It was destined to be “one of those days.” I got to school at my usual early hour. I had been inside the building only a few minutes when the voice on the PA announced that there was a silver car in the teacher lot with a flat tire. Yes, it was mine.
My first thought was to call a service truck. I had enough to worry about on the first days of school without fooling around with a flat tire. But something in me rebelled at the idea of paying someone to change the tire. Where I come from, a guy changed his own tire. I learned how to do it in driver’s education class on a 1959 straight-stick Chevrolet Biscayne. If I could change a tire on that big battleship of a car, I could do it on my Toyota. So, during my preparation period, I hiked back out to the parking lot. As I made my way, I tried to remember some of the things that Mr. Gorman had taught me in driver’s education. That class was a rite of passage. The day you climbed into that big Chevy was the day you became an adult.
The truth was that most of us guys already knew how to drive, or at least we thought we did. Our fathers had let us drive on a few glorious occasions. It was usually on a lazy Sunday afternoon on a country road with no other cars in sight. I can still remember the thrill of getting behind the wheel of my dad’s 1952 Buick Special, a great green hulk of a car. It had a magnificent Dyna-Flow automatic transmission.
The car that Humphrey Motors provided to our school was required to have a manual transmission. In other words, it was a “stick.” In those days you had to learn to shift for yourself. And therein lay the rub (and the shake and shudder, too.) As anyone who has ever tried it knows, there is an art to shifting. There is a fine relationship between the gearshift and the clutch that has to be mastered. Some people learn it faster than others. As I recall, there were students in my class who went through the entire course without finding the “magic mesh.” In the meantime, the hapless car, and its occupants, bucked and jolted at every stop sign.
I have to admit my most vivid memory of that class was our frequent stops at Boyden’s Bakery for warm yeast donuts all around. What a treat it was to leave school in the middle of the morning with the full permission of the principal, ride around town in a brand new car, and then stop at the bakery. All things considered, those could have been the best donuts I ever tasted. (I am happy to report that Boyden’s is still there after all these years. The little store still has its name in red neon and looks the same as it did when the big black-and-white Biscayne brought a teacher and four student drivers to the door.)
Flashing forward forty years to our school parking lot, I surveyed the situation. That tire was flat all right, but, as the old joke goes, “only on one side.” (I tried to keep my sense of humor.) I got the car manual out of the glove compartment and was relieved to discover a thoughtfully detailed section on “flat tires.” Whoever wrote it had me in mind. The language was simple and there were plenty of specific illustrations showing the lug wrench and jack with “up” and “down” arrows. I was 16 again as I held the lug wrench in my hand and placed it on the first lug nut. At the instant I heaved down on the wrench, I became my real age again. That familiar place in my back screamed “foul.” It screamed that way all around the wheel. I persevered, however, and pretty soon the spare tire was on and I was back in the restroom, scrubbing grease off my hands. I must admit, I was pretty proud of myself.
High school students still take driver’s education class today. It’s not the same, though. The cars they drive have automatic transmissions. That certainly must take some of the thrill out of practice driving (not to mention the sore necks.) I am not sure they learn how to change a tire anymore. If I were teaching the course, they would. After that, of course, we would take a spin over to Boyden’s Bakery. Every kid needs a few sweet memories to take with him into the future.
. . . And who could ever forget?
Driver's Education Class