right.

As I’ve driven around with Austin, trying to get him to understand all the rules of the road while simultaneously piloting the vehicle – and, in the case of my car, shifting – I have discovered that there’s a fair amount of folk lore among teenagers about driving. Austin will recite some preposterous rule I’d never heard of, or blurt out some other factoid that has little resemblance to reality.

It’s all rather mysterious at this point, I can imagine. Since I grew up around a lot more car activity than Austin, they were a much more known entity to me by the time I started driving. I understood, for example, how a clutch worked and how power was transferred from the engine to the wheels. To my discredit, I have not shared much of this information with my kids because I simply don’t work on cars the way my Dad did. I don’t have the space, the tools or the time and, I suspect, the sophisticated engines of today would present no great difficulty to someone who learned the basics on cars with carburetors and breaker-point ignition.

Even so, the time is nigh when I need to show the almost-driver how to change a tire, put in windshield wiper juice, check the oil and other such basics. Since Austin is the kind of person who doesn’t know or really care how an engine works, I’ll skip over the homily about internal combustion, transfer of power from the pistons to the crankshaft to the wheels and pretty much anything else save the workings of the stereo and seat adjustment. Replacing a fuse, I’m guessing, would be tantamount to changing an engine, and perhaps something best left to the local garage.

We can get jaded about driving after doing it for so many years, but I still remember my first “solo,” as well as my first piece-o-crap car: a 1974 Dodge Coronet, mud brown with a 318 and seats like couches. It cost 50 bucks and, despite its disreputable appearance, was every inch as cool as a Maserati to me at the time.

Soon, I suspect Austin will come home with something similarly crappy, beaming with pride of ownership regardless of any obvious shortfalls. He’ll be off to the races, I guess, and hopefully these months of training will pay off when he’s calling all the shots.

It does, though, make me long for the days of light-saber wars and snowball fights.

 

 

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