Drive: A lesson in patience.

Those of us who have been through it know that learning to drive is no easy task. Those of us who aren’t too proud to admit we are human can also confess to some of the many mistakes that were made during that time. Those of us who are truly honest can also admit that sometimes those mistakes still get made and that we aren’t all perfect drivers.

One of my most vivid memories of the period when I leant to drive happened not long after I first started driving with a manual gearbox. I’d been driving an automatic for several weeks and I’d managed to get a grip on the fundamentals like starting, stopping, keeping the car straight and fighting the urge to replicate my favourite demolition derby game every time I saw a car coming towards me.

There was never any question about whether I’d eventually learn to drive a manual or not it was just a matter of how long until Dad thought I was ready to add the extra work of changing gears to the skill set I was trying to build. So when the time came it was straight into his car and out of the road with L plates clearly visible in the front and rear windows of the car.

There I was out for my first driving lesson in a manual car and I was doing fairly well, there were a few crunched gears which resulted in friendly ribbing comments from Dad. Comments like, “Lucky they’re in a box,” or “find ‘em don’t grind ‘em.” These comments were then followed by encouragement that I was doing a good job and just needed to think more about what I was doing. However it was the comment he made after I failed to complete a few hill starts at a quiet set of traffic lights that have stuck with me all these years.

There I was sitting at a red light, slightly stressed and over thinking what I needed to do when the light turned green. There was only one other car at the intersection and that was a red Holden parked in line behind me waiting to follow me around the corner.

With my left foot on the clutch, my right foot millimetres from the accelerator pedal, my right hand on the steering wheel and my left hand on the engaged hand brake I was readying myself for that green light. Then as predictable as day follows night I did what pretty much every learner driver does I stalled it.

Even before I had a chance to reach for the key and turn the engine over the driver behind me was blasting his horn and flashing his lights. When I repeated the mistake a second time it was easy to see (and hear) that Mr Red Holden was not very happy. When I tried a third time and repeated the same thing the noise of the horn went from a blast to a long insistent honk.

Next thing I hear is Dad’s voice, slightly angry but very affirmative. “Stop the car, turn off the engine.”

Not sure what was coming next I did as instructed only to see Dad climbing out of the car. In a split second I wondered if he was coming around the relieve me of my driving duties for stuffing up but that idea was short lived as I turned  and watched him walk down the passenger side of the car.

Standing at the back of the car he looked directly at Mr Red Holden and yelled. “What the fuck is wrong with you? Can’t you see the kid is learning to drive? Have some consideration for others you impatient prick!”

He then got back in the car and told me to start the engine and take as much time as I needed to complete the hill start and turn. Relaxed and thinking clearly when the light next turned green I preformed my first perfect hill start.

In this day where so many idiots consider road rage to be an important part of driving, where one can never be sure whether the person in the car beside them is not a homicidal maniac in waiting, such a move would be considered foolish but thirty years ago things were different. And although Dad’s reaction to the impatient driver behind me was not far short of road rage I never saw it that way. What I saw was my Dad standing up and defending me for making a mistake even the idiot behind me probably made when he was learning to drive.

Patience on the road, it’s amazing how few actually have it.