One of my favorite poems is "Birches" by Robert Frost. It talks about a kid "raised too far from town for baseball" grabbing tops of willow trees and swinging out dragging them down to the ground for fun. In our Valley....no baseball, no birches..... just drugs. Better chopping, cutting and schlepping than chopping, cutting and shooting.....
One of the few bennies of working for us out in the boonies is that we pay for Elischer's Driving School for all our girls. Ooops. I said "girls". Maybe that is because after 12 years out here I have never been able to get one boy to work for more than a few minutes.....but the girls are golden.
The modern choice....since our "poverty stricken" Carmel Unified School District has stopped teaching Drivers Ed.....to save money for Football and Baseball.......it is either pay for private Drivers Ed, or wait until you are 18.
Or have Mom or Dad "teach". Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers on NPR, were adamant about this.....no family can survive drivers' ed with Dad or Mom and teenagers.
In Cachagua and Jamesburg, our kids meet the bus at 5:30am.....and return at 4:30. If they are lucky. The motivated, smart kids do their homework on the bus. The athletic kids watch the rich kids go off to the gym at 3:15 for football and baseball and soccer, while they wait for the bus home. Sports are off the table for kids "too far from town for baseball."
Most of our girls start driving at 13....because of geography, and parenting. Or lack of parenting. Driving drunk dad home comes early....and the Sheriff and CHP have to be begged to climb Cachagua Grade. Those that are highly motivated and want to drive legally....take me up on my offer.
My own drivers' ed experience in high school might have had something to do with this. I went to Chatham High School in New Jersey. The teacher, like Click and Clack's, was the football coach.
Coach Ernie was a product of Parsons College in Iowa, a pay to play college. Parsons was among the first for-profit colleges....and went spectatularly broke about four years after Coach Ernie graduated. Parsons was briefly famous for the entire student body having mooned Hubert Humphry's presidential campaign train in 1968. Not much to do in Iowa....and drugs had barely been invented, so what else to do?
Ernie was not a slender man, so he was inevitably known as "The Parsons Pig". Poor Ernie.
Our class was six kids at a time, and met on Saturday mornings at the high school at 10am. The class was six weeks, and probably was a major part of Coach Ernie's salary. 120 kids in any given class year....not enough of Ernie to go around, even fat as he was.
The Chatham teaching vehicle was a Ford Country Squire station wagon. Us kids would meet at the school, pile in the car, and Ernie would assign one of us to start. The Ford Country Squire had a feature where the back cargo area folded into a bench seat facing backwards. Coach Ernie took that spot.
First stop was out Fairmount Avenue towards The Great Swamp (second largest swamp in the continental U.S.) and horse country. First stop was a deli on Fairmount. Ernie would go in for supplies: six Cokes, a twelve pack of Schlitz and the Daily News. We each got a Coke, Ernie took care of the rest and crawled into the back cargo area.
That was it! No Child Left Behind......Ernie sat in the back, read the paper and drank beer until he fell asleep. We kids drove around and decided on the rotation and direction. We learned lots of skills...in fact we became so proficient so quickly that by week four we decided to learn how to drive backwards.....and drove in reverse all the way from Bernardsville to Chatham. Taking turns of course.
One very snowy Saturday, we reluctantly showed up at school expecting to be sent home. Nope! This was Ernie's paycheck. He sent us off in the direction of the Short Hills Mall. There was a bar across the road where we dropped him off, and we spent four hours slipping, sliding, spinning in circles.....miraculously hitting no one and no cars. When time was up, we retrieved Ernie from the bar and dropped him off back at school.
Time have changed! Carmel Unified won't even think about the salary for a Drivers Ed teacher....and administrators faint dead away at the thought of the liability exposure and insurance costs.
As silly and fucked up as our program was in Chatham back in the day....Ernie the Parsons Pig actually saved my life, multiple times, and saved me lots of fender-benders. I left that class an expert in driving backwards with mirrors....and steering into the skid and staying off the brakes on an icy skid.....routine.
I am not sure that Elischer's can compete with old Ernie.....