Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Drivers Education circa 1980

Coach Reginelli, Isidore Newman School, New Orleans

Learning to drive, one of the last childhood milestones. It's looming for my own family even now as Olivia turns 16 next week. I learned to drive later than most American kids because my dad, the only family driver, took a new job in New Orleans just as I turned 16. He left me high and dry as he drove south that summer with both the car and my only chance of learning. My mom had never learned to drive and we lived in a town and an era where that was actually not weird. I can't imagine a suburban mom not knowing how to drive today.

As planned, we followed my dad to New Orleans a year later and I enrolled in the drivers ed program offered at my school, an ancient seventeen year old senior in a class full of spastic sophomores who could barely reach their accelerator pedals and ran around the class pulling each other's hair and flicking pencils at one another. Even I appreciated at the time how NOT ready they were to operate heavy machinery. I felt a bit of a loser because I was a full two years older than these ridiculous characters. But as fate would have it, there was one other loser that year. We are friends to this day, bonded forever by the rules of the road as taught by Coach Reginelli

Coach Reginelli, the school football coach and PE teacher, was a unique orator and had the difficult job of conveying the importance of safety to reckless 15 year olds. I quickly lured Susan, a.k.a. the other loser, into my negative world of wisecrackin' spiral notebook margin notes. She and I forged a quick alliance, partially to keep the sophomore idiots from approaching our air space but also because Coach Reginelli's malaprops and sports metaphors were legend. Memory of specifics has unfortunately faded for me, but his teachings kept us engaged and interested throughout. I believe that because of all the little pictures we drew in our notebook margins, we probably retained more information from that course than most high school classes. Coach Reg was perfectly suited temperamentally to the job of driving instructor. A coach's personality...strategic, unflappable, serious and most importantly, born of quick reflexes. For example, I never had been clear on the whole "merge vs. yield thing" (is there really a difference to some drivers?) until driving the twin span between the West Bank and downtown New Orleans. Luckily, Coach Reg slammed on the brake just in time as I swung onto the bridge on two wheels, truly vague to the fact that I was out of road. I appreciate that an athlete's reaction time is essential in driving instruction.

Susan had her own moments at the wheel and, at the minimum, did some paint damage to the drivers ed car in a brush with a metal trash can along the Mississippi River during her practice hours (pretty sure that was her and not me). We both passed our driving tests first time around and she and I can both throw down with a manual transmission. As Coach Reginelli was the high school football coach for young Eli and Peyton Manning, what I'm really trying to say is that, yes, Susan and I drive like Super Bowl champions. It's her birthday today and 28 years later, she is still a Super Bowl champ of a friend.


  1. I remember you sharing Coach Reg's guidance with me - in normal situations we can rely on a "rule of thumbs". (Both of them.)

    Happy Birthday Susan!

  2. In Idaho we took driver's ed at age 14. Shocking. I sat on a pillow. Eleanor Larsen was the super hip young PE teacher who did her penance as driving instructor. But in Idaho, even at age 14, nearly everyone had spent time behind the wheel on country roads. Mom taught me because she knew with Dad riding shotgun we would have perished in anguished frustration ("Look where I'm pointing!").

    Eleanor often chose to sit in the backseat herself, surely a violation of teaching rules. She would crank up the tunes and nap. I think she was nursing her pot hangovers, but I can't be certain. And every time it was my turn behind the wheel, the same song would miraculously begin to play on the radio: "Pretty women go walkin' with gorillas down my street...do-doo, do-doo...Look over there, where?!, there goes Jeannie with her new boyfriend...[wolf whistle] do-doo, do doo...Is she really goin' out with him? Is she really gonna take him home tonight?..." Et c.

    And by the way, with the advent of airbags, I hear that 10/2 position is no longer recommended. To prevent shoulder dislocation by airbags on sudden impact, 8/4 is the new rule of thumbs.

    Thanks for the memory, Julie, and Happy Birthday Snoozin!

  3. Why, after all these years, do you have a picture of your Drivers Ed Instructor? Creepy.

    Happy Birthday Susan!!!!!!

  4. I think I have an idea for a book! People's stories about their driving instructors! Funny story about Eleanor the pot head. Coach Reg definitely did not smoke the weed. Anne, there's a thing called Google images. It's a wonderful magical tool. Actually I think he's on the web because he coached the Mannings.

  5. I still have my notebook, Jul. That's scary in its own right -- almost as scary as the basement I just dug it out of. Time to warm up my scanner....

    Thanks for calling me a loser on the web, and for bringing back these great memories. I read it to Dad (the web-free Luddite) and had him in tears, too. It already is a happy b'day, all -- thanks for the good wishes!

  6. The thing I remember about my
    drivers ed instructor is that he
    also taught science classes.
    Before Mr. Riedel started teaching
    drivers ed, it was always taught
    by one of the coaches and basically
    the class was a no brainer, you
    just had to learn to drive a car.
    However, Mr Riedel thought it was
    important to learn about the way
    a car actually ran. So... I had
    to learn all 102 parts of an automobile and the functions, and....also change a tire. I have
    forgotten all of that and Tom says
    don't even try to change a tire,
    because you couldn't get the lug
    nuts loose. AAA is my answer to
    that! To this day, I still
    think of Mr. Riedel as basically
    a jerk. (he also used improper
    english)(and we sometimes corrected him)

  7. I think we are losing sight of something important here. Why DOES she have a picture of her driving instructor with her in Oxford?

  8. We had Bitchin' Bob Neumeyer for driver's ed. He actually fell asleep in the car the first time we went on the highway.

    I seem to remember that he also had a habit of asking us to pull up next to a pepsi machine, pull out two quarters and say, "Do you know how to play that game? Go win me a Mountain Dew."