My first driving lesson

by Helga Gruendler-Schierloh

As a teenager — years ago — I often imagined how wonderful it must feel to operate a car. So, one day, an expectant smile on my face, I walked into a driving school.

After the formalities were completed, the receptionist handed me a timetable and wished me well, I was ready for my first hour of instructions. In those days that still meant learning how to handle a stick-shift.

A dark-haired young man — who resembled the star of a popular TV commercial —approached me with, “Hello, young lady. I’m your instructor.”

He motioned toward a light-green VW.  

His grand looks and charming demeanor already making my heart beat faster, the sight of the automobile increased my excitement even further.

I sank happily into the soft cushion of the passenger seat.

Leaving the city’s traffic jams behind, we arrived at a quiet road in the suburbs, where that long awaited magic moment finally became reality.

After the gentleman traded seats with me, I gripped the steering wheel.

Then I paid careful attention to my advisor’s explanations. And — SUCCESS—the vehicle screeched, hummed, and moved. A triumphant feeling flooded through me.  

When it was time to shift, I couldn’t find the gear lever. My foot slipped off the clutch, the car bolted forward — and stopped.

The instructor chuckled, then helped me restart the car. The engine hummed again, but my enthusiasm had sunk several degrees.

In addition, my instructor’s voice now went into overdrive:

“Keep to the right! Drive straight ahead! Don’t zig-zag! Avoid the ditch! Stay on the road! Shift, please! Ouch, that hurts my ears! Wrong gear! Turn on the blinkers before you turn! Watch out, there comes another car! Step on the brakes, now! Yes, but much less brutal!

Within the confines of one hour, that man had transformed from a fascinating prince charming into a nagging, yapping frog or, at the very least, into an insufferable grouch making irrational demands. Didn’t he realize I only possessed two hands and two feet?

As I was desperately fumbling through buttons, switches, and handles, my self-confidence took a nose-dive. Gone was my euphoric anticipation, destroyed my vision of zooming along at ease, and shattered my innocent faith in the desirability of technology.

Upon returning to the driving school, my head buzzed with anxiety, my body oozed with perspiration, and my knees shook.  

I decided right then and there I would never again be impressed with supposedly experienced drivers’ proclaiming how they were swinging themselves behind the wheel, gunning the engine till it roared, and then cruising along at 100 miles an hour.

When I eventually got my license and became the owner of some modest vehicle, I had been chastised into being a rather humble driver.

To this day, I calmly start the engine, allow it to warm up, then drive carefully, because:                      

“A car can be definitely useful,

that goes without much talking.

But if your nerves are frazzled,

You’d better stick to walking.”

Helga Gruendler-Schierloh is a bilingual writer with a degree in journalism. Her articles, essays, short stories, and poetry have appeared in the USA, the UK, Canada, and South Africa. Her debut novel, Burying Leo, a Me Too story, won second place in women’s fiction during Pen Craft Awards’ 2018 writing contest.

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