The first time I ever drove a car was the first day I attended my high school drivers’ education class. My father had mentioned taking a cursory ride with me once I received my New York State learner’s permit, but we never got around to it.
On the first day, our instructor steered the vehicle from the high school to the parking lot of the Parkwood Pool complex in Great Neck (approximately one half-mile). I described him as a “Mr. Hand” type, based on the Ray Walston character in Fast Times at Ridgment High – authoritarian but fact-based. It must have been daunting to deal with the mangy mix of auto enthusiasts and nervous novices at our school.
I had arrived last and wound up in the front passenger seat. Mr. Hand turned to his four charges and fixed his steely gaze on me. “Trade places with me,” he ordered, stepping out of the car and walking around the front of the vehicle.
I slid over – we later learned Mr. Hand hated that maneuver and always wanted students exiting and entering cars properly and respectfully. I got behind the wheel and looked blankly ahead at the empty parking field.
“Just drive,” he commanded.
I put my foot on the brake, shifted into DRIVE, and pressed my foot onto the gas pedal. The car shot forward and Mr. Hand slammed his foot onto his emergency instructor brake. “Gently,” he said. The second time, I used less force and the car began its journey….to where?
“See those two cement planters?” Mr. Hand asked. “Do a figure eight around them.”
Sounds simple, but when it’s your first attempt maneuvering a 3,000 pound metal box, there’s going to be some curb-scraping.
It was a fun foursome in my drivers’ ed group. Besides myself, there was Walter Chin, a large, quiet kid who played on the football team. The lone female was Sandy Schwartzman, who married her boyfriend named Schwartz (that made her Sandy Schwartzman Schwartz). But the instigator who rubbed Mr. Hand the wrong way was Jon Bauman.
As Bauman took the wheel that first day, he informed Mr. Hand, “This is easy stuff for me, I’ve been driving since I was 15.”