Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Learner Drivers

We are lucky enough to have a park in our street and Dogadoo and I tend to visit there for a brief walk, sniff and crap (Dogadoo, not me) before having our lunch break. When sitting on my favourite park bench in the winter sun, I've noticed how many learner drivers use either side of the park (it has two suburban streets as its western and eastern boundaries) for their lessons.

As Dogadoo busied herself chewing a champagne cork by the BBQ and my brain was whirring away on an annoying case of writer's block; along came a learner car, with the 'L' plate on top about as large as a neon BP sign. The little corolla did few skip-jump laps around the park and a bit of gear crunching. 'Fair enough,' I thought vaguely. 'You have to learn some time, and 11am in the 'burbs on a weekday is about as safe a time as any.'

Our good fortune in having a gorgeous park and playground in our street is somewhat toned down by having a McDonald's at the end of it, facing the ever-busy Magill Road. I believe we are involved in a wasted physics PhD opportunity in that it clearly takes the average drunken bogan walking home on a Friday night the exact distance from Maccas to our house before they decide they no longer feel hungry but sick. They then automatically drop their unwanted thickshake, half-eaten McCoronary burger and stomp on sachets of dipping sauce for that Pro Hart, "I woz 'ere" effect.

The reason I mention this is that, during the weekdays, Maccas is the lunchroom of choice for many tradesmen, local veterinary staff and skiving students. Several of these were ambling through the park and could be heard making fun of the learner driver.
"Omigod, check it out over there," said Miss Norwood-Morialta. "Like, that chick in the car's like soooo getting it wrong, look at her."
Mr Marryatville agreed, his Adam's apple bobbling as he ate his McCrapple pie. "She can't parallel park for nuts!"
"How embarrassing," suggested Saint Joseph. "I would like totally die with my arse in the air if I was caught doing that."

As much as I wanted to tear strips off them for being so scathing I knew it would be wasted on those who were still too young to sit their L-plate theory test. They'd just regard me as some local loony given to berating irresponsible teenagers in local parks. Sure, they'd be correct, but why waste my breath? Instead, it took me back to 1985, when I dared to thumb my nose at convention and only learn how to drive a full YEAR after bothering to get my L plates.....

My parents owned two cars at the time - a 1973 volvo like this one, and a 1979 Toyota Landcruiser that required a forklift to sit in if you were less than five foot five tall. It also had a bull-bar that Dad had welded himself and presumably installed for our protection in case any angry rhinos or razorback boars crossed our paths in the wild streets of Murray Bridge.

Seeing as my folks were proud of their white whale and regularly discussed how safe it was, it was a given that I'd be taught to drive in it. Now we all know the old jokes about Volvo drivers (my grandpa even featured in a short film about them!) but she never let us down. The engine that could be heard several kilometres away, and I suspect that Mum and Dad appreciated it's volume when they lay in bed and glanced at their clocks to see if I'd got in before my 1am curfew or not. At the time of my driving lessons however, I was only thinking of how nice it would be to sit in the front seat and not in the back - the brown hessian seat covers - and smell - of the back held far too many car sick memories to contemplate with any fondness.

Mum was the first brave soul to help me, although she did look rather nervous. After spending about 20 minutes bunny-hopping our way around the golf course, she allowed to me to drive full pelt (or 50km/hour, which felt pretty bloody fast to me) up the Brinkley Road. Her reason for this was to escape any more painful gear changes; the sniggers of locals on the putting greens and to presumably have less targets for me to run into. Brinkley Road was kind of like an over-priced foccaccia - flat, dry and featureless. Every now and then Mum would feel a surge of security overtake her common sense and urge me to look out of the window at a retarded sheep, or crumbled hayshed, which would see me veer all over the road and Mum sitting there with her eyes closed, mumbling something about "....who art in heaven...."

When the lesson ended, Mum, a strict teetotaller, would rush inside and, failing having anything like vodka available, would tear into our den, where her sewing machine lived. She'd lift the machine off from the base and dive into the four family blocks of chocolate she had stored there. When I ambled inside a few minutes later, I could hear the unmistakable crackle of paper and foil before the 'thock!' sound of several rows being snapped off for consumption.

Dad was a senior high-school teacher and was going to make certain that I had all my driving techniques covered - no freewheelin' at 50 clicks for him. He would instead insist that we drive over the actual bridge at Murray Bridge which was scary enough, as the cast iron girders each side seemed to have a magnetic effect adn I was convinced I'd smash into the side. We would then find ourselves at the bottom of Look Out Hill, a popular spot for, well, looking out over the river and town and also for snogging late at night. For Dad however, it was the perfect place to teach his daughter the complexities of hill starts using the breaks, hand-break and gears.

Never drink and parallel park...... Never parallel park.

He was merciless and made me do it over and over and over again. At one stage I got out of the car, crying in frustration and rage, saying, "I hate you and don't want to learn how to drive - you do it - I'm walking home!"

..... which I did. Mum patted me on the arm and confided, "Your Dad taught me how to drive when we were engaged." She paused for a moment before going on, "Let's just say that the marriage was called off more than once and there were many times when your very existence - and your brothers' may not have eventuated."

Still, as Dad promised, I'd thank him later for it, and so, 22 years later: Thanks, Dad. I did pass my driving test - at first try! I couldn't 'rank' if my life depended on it, but managed to pull a passable attempt at landing the volvo between two thin sticks outside of the Cameo Cinema on examination day. I've since been advised that the term 'ranking' must have been a phrase used only by Murray Bridge-eans, and 'parallel parking' is the accepted term. I'd like to be able to defend my home town's preference, but considering that they thought the dump and tannery would be ideally placed by the river and that rendering fat at the meatworks would go a treat on hot, still summer nights, maybe I won't.

Since then I've needed about five car spots in a row so that I can glide the station wagon in like a jumbo jet or else I'm forced to park in shame about three streets away from where I need to be (which is getting increasingly difficult in *&^%ing Norwood, believe me).

But on that victorious, summer night, with my plastic P stuck proudly in the back and front windows, I drove over to my boyfriend Sean's place and took him out to the drive-in. All was well (as things tend to go with two consenting teenagers at the drive-in when something as utterly con-compelling as 'Short Circuit' and 'Policy Academy II' were on) between us, until I pulled into his parents' driveway - I'd forgotten to put the lights on.


River said...

Great story. You have such lovely memories. I lived in Murray Bridge briefly,about 3 years,working in the Farmers Union factory, and I remember the smell from the meatworks. It wasn't pretty.

franzy said...

I learned on a dodgy old hatchback and since then I've been able to drive and park pretty much anything. Although, I agree, Norwood does present its problems - fricking lane-hogging 4WDs!!

fifi-belle said...

At least you have only to visit Norwood... try living there, on the narrowest street, where there are no resident parking provisions... aargh!

Nai said...

The 14 year old driving experts are priceless. And inevitable. To be honest, I'm pretty sure I was one.

River said...

Coles opens at 6am so there's plenty of parking available then..........

Milly Moo said...

That's very true, River, and believe me, I tend to be an early bird!