“DRIVING THE CLOWN CAR”
by Rick Jones, Husband of the Minister's Wife
I get nervous when I see one of those cars with a sign that says “Student Driver”. It doesn't have to exhibit dangerous actions for me to start trembling; just seeing it triggers the memory of what I was like behind the wheel during one long-ago high school summer.
Farmers' kids learn to drive early. Their parents train them first on tractors, then pickup trucks, so they can help out with the family business. The only reason they take the Driver's Ed class is to get better insurance rates. This segment of the young population gives rural communities generally safe roads. It also makes the driving instrustors' job easier.
But I was not a farmboy.
My driving instructor was Mr. Neider, who mainly taught physical education [a fancy term for “gym class”] and coached various sports teams. He was usually friendly and sometimes patient, but like many teachers, he had a poorly developed sense of humor and wasn't pleased with students who were “class clowns”. I believe he genuinely cared about the well-being of his students and wanted them to succeed in life. That might be why he accepted the thankless task of teaching Health, which mostly involved warning adolescents away from sex, marijuana, and beer. [“Beer,” he said, “tastes like it came from the hind end of a horse.” I was tempted to ask him how he knew what both substances tasted like, but I wasn't dumb enough to say that to a man who could make me spend all of the next gym period running laps and doing push-ups.]
When the Driver's Ed teams were assigned to their cars, one of Mr. Neider's teams was Doug, whose dad worked in a factory; Wes, who was a pastor's son; and me, whose father was a railroad man. Not a farmer's kid in the bunch, so although we'd all driven [let us ignore the matter of parental consent], our teacher had a lot of training to do.
The odds were stacked against him. We were from various backgounds, but we all had one trait in common: the reputation of being “class clowns”. When Mr Neider saw the three of us standing by that car, he pulled out a box of Tic Tacs and popped a couple in his mouth – a nervous habit that all three of us immediately noticed. Without speaking, we each, simultaneously, made it a goal to “drive” our teacher to consume the supply of Tic Tacs in the entire county.
I suppose you're expecting me to reveal the various pranks we pulled that summer. And it would be fun to relate tales involving lost keys, allergies, and a pre-“Dukes of Hazzard” jump at a railroad crossing. But without getting permission from Doug and Wes, I can't justify jeopardizing all three of our drivers' licenses. It also might upset our instructor, who was, looking back on it all, a pretty decent guy, who, by the end of the summer, had remarkably fresh breath.
Besides, when Mr. Neider retired, he took up hunting. I think he still wanders the woods at night, popping Tic Tacs and muttering, “Class clowns are always in season”.