My youngest son, Solomon, passed his driver’s permit test recently.
It was a proud moment for the unassuming 15-year-old high school sophomore – and sort of terrifying for yours truly.
Don’t get me wrong. He’s (mostly) a responsible kid. He (usually) makes excellent grades. He (generally) uses good judgment.
But, I was 15 once and I know the truth of what lies within.
My parents would tell you that I, too, was a good kid. Like most of you, I made my fair share of dumb mistakes along the way.
But generally speaking, I walked the straight and narrow – especially when it came to driving. In fact, I’m still quite proud of the fact that after more than 30 years, I’m still (mostly) accident free behind the wheel.
Of course, I had a pretty nifty teacher.
His name was Paul Pool and he was the high school girl’s basketball coach back in my hometown who made some extra money each summer by teaching driver’s education courses to incoming sophomores.
Coach Pool would spend the mornings teaching us from the textbook and the afternoons consisted of some semi-private driving lessons on the streets of our old hometown.
Fortunately for me, the guy I was paired with spent most of the summer with a hangover so most days it was just Coach Pool and I on the open road of Pryor Creek, America.
After a week or so of introductory lessons, things got more interesting.
“You have any money, Gus?” he asked me one afternoon.
“Then drive us to the closest gas station. Today, you start learning the good stuff.”
His instructions were crystal clear.
I was to drive to the corner gas station. Go into the store. Buy him and I both a fountain drink (“with just a little bit of ice”).
“Today, we’re going to talk about practical application of some of the things you’ve learned so far,” he said.
That afternoon, he taught me the finer art of balancing a drink between my legs while carefully driving with my right hand strategically placed on the wheel at 12 o’clock.
The next day, he taught me how to drive with only my left hand – “You know, so you can hold your lady friend’s hand if you want,” he said.
The following day, he took me around to all the local speed traps and gave me the lowdown on when – and where – to look for the fuzz.
The next day it was the guided tour of the proper turnaround spots while cruising. In my hometown, it was the old car wash at the intersection of Elliott St. and Graham Ave. on the east edge of town and on the other end of town it was in the Pizza Hut parking lot by the old Wal-Mart store.
Coach Pool taught me lots of other valuable stuff that summer – including how to change a flat tire, the occasions in which it is safe to speed (never), and how important it is to pay attention to train crossings.
“And always use your dang blinker,” he would say. “Nobody likes a fool who doesn’t know how to use a dang blinker.”
Sadly, Coach Pool died a few years ago at the age of 62 after a battle of leukemia, but not before he finished a stellar coaching career that included an overall record of 591-232, two state championships, and an induction into the Oklahoma Coaches Hall of Fame.
Even though I no longer live in Oklahoma, I had always secretly hoped to bring my sons back some day to pick up some driving tips from ol’ Coach Pool.
Now that he’s gone, I suppose that means it’s up to me to pass that wisdom on to Son No. 4.
I’ll try to make you proud, Coach.
“Hey Sol. You have any money? What do you say we go get a fountain drink?”
David Gustafson is the not-so-mild mannered publisher of The PineBelt NEWS. More importantly, he’s the father of four sons, all of whom are now officially driving age. Look for a GoFund Me pledge drive soon to help pay for that auto insurance bill.