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Adams: Millennials got nothing on the 80s

Posted: August 30, 2017 - 1:53am

In the 80s, learner's permits were like training bras. Some kids got them, but most didn't because parents believed that natural things like that didn't need any training. We had already learned to drive, anyway, while sitting on someone's lap when we were five or six.

On Nov. 3, 1984, one of my final days as a 15-year-old, my daddy climbed in the passenger side of his Toyota Corolla with me in the driver's seat. This was my first venture out on the open highway in full command of the gas and brake pedals. My generally stoic father gave no directions. He just sucked his breath into his throat, dug his right heel into the car mat and pressed his palms to the dashboard.

On Nov. 4, he subjected himself to another 10-minute flight. This time he said, squinching his eyes and shaking his head, "Ease into the curves."

On Nov. 5, I turned 16. My mother picked me up from school and took me to the DDS office to test for my driver's license. The man in my passenger seat talked more than my daddy. He told me to turn left out of the parking lot. I turned right. To re-route me, he instructed me to take the next right. I turned left. I apologized the whole time, assuring him that I know the difference between left and right.

When I finally returned us to the DDS, he sent me inside where another employee took my picture and turned me out as a licensed driver.

My mother did not let me drive us home. She didn't ride as my passenger until I was well into my 20s.

That was irrelevant, though. Nov. 6, I drove myself the 19 miles to school and I never looked back. I knew how to get to Pumpkin Center, so I could get anywhere in the world. Anywhere is where I went. Thus began my love of long road trips.

Teenagers are younger these days. They need more nurturing. My daughter passed the test for her learner's permit on her 15th birthday in May 2016. And still standing between her and piloting my auto solo were at least 40 hours of supervised road experience and 30 hours of online driver safety modules, plus acceptable school attendance and a school-based drug and alcohol course.

The first time she sat with her hands on the steering wheel was the first time she had ever looked out of a car window at all. It surprised her that she had to operate the steering wheel to make the car go in a direction of her choosing. She could not choose. She didn't know how to get to Pumpkin Center.

Last week, she at last took her driver's test. Parents these days are braver than parents in the 80s were. We endure more than two 10-minute training trips with our palms pressed to the dashboard. We throw up in our mouths so as not to rattle the teen driver. We don't have the option to wait until our child ages into her twenties before riding shotgun.

So I let my daughter with her crisp new license drive us home. As we pulled out of the DDS parking lot, she asked, "Which way do I go?"

Call me cracked, but what good are 40 hours of supervised road experience and 30 hours of online driver safety modules, plus acceptable school attendance and a school-based drug and alcohol course - what good is being 16 with a crisp new license - if a teenager still doesn't know how to get to Pumpkin Center?

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Lucy Adams is the author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny and other books. She lives in Thomson, Ga. Email Lucy at lucyadams.writer@gmail.com.

 

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