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Full Circle: The Driving Lesson
On Father’s Day, my dad taught me how to drive. Sort of.

On Father’s Day, that poor excuse for Mother’s Day, my father never wanted a present. No shirts, no ties, no pocket squares. He just wanted to relax.

And so, as others went to a sumptuous lunch or a fancy-dancy dinner, my father got a big glass of cold lemonade and a frosty bottle of Miller High Life, and he sat in his big green chair with the matching ottoman in nothing but his blue boxers.

It was a special day for my father, the one day a year my mother didn’t yell at him to put on pants or put in his teeth.

Father’s Day came three weeks after my 16th birthday, weeks that seemed like an eternity. For my father, it was a day of rest. He had just spent a full month lugging his weathered leather sample suitcases down the Boardwalk in Atlantic City and Wildwood and Ocean City.

I understood all that, but I was losing patience. Everyone I knew was driving – except me. I was the youngest kid in my class, the last to turn 16. I really needed my father to teach me the ropes, so I could finally get my license. With that in mind, I bought him an even bigger box of El Producto blunts.

After he took each one out and smelled it for freshness, he looked at me and, in a voice he used only on bad waiters, he said, “What do you want? How am I supposed to relax when you’re standing there staring at me?”

“I need you to teach me how to drive,” I said.

“Today?”

“It’s the only day you’re home all week.”

“Damn it,” he said, “get me my pants.”

We got in the old white Dodge with the Gyromatic transmission and headed out. On the way to my freedom.

As he drove to Cottman Avenue and the empty Gimbel’s parking lot, my father decided to throw some questions at me, questions I would need to pass the written test.

“OK,” he said, “now how far from a fire hydrant do you have to park?”

I just looked at him. “What are the choices?” I said.

“Choices? CHOICES? You don’t get any choices. You have to know this stuff cold.”

“Umm, 10 feet, I guess.”

“Don’t guess. And you’re wrong. It’s 15 feet. And you just earned yourself a ticket.”

Ticket? I hadn’t even gotten behind the wheel yet and I had a ticket. This was no fun.

“Now, what does a flashing red light at an intersection mean?” he said.

“Umm, school bus?”

He threw his eyes up to the heavens. “No, no, no, no, no!” he said. “You have a lot of work to do, my boy.”

Well, at least I was still his boy.

There are a few things I didn’t tell you about a Gyromatic transmission. It was an automatic with a clutch. You shifted manually, into reverse or a low range and a high range. Each range had two speeds. The clutch was needed to change between low and high range. Yeah, I didn’t get it either.

The Gimbel’s lot was empty. Perfect. My father and I changed seats, and I finally got my hands on the wheel.

“Now let out the clutch,” he said. “Do it gently, very slowly.”

I tried. I lifted my foot off the clutch and threw it in gear.

Well, the sound an old engine makes when its gears are being stripped is akin to a mother delivering a baby without anesthesia.

The sound a father makes hearing that is 10 times worse.

“Damn it,” he barked. “Switch seats. I’m driving.”

“Where are we going?”

“We’re going home. I left something there.”

“What did you leave?”

He just stared at me.

“My beer,” he said.

June 2017
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