How I got stuck behind a teen driver and was forced to rehash my own trauma behind the wheel

This morning I got stuck behind the most freaked out and by far the slowest teen driver I’ve ever seen. Of course it’s a law of nature that as I’m running late, a giant red SUV operated by a ghost-white and perspiring 15- or 16-year-old boy would have to crawl past and block me from passing him on our long, long back road en route to my office.

I aged twenty years in the next twenty minutes. As the teen driver — we’ll call  him Billy — continued at a snail’s pace, a line of cars ten deep accumulated behind me. At one point, I literally took my foot off the gas and just coasted while  going through my life goals, prioritizing them and deciding what my next “big move” should be. (So, um, thanks?)

I would have gotten really agitated — three years of commuting to college and driving D.C.’s Beltway daily will do that to a girl — but I could see that the kid was, well, about to have a nervous breakdown. And his sunglasses-wearing mother in the passenger seat just didn’t seem too worried about it.

Billy needs to learn how to drive, and trust me — totally get that. Sometimes it’s not convenient to wait for the roads to clear out before taking the newbie out on the highways. Yep, no problem — get that too. But couldn’t his mom see that her kid was gripping the steering wheel so tight, it darn near disintegrated in his sweating palms? Since I was almost in their backseat, I should have asked her to share her mug of coffee and pass me a section of the morning paper. Lady was just that chill about the whole thing.

If that were my perspiring 16-year-old, I’d have asked him to pull over and let the five thousand cars about to rear-end him go by. And then maybe the people that cut him off wouldn’t have been flipping the poor kid the bird at 8:45 a.m. on an innocent, sunny little Friday.

‘Cause, um? Traumatic. I wanted to grab a piece of paper and scrawl “IT’LL BE OKAY!” in big block letters, then hold it up to my window for baby boy to see.

Driving isn’t easy — especially in the “big city.” I learned how to operate a vehicle with my patient and good-natured father, who only occasionally shouted when I took a turn too tight. (Which was, you know, pretty much every turn.) In my old red 1990 Corolla, affectionately called “The Red Bomb,” Dad and I would cruise the streets of Maryland for hours as I tried to negotiate around SUVs and not get squashed by the locals — most of whom prefer a cruising speed of 85 mph.

I learned how to parallel park in a side lot at my old elementary school (everything comes full circle!) and never needed those skills — ever — until this past fall. Forced to park on a side street in Washington, D.C., I found myself in a cold sweat as I spied the only parking space within a many-block city radius — and I had to get it.

All those afternoons parallel-parking with traffic cones Dad set up came rushing back to me. In the eight years since I’d become a fully-licensed driver, I’d never had to call on these skills. And suddenly? It was all coming down to that one moment. Of course I was meeting a guy — and of course he was standing on the street already, watching me and this humiliating display of my parking skills.

But I got in the spot. After, you know, approximately 378,879,002 turns, but . . . I got in the spot.

Did I hold up traffic? Definitely.

Were people staring at me, including the aforementioned date? Yes.

Might I have gotten flipped the bird a time or two? Probably. But I was too scared and preoccupied to notice.

So actually, Billy? I guess it will be okay, but even functioning drivers get into horrible, horrible predicaments every now and then. I can successfully take turns, make it through traffic lights and am a pretty solid driver overall, sure, but don’t ask me to parallel park an SUV.

So cruise on, little buddy. Cruise on.

9 thoughts on “How I got stuck behind a teen driver and was forced to rehash my own trauma behind the wheel

  1. LOL, hilarious post! I remember learning how to drive and the first time I was out on a regular road going 45 I was terrified! Now 45 is annoying slow to me, lol. My first car was a red ’89 corolla!!


  2. I took driving lessons from a certified driving instructor. Not going to lie, I was a shaky mess. And one point, while I was driving, the instructor said “This car has been hit 5 times. But don’t worry, it was never the student’s fault!” Um, what? Excuse me? Really? How is that supposed to make me feel okay?!!

    Learning to drive isn’t easy, and sometimes the ones doing the teaching just make it worse.

    Great post for first thing Friday morning 🙂


  3. You never know, the mom may have asked the kid if he thought he could handle it and when he said yes, she let him go. Believe me, it’s not easy being the parent sitting in the passenger seat.


    • You’re totally right, Kathy — I think my dad was almost bald by the time my sister and I got our licenses! The stress. Oh, the stress.


  4. I tried to parallel park the other day – and gave up. In my defense, though, my power steering was out. It’s temperamental on warm days.


  5. lolz. my dad let me drive our tractor from a very young age (about 8) and it was a manual shift with gears and a clutch!

    when i was 10, i graduated to driving his truck around our backyard (3 acres)–it was like a farm. the truck was a 1974 chevy with a manual transmission on the column. fun. i stalled about a billion times before jerking forward 10 feet and stalling again. my dad never seemed to mind.

    by the time i got my permit at age 16, i was a seasoned driver and took my road test on a 5-speed manual transmission. no sweat. i was born to drive. 🙂


  6. oh god, lol. that poor kid–or “billy” as you decided to name him. let’s hope he gets a little more confidence in his driving skills soon!

    learning how to drive sucked! especially with parents in the passenger seat. my mom was clenching her hands and holding on to her seat the whole time she was teaching me.


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