Sept. 23, 2004
All drivers are not created equal. That should be in the constitution. Somewhere in the amendments since it didn’t make the rough draft. I grew up in the South – Mississippi. Where you learn to drive the old fashioned way. Behind the wheel of a tractor. Now my education started young as I mowed yards or not yards really. I mowed acres. Thank goodness I had a riding lawn mower. It only took five hours to do my grandfather’s yard and another two to do my dad’s. Then another hour to do the ditch bank that connected our houses a little over a quarter mile apart. Somewhere close to 10 acres of mowing, once a week.
So you learn how to drive small John Deere tractors like the lawn mower and move up. The one drawback to mowing so much once a week on a loud lawn mower is that you tend to go deaf and lose feeling in one of your feet from the vibration, but other than that the five bucks my grandfather gave me usually brought the sensation back to my hands. So you learn how to drive, straight long lines or how to make big sweeping circles around Magnolia trees and other large objects in the yard.
Now when you hit the ninth grade back then, you had a special class called Drivers Education taught by the football coach. Now some schools used their basketball or track coach for this class but our coach was our coach, he coached everything and for some reason the school board thought he was expendable to be put in the same car with 14 year-old former lawn mower drivers. My first experience behind the driver’s ed wheel was on highway 82. A nice old, two-lane highway that will take you to Mexico if you have enough gas or north to places like Alabama. Anyway, a large truck was coming in his lane and I slowly eased over and two wheels were off the pavement and on the shoulder. Coach immediately spoke up, "Stowers!” Was all he excitedly said. “Just giving him plenty of room, coach,” I replied. Well, after a few more classes I learned they don’t need as much room as I thought and I started keeping all four wheels on the pavement. Now coach was one for a few laughs himself. We had four students in the car and when we would pull over to change, he would inevitably put his foot on the passenger/coach side brake and hold it down. The new driver would buckle up and coach would say go and they pushed down the accelerator and nothing happened. With a straight face coach would say, "Did you break the driver’s ed car?” which usually led the panicked student to push or jam the accelerator down a bit further than normal. Coach would then ease his foot off the brake the car would tear out leaving a terrified driver and four amused passengers. The funniest part is that the secret was kept until the whole class had been through this initiation of sorts. So that’s where I learned to drive.
So I took this knowledge with me to the hinterlands of America in my life’s journey. First to Tennessee. Now in Nashville and other southern states I’m sure, you can tell the tractor drivers from the rest of the population. They drive slowly and purposely in one lane. It could be the right, left or middle but they stay there. Now most of them usually are in the lane farthest away from the exit they need, maybe they are inspecting the mowing prowess of the state highway crews. And when they read the last exit sign they immediately head toward the exit, across all lanes, with no regard for other “mowers” on the interstate. As a mower thinks, “there are no other mowers on the road, so I have all rights at all times.” Stay far behind or far ahead of the “mower” drivers. They also may stop suddenly to clear debris from the road so they don’t mow it.
From Nashville I moved to California where speed limits are posted but not adhered to. You are either driving zero or close to 100. Everyone in California has a car or two and they take both of them wherever they go. And Southern Californians freak out with weather elements. No side street is safe during rain as everyone exits the interstate and uses side roads. You can’t get to the interstate, so my five mile commute took 45 minutes. Entrance ramps in California are like rocket launches. You start down it and look to the interstate to see how fast everyone is going, usually close to 100, but on most entrance ramps they have installed stoplights. Geez, you want me to drag race my way onto the 405 only to come to a screeching halt within a mile because everyone is rubbernecking at a tire change. To top it all off, I once got a speeding ticket and had to go to driving school, again. This time my $220 ticket was reduced to $180 with no points and I had to listen to a comedian talk about driving all day. I haven’t’ seen him on TV or any reality series, so I assume he’s a hit at the driving school. Oh, and my insurance increased when I moved to Socal. My agent says there are “more expensive cars to run into here.”
From California to Indiana. Backwoods hoosiers. Prefer not to relive time spent in this state. No wrecks, no tickets but driving in adverse weather. Then I moved to driving hell. Michigan. This state is known for making cars and everyone drives like every car is expendable. The “indestructible drivers” I call them. My first entrance into Detroit city limits and I’m forced off the road and down and exit by some jerk who wouldn’t release his portion of the road to me. So I ended up lost in the middle of the night in downtown Detroit. Not where a young, white country boy should be hanging out at midnight. Weaving my way back to the interstate I finally made my destination. That one encounter should of informed me that I was making a bad decision to move here. More were to come.
Being run off the road is a walk in the park when compared to being run over at a stoplight. Upon reading all of the witness’s police reports which were in great detail and many paragraphs such as “the Ford F-150 veered out of his lane and charged the changing signal as the hapless Honda began its left hand turn” and continued. Then I read my report to the policeman. “A big Ford truck ran over me at a stoplight.”
Good thing I wasn’t mowing, I guess, but I would of helped to of had coach there screaming “Stowers!” But I survived with eight staples and windshield glass imbedded in my head and some pocket change from the insurance company to cover the loss of my 1982 Honda with 240,000 miles on it. I think I bought a fancy cup of coffee with it and still couldn’t cover the tip.
So when it comes to driving, I long for the days of large circles in my grandfather’s yard where the only problems were the magnolia trees and what to spend my five bucks on.