John’s Recon

March 21, 2010

Asses Are For Big Boys

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 5:19 pm

Theresa picks up our grandson, Grayson, from preschool every Wednesday to spend a few hours plus dinner. He is three and a half. Out of the clear blue he says, “Asses.” “Asses is a bad word.” ” Asses.” Theresa says, “Grayson.” He follows with, “You can only say asses when you are a big boy like my daddy.” Asses.”  Then he starts on the rules and regulations on the next word he can’t say.

This kind of unexpected behavior has returned to our house. For my wife it is in the form of Grayson. For me, it has to do with driving. You see, I started my “observations” part of my driver education teacher training. I rode around with 11 young drivers this week. This was an experience in unexpected behavior. The point, of course, was to teach me to expect this behavior … to be comfortable with a lane change to the left lane where the driver checks his blind spot over his left shoulder but steers right, making essentially a lane change to the right … to expect a near perfect driver at the end of their hour to make a perfect stop, look left to right, and make a right turn on red – right into people turning left on the green arrow. The instructor/owner of the driving school already had his foot above the break so we only lurched — bet those left turners on green arrows will look a little harder at the magnetic signs on a car. The owner tells a story of a time a young lady driver heard a song she didn’t like come on the radio, squeal, and take both hands off the steering wheel to change the station … while in a long left turn … only after the turn had she realized her mistake … OMG. Another one of my teachers told me one of her students went home and told her mother that the car she drove must have a mind of its own … she only had to gently push the brake and it continued to stop on its own … perfectly behind the line. Her mother told her it was the teacher. She said no way and then later asked the teacher, “Do you have a brake in the car?”. They had to show her … she didn’t believe them.

I’m sure I will have other stories once I start teaching “beside the wheel”. Meanwhile, I got to start learning the unexpected IS the expected.

March 8, 2010

A Good Driver

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 11:59 am

As some of you might know, my family suggested that I would like teaching Driver’s Ed with an outfit like Classic Driving School (in Plano and soon to be in Richardson/Dallas). They have some interesting cars and still have a Porche (only the owner is allowed to teach in it now). So along with my art class, I am now in Driver’s Training Training. As part of the certification process, we are required to include in our submitted application folder a 1000 word essay on our early driving experiences. Although I could easily balloon many of my early stories, I am submitting the following 999 words.


I think I was 10 the first time I climbed behind the wheel of a big old Cadillac with a huge two-tone steering wheel and a hood long enough to make trucks proud. My grandfather let me steer on the curvy mountain roads of Pineville, KY while sitting on his lap. I couldn’t touch the pedals yet, but that was a mere formality. My grandfather agreed that I was a good driver … just like Raymond in “Rain Man” was a good driver.

I think I was 13 or 14 when Mother Nature “ratted” me out when the snow wouldn’t gather on the hood of our Jeep “woody” station wagon due to residual engine heat and my Dad discovering that someone was “borrowing” the Jeep in the afternoons. I was strongly disciplined and kept in line by the threat of not getting my license until 18. This was a horrifying thought since everyone got their license on their 16th birthday. I had driven all around Northbrook, Illinois which was a suburb of Chicago before I got caught. I drove in rain, shine, sleet, snow, and ice. I stopped at all the lights … even merged onto a highway or two. But now it was time to toe the line if I was ever going to get my license on my 16th birthday. Still, I was a good driver.

During High School Driver’s Ed, I had a teacher named Mr Spain who was missing his left hand. He had a hook that was a marvel to watch as he deftly manipulated a car around tight turns. He had a way of hooking into the steering wheel and rapidly spinning the wheel … the way you see an old locomotive wheel spin or a pumpjack on the plains of West Texas. Although we learned city driving in Mesa, Az, he loved going to the nearby canyon lakes. Saguaro Lake, had long gentle highway turns. The dreaded Apache Trail, Highway 88 to Canyon Lake was filled with turns more suited to skillful drivers. When the turns got tighter and the going got steeper with 50 – 100 ft cliffs on the edge of the road, it was my turn to drive … all the way past Canyon Lake and back. Mr Spain said I was an excellent driver.

My mom would let me continue along the Apache Trail to Apache Lake which was more difficult. She once let me drive all the way to Roosevelt Lake using the Apache Trail which was dirt with wash board/washed out areas the last 20 miles. I fell in love with the scenic driving that I still do today. My mom said I was an excellent driver but then she was paid to say that … oh wait, no pay, just love.

My dad tricked out his Toyota Land Cruiser. This was the old tiny 4-wheel that was better and more rugged than anything off-road at the time. He researched it and put gauges in for roll (up to 45 deg without rolling over) and climb (60 deg up without falling backwards). He learned in the Smoky Mountains … a la Coal Miner’s Daughter. He needed those gauges when we drove off-road in the Superstition Mountain Wilderness area to hunt. One time when we came up on a piece of washed out road that ran along the steep hillside he stopped. He explained that he was going to use centrifugal force to keep the Toyota up on the hill. I was to wait for him to get across and then come after him … hopefully not down for him. He was moving about 20 mph when he slung the Toyota up onto the hill above over the smooth part of the wash and down the other side. Another time, others, while standing by their stuck 4-wheels stared unbelieving as we climbed up a very steep muddy hill with with just 2 wheels and 20 ft rooster tails out the back, popping up over the top waiting for us to return to earth. It was scary and I thought we were falling over backwards but he pointed to the gauge and I saw we were only at 48 deg climb. I was a good driver but he was the most excellent. He loved to drive but he let me on occasion out in the boonies … even the tricky spots. He never said it but I think he thought I was a good driver.

I got my license on my birthday. My mom took me. She was excited for me and had me drive her straight home where she gave me the keys and told me she didn’t expect me back for 3 hours, dinnertime. You see I was an excellent driver and aced the tests and even received a complement from the test giver on parallel parking.

About one month later I was driving through an intersection with all cars stopped except for my lane. I maybe slowed a little when I entered the intersection but promptly hit a police car on his front wheel and slit his car open to the back wheel. Another officer got out of his car (where did all these police cars come from?) and promptly gave me a ticket for “Failure to Yield” which carried a lot of points with it. I fought it (against 3 state lawyers — another good story) and won but the judge specified a condition … I take the new class they were starting called “Defensive Driving”. This is where I found out that being a skillful vehicle handler does not have that much to do with being a good driver. It is like being a good dribbler/shooter doesn’t make you a good basketball/soccer player. In traffic, we are all a team of good/bad skills playing with hostile/friendly players using a rather limited facility for our own purposes. We don’t communicate with words or gestures (well some do) but rather with “Car Body Language”. That is what you have to know to be a good driver. With 43 years of driving experience, I am starting to get good at interpreting this other language.

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