I learned to drive before I turned sixteen. That wasn’t uncommon for a farm kid. Deb and I used to take her dad’s farm truck out for a spin on the back roads, sitting on the edge of the seat in order to push the clutch in completely and trying not to stall the truck while it rolled backwards down the incline at the stop sign and laughing really hard when it did. What a lot of fun that was.
My formal education came under the wise guidance of Mr. Drazenovich, the Driver’s Education teacher at Fort Frances High School. The first couple of weeks I had one-on-one instruction as the other members of my “class” of learning drivers were otherwise engaged so I soared through the required hours with relative ease. As a final exercise he took the three of us on a night-time drive to Atikokan, to learn some night-driving rules and to help the other two catch up on their hours before the end of the allotted learning time. Driving to Atikokan in the dark made us all feel as though we had been given permission to peek into the amazing world of being an adult and I must say, it felt rather delicious.
Mr. Drazenovich was a patient and wise teacher. He once slammed on the brakes on his side of the driver’s education car and scared the wits out of us, but he was merely testing them, he said. I can’t remember who was driving at the time, but it was before wearing seatbelts became mandatory in Ontario and I remember thinking I was headed through the windshield. Suffice to say, it woke us all up and we were on our toes from then on.
Mr. Drazenovich taught us the simple rules of hands at 10 and 2 o’clock on the steering wheel and though I still bow to that configuration, I do remember trying out the one-handed steering technique as soon as I got my licence, my elbow pointing out the open window even though I was so short it was incredibly uncomfortable. Images of Steve McQueen in Bullitt and Harrison Ford in American Graffiti spring to mind. He gave us the cues to use to parallel park perfectly each time and I have never shied away from parking, because of the solid foundation he gave us. He told us to count to three at every stop sign so we could eliminate foolish mistakes and to have a clear vision of what was coming at us from either direction. One of the most important pieces of sage advice from Mr. Drazenovich was to always look ahead while driving, see where you are going and make smooth adjustments to get there. If you stare at the front of your vehicle, he said, you will always be over-correcting and putting yourself at greater risk. That message has stuck with me over the past forty-nine years of driving, but not only when I am behind the wheel but rather as an approach to life.
I think of our all too common band-aid approaches to life’s problems, maybe most specifically the environment and how we work at protecting it and dealing with climate change. If we had but listened to those visionaries, those who were thinking outside the box, staring at the future rather than the “front of our cars”, we would not be in the position we are today. We seem so hard-wired to behave in a manner that considers what our specific needs are, regardless of its toll on others. We grumble and complain about wearing masks, accusing those calling for it guilty of power-seeking. It makes absolutely no sense. At the worst – we are inconvenienced. At the best – we protect each other. It is one tiny example of forward thinking.
Mahatma Gandhi said – Live simply so that others may simply live. He, like Mr. Drazenovich, was definitely a look where you are going kind of person.