At the end of another ten-hour work day, I sit inside a parked car with a student behind the wheel and watch a woman drive circles around our vehicle. She loops repeatedly in a big, black Dodge Ram truck, flashing a peace sign through the window and shouting, “You can do it Matt, you can do it!!”
She's pumping her son up for his Mock Driving Exam. At one point Matt, laughing in the seat next to me, throws a half-eaten apple at her. It sails over the pavement and into her open window. Mom dodges just in time, shaking her fist in the air, and keeps circling.
I really like the mom and Matt. Only our second time together, but we have a rapport that occasionally occurs between strangers. The first time I met Matt’s mom she looked at me with a serious, I’m-a-concerned-parent expression, and said, “So what’s in today’s lesson: lawn jobs and taking out mailboxes?”
Matt and I laugh as mom burns another loop around our car. A faint odor of tire is building as the truck show continues. Matt turns and looks at me.
“Ya’ know, she recently survived breast cancer,” he says. “She’s much different now, in a good way.”
I watch with a smile as Mom makes one final circle and then hurtles out of the parking lot. She roars off down the road.
I run Matt through the initial, pre-drive setup.
“Mirrors?” I say, knowing that kids rarely bother to check these.
“Check!” Matt replies, sounding like a fighter pilot.
Matt tips his head back and guzzles a can of Adrenalyn Shot, a caffeinated energy drink in a jet-black can with a threatening logo. I keep pace, powering down a huge cup of corrosive 7-Eleven coffee.
“Okay, so this is a Mock Exam,” I say, dropping back into Serous Teacher Mode. “I'm only giving directions. You need to determine and execute the proper steps on your own. I'm only stepping in for safety sake.”
Matt nods, looks straight ahead through the windshield. “Let’s do this thing,” he says.
We pull out of the parking lot and drive down a main road.
“Okay,” I say, “Let’s take a left at the next light.”
Matt drifts into the turn lane. A minivan swinging through the intersection, cuts the turn too sharply and heads straight at us.
"Wrong lane buddy."
Matt laughs at his comment and hits the brake. The stranger keeps driving straight at us. He gets to thirty feet of our car before he whips his head to the side and yanks the wheel, swerving back onto his side of the road. The minivan snakes back and forth through two over-corrections before the driver regains control. He drives past us, looking dazed.
We laugh as Matt speeds up again. It's a close call but Matt handled it perfectly.
“Good,” I say, “you played it cautious and didn’t honk. Or flip him off.”
We roll through the intersection, enter a busy four-lane road, and approach a solid green light.
“Okay,” I say, “turn left at this light, when it's safe.” The green light is solid, not an arrow, so we need to yield. Matt taps the brakes and we slow. But without warning he suddenly hits the gas … and turns the steering wheel!
Suddenly, I remember Matt mentioning something during our last lesson about having ADD.
We're in the middle of the intersection before I whip my head to the side and see two cars bearing down on us from the other direction. The closest, a sedan, lurches to a halt. Its hood presses down violently and snaps back up as the driver blares the horn. The second, a huge SUV with its grill at head level, actually speeds up.
For a split second, time stops.
The truck is twenty feet from my open window and the engine roars in my ears as my stomach falls away.
"Go, go, go, go, go!!!” I scream as Matt slams on the gas. Our heads snap back and we rocket into a dead-end road.
Matt pulls to the curb.
We sit silently for a moment.
My heart's pounding and my head is fuzzy. I picture medics dragging my body out of the car with the Dodge Ram insignia pressed into my forehead. The truck looked just like the one Matt’s mom was driving.
The pounding slows and my head starts to clear. I chuckle and look over at Matt. He exhales and runs a hand through his hair before turning to me. His sheepish look says he's probably expecting me to shout at him. But I never yell at kids. That's for hard-guy authority figures with too much arm hair.
"You might want to give yourself a bit more room there," I say.
Matt exhales and shakes his head. "Man," he says, "you've got nerves of steel."
"Well,” I reply, "you'll never forget to yield on a solid green again."
published 29 January 2011