I still remember the day. It was early fall in 1970 and I was barely 16. I had a brand new driver’s license and couldn’t wait to use it. That Friday night there was a youth group party at our church. I excitedly asked Mom and Dad if I could be the one to drive Dad’s ’65 Rambler station wagon to church that night instead of my older brother Dan. He had almost two years of experience already but I didn’t think he’d mind if I drove.
There was a moment of silence as my parents gave each other what seemed a horrified look but in the end they relented. Dad’s last words as I went out the door were, “You be careful and don’t get in a hurry!”
I was very proud of my driver’s license but hadn’t really thought much about driving until the spring of my sophomore year when I took the classroom part of driver’s ed. I got an A in that class. It was probably the only A I got that year but you see I was motivated. I wasn’t so much motivated in my other classes; like geometry.
In the summer I had my behind the wheel instruction. Each week for six weeks I slid behind the wheel for my 40 minutes of driving while two other students observed from the backseat. Our instructor was a lady that seemed much older to us and she seemed to chew a lot of gum. Especially when we had close calls.
I would nervously watched her foot and when it inched closer to her brake pedal I knew I was going too fast. She didn’t say much and I spoke even less, being true to my shy, introverted personality. Once when I turned right off the highway going way too fast causing all of us to slide to the left under tremendous G forces my instructor casually remarked, “You took that corner a little fast, don’t you think, Paul?”
“Yes, I guess I did,” I replied as she slid herself back to her side of the car. She quickly unwrapped another stick of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum as I focused on the next turn.
The other time she said something to me was when a boy named Raymond called me and said he needed to switch driving days with me. Raymond and I never really got along but I reluctantly agreed against my better judgment. A day later a girl called while my family was eating at the kitchen table where the phone was.
“Hi Paul,” she said, breathlessly. “You don’t know me, but my name is Rosy. And I desperately need to switch driver’s ed days with you. Would you be willing to do that?”
I did know her. But I pretended not to. She was a cute girl that wore rose tinted wire rimmed glasses and dressed like a clean cut hippie.
My sister watched me as I nervously talked and said in a sing-song voice, “Paul is talking to a girl!” Then it seemed like the whole family was listening.
“Um, yeah, sure I could do that.” I answered Rosy.
“Oh, that is so great Thank you sooo much!” Rosy said. “People told me you were very nice. Now if there’s ever anything I could do for you, you just let me know. Okay?”
There was a long awkward pause as I went over what all she could mean by that. Finally I muttered, “Um, yeah. Sure. Goodbye.”
I assumed Raymond drove on my day and when I went to drive on his day he was sitting in the car looking at me smugly. I was pretty sure our instructor didn’t believe his story that I was the one who made the mistake since she let me squeeze in and we each drove for only 30 minutes that day.
As I was getting out of the car my instructor said, ‘You’re going to get into trouble with all these trades, Paul.”
I considered telling her I only traded with Raymond and Rosy but I just said, “I have it all straight.” And Rosy did hold up her end of the bargain. But I never saw her or Raymond again.
But getting back to my first big excursion driving, my older brother, Dan and younger brother, Tim and our little sister, Anna all piled into Dad’s Rambler station wagon. Dan and I discussed the best route to take. “Just go up Clinton to Park Street and turn right then turn left on Vandalia,” Dan advised casually.
“That’s the way I would go. Easy peasy, lemon squeasy.”
I wasn’t sure what lemons had to do with it. Dan was always using phrases from books he read or TV shows and sometimes I wasn’t very sure what he was talking about. But I just nodded and replied. “Except I’ll have to turn left to get on Vandalia Street.”
“Well that’s the quickest way and we’ll barely be on time if we leave right now.” Dan countered looking at his watch. “Unless you want to drive up town through all the four way stop signs and come back to Vandalia and then turn right. You could do it, after all you’re a duly licensed driver now, with the state of Illinois putting full faith in you. Just don’t over think it.”
My introverted, complicated mind considered his alternate route for too long. “But that will take us way out of the way.” I finally concluded.
“And we are just getting later by the second. You know what they say, ‘Later, dude!’” I didn’t know who said that but I never heard it before.
A few minutes of driving and we were at the stop sign and waiting to turn left on to Vandalia Street where the speed limit back then was 45 mph. There were cars buzzing by from the left and from the right with hardly a break big enough to coax the Rambler out on to Vandalia Street. I was sure all the cars were doing at least 45 mph if not more.
I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a car pull up behind me. “You might could get in if you go right now,” Dan suggested with an urgent tone.
I started to go but changed my mind at the last second. “He who hesitates is lost.” Dan remarked. “Like, let’s get this show on the road!”
“What?” I said as Tim and Anna tried to help from the backseat. “You might be able to go after the next car on my side,” Anna said hopefully.
“Not on my side,” Tim said. I checked in the mirror and now there were three cars behind me. My hands seemed to be sticking a little to the steering wheel as I kept looking left and right and then left again. In my conflicted, convoluted, introverted mind I kept hearing screeching tires, crunching metal and shattering glass as a bead of sweat slowly trickled down my neck. Those drivers ed movies really had an impact on me.
Just when I thought I could go I took my foot off the break and Anna hollered, “Wait, Paul!” I slammed my foot back on the brake pedal and looked back to the right. An old man was crossing the street in front of me. He glared at me through the windshield.
Dan sighed and muttered, “Let’s look before we leap shall we. You know what they say. Haste makes waste.”
I took a deep breath and glanced in the mirror at all the cars behind me. My hands were now sticking to the steering wheel and I was wishing I had let Dan drive us.
“There’s a space coming on my side,” Anna announced. “Right after the dude on the motorcycle.”
“My side is clear after the VW,” Tim declared enthusiastically. “What a machine!”
Sure enough I thought I could make it. It was all I could do to not watch the motorcycle fade out of sight. I loved motorcycles.
I floored the Rambler and we swung slowly left into the lane of traffic. I was feeling relieved as I drove away from the stop sign and I was just sure the people in the long line of cars behind me were all applauding.
I was just starting to relax when Dan said, “Warp speed 9. Execute!”
“Huh?” I said as I wondered what I did wrong.
“I mean,” Dan said, “if you would go the speed limit we just might get there late a tad bit earlier.”
“Oh.” I said as I coaxed the Rambler’s speed up.
“Now we’re going where no one has gone before!” Tim hollered.
“Boldly,” Dan agreed.
“Yeah, right,” Our little sister said with a dubious tone.
I just kept thinking, ‘I did it! I turned left onto Vandalia Street!’
And I let Dan drive us home.
And there will be a highway called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not travel it–only those who walk in the Way–and fools will not stray onto it. Isaiah 35.8
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. John 14.6
You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand. Psalms 16.11