Tales of a first-time driving instructor and a lesson in humor
When it’s time to joke and when it’s time to learn
I saw the car moving. And I heard her yelling “Monnie-Chan” while she ran alongside the car, trying to pull it back. I’d gotten out of the car first and was headed into the gas station. Before I seriously considered the risks of it, I yanked open my passenger side door and dove headfirst into the driver’s side door, slamming the brake with my hand.
And then I rolled over to put the car in park. When I was done, I just hung out on the floor like that catching my breath, trying to figure out what just happened.
When Yuna* first asked me to teach her to drive, I wondered, “Why me?” I didn’t even have a car at the time, but I did indeed know how to drive. Yuna was so confident in driving that she bought the car before she learned. That is the mark of a serious woman.
I shrugged and figured it’d certainly pass the time. At least as a new driver, she wouldn’t find it completely awkward to learn to drive on the right-hand side of the street. (In her hometown in Japan, they drive on the left-hand side.) Teaching someone something from scratch is always easier than someone who is used to doing things another way.
But then I pondered on my own driving instructor: Mom. My mother has a different level of patience than I do. I lose my temper so much quicker than she does. The only bad habit we do have in common is we both can start yelling pretty quickly if we don’t choose to calm down and walk away. Still though, I did not want her to teach me to drive.
I knew for sure I had no interest in my father teaching me to drive. That was about equal to a driving instructor. In many ways, my father was more nonchalant than my mother and myself combined. But he was pretty high strung when it came to teaching someone to drive.
And my brother drives like he’s waiting on his role in “Fast & Furious” so I knew he’d teach me a bunch of bad habits. He once pulled me into a car and flung me on the driver’s side. I laid there like a rag doll before he finally sighed and left me alone. Nerves got the better of me. In all fairness, my brother has had so many cars I’ve lost count, and I am comfortable with him driving.
But I just didn’t want to learn to drive. I wanted to magically know it and not go through that awkward stage where I was fumbling around.
But I just didn’t want to learn to drive. I wanted to magically know it and not go through that awkward stage where I was fumbling around. I did finally get around to learning because I got a “D-” the first time I got behind the wheel with a driving instructor. You can just imagine what that drive was like and even worse with two other driving students in the back who got a “B” and an “A.”
I almost gave up at that point. And then there was another time when I tried to turn the corner, and I ended up driving up on someone’s grass within a few feet of a tree. And I forgot to hit the brakes. I looked at the tree getting closer and closer and heard my mother patiently say, “Monnie, brakes. Monnie, brakes. Monnie, brakes.”
She said it three times, in the same tone as a meditation speaker does. I heard her the third time, and then I stopped the car, drove the car safely to the curb and got out of the car. I decided that day that I was done driving. Save the trees. I’ll take Metra trains instead.
Eventually, I did learn to drive, with the help of my mother and a good friend of mine named Mark**, who taught me how to parallel park and how to ease up on the brakes. By my sophomore year of college, I’d come a long way. And I told the story of me almost killing a tree early and often. To me, it was funny as hell to make fun of my “D-” and the tree attack.
To me, it was funny as hell to make fun of my “D-” and the tree attack.
But I damn sure was not letting Yuna back behind the wheel, possibly making us lose a car or our lives before we could even get home for Thanksgiving. I’d invited her to come hang out with my family so they could meet her and so she wouldn’t be on a quiet campus. (She didn’t plan to go to her own home until months later.)
And when we got to my childhood home, I told my parents that story about her trying to pull a moving car. They cracked up laughing. Clearly I didn’t do a good job of emphasizing the parking part of our driving lessons. When we went to my brother’s wife’s house, I got ready to tell the story again.
But I made eye contact with Yuna, who shook her head profusely and dropped her eyes.
And I realized that although I thought it was hilarious to tell my tree story and my “D-” story, she wasn’t at the stage where self-deprecating humor was cool.
She would be — eventually. Once she was more confident in her driving, telling the story of “Monnie-Chan” flying through the car like Vin Diesel would be a fun tale to tell.
But at that uncomfortable stage when you’re still trying to master something, some people just don’t want to laugh it off. (I happen to be in the latter group.)
I learned a valuable lesson from that one conversation. Everything isn’t always a joke, especially when it’s at the risk of making another person feel small. While I did drive the whole way to Chicago, I still convinced her to get behind the wheel on the way back to Michigan. And she did just fine. She was clearly a lot more careful to put the car in park. When our college friends asked us how she did, I smiled in her direction and said, “She did great.” If she wanted to tell the joke of the empty car, I’d let her do it on her own time.
* The name has been changed to protect this person’s identity.
** This is his real name. He deserves all the credit I can possibly give him.