Different

Copyright 2003 by Doug Huffman

Everything is different now; at least thatís what my mother always says. It doesn't matter if we are talking about accounting methods or kid raising, it seems everything is done differently now than it was with her generation. My recent experiences with the teenage driver in our family, leads me to believe that things really are different now.

First of all, when I was learning how to drive, the teenagers knew everything about driving and the adults barely had a clue. For some reason, my generation seems to have been blessed with knowledge and wisdom that no former generation and no generation since seems to posses. Take the subject of sex for example. Contrary to popular belief, sex was actually discovered by a few fifth grade members of my generation in the 1960s when they stumbled onto the subject of reproduction in the encyclopedia. Prior to that time, no adult was known to have ever discussed the subject let alone known anything about it. News of the discovery spread like wildfire through my generation in the 1970s, leading to one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in history.

Getting back to the subject of drivingÖ When I was learning how to drive, things were fairly simple and straightforward. The main object of the whole exercise was normally to keep the car right side up and on the road. Other priorities took precedent however, such as "being cool." Sometimes, in order to be cool, teenagers had to engage in various acts of high speed dare devil driving, which oftentimes caused the automobile to leave the road and occasionally resulted in the car being in some position other than right side up. When a person did this, he normally emerged from the wreckage with a new "cool" image, sometimes complete with cool scars. There were exceptions to this however. I was a geek (also known as a nerd). Geeks and nerds couldn't be cool no matter what they did. If a geek wrecked a car and survived, he emerged from the wreckage as a "stupid geek." Back in those days, wrecking a car pretty much just increased whatever type of status you already had. If you were cool, it made you cooler, if you were a geek; it made you more of a geek. With that in mind, I made it a point to always keep my parents car right side up and on the road.

I went through college driving my grandmother's 1965 Opel. When I got my first job after college, I continued to drive the Opel until a valve burned up in it. I then decided it was time for a new car. I was young, single, had a great job. I needed a great car. I bought my new Toyota Tercel in August of 1981. I am no longer single, I have three kids and I don't even have a real job anymore, so that is probably the only new car I will ever be able to afford.

My teenage children don't seem to know anything about sex, driving, or being cool. I have tried to discuss these subjects with them, but they don't listen and on those rare occasions when they do listen, they don't seem to believe me. I have made suggestions on how they might dress, walk, or talk to be cool and my daughters simply laugh. When I try to talk about sex, they don't want to hear it and teaching them to drive has been a completely new experience.

A couple years ago, I tried to get my oldest teenager, Amy to learn the basics of driving around the farm buildings in my 1981 Toyota, and she protested with angry words about how I wasn't qualified to teach her to drive. Over 130,000 miles on that beautiful car through rush hour traffic, down slick roads, through every kind of road hazard. I have driven that car to several search and rescue calls, countless fires in the community, all without colliding with other stationary or moving objects, but I'm not good enough to teach Amy how to drive in circles around a machine shed. This is a classic example of how everything is different now. When I was a teenager, I WANTED to drive and I already knew how to drive. I knew what to do with the clutch, the gearshift, the brake, etc. Yes, I suppose I needed a bit of practice, but I certainly knew how to drive an automobile with a manual transmission long before I even became a teenager. My daughter didn't know how to use the basic controls and didn't want to learn. Apparently, that was just simply skill, knowledge, and desire that people of my generation were blessed with.

In January of 2002, Amy got her driving permit and enrolled in driver's education in the same state, the same county and even in the same school district where her mother and I took driver's education. Thirty years later, we are still driving on the same roads with the same stop signs, the same chuckholes and in some cases even the same cars, you would think that driver's education would still be the same, but everything is different. 

When I was in driver's ed, you had to keep the car fully within whatever lane you had selected to drive in. Some lanes were reserved for people who were driving the direction opposite to your own direction, some lanes were reserved for people making left turns, sometimes a lane was reserved for people who wanted to pass a slower moving vehicle. I have been informed that now, lanes are further divided into areas called, "lane positions". When driving my daughter home from driver's ed, she often made comments like, "when you start into a curve like that, you should be in lane position one". I would have to calmly assure her that we would somehow make it home in one piece anyway. Later, she would say, "When you turned at that intersection back there, you should have been in lane position two. I would then assure her that no police were present and in that circumstance, experienced drivers handle intersections just like I handled that one. In addition to being confused by things such as lane positions, my daughter was never taught anything about gauges and idiot lights. Thirty years ago, drivers were taught that when all the red lights on the dash turn on and the temperature gauge rotates clockwise until it is horizontal and pointing to the right, your car needed some attention. After completing all her class work, Amy still had no clue about any gauge in the car except the speedometer and possibly the fuel gauge.

After Amy had six hours of driving time in the driver's education car, it was time for her to drive the family car under adult supervision. My generation was talented enough that after six hours of time behind the wheel of the driver's ed car, we could get a license and we were free to drive, but everything is different now. Due to my kids' generation being a little less skillful behind the wheel of a car, Idaho state law now requires parents of teenagers to ride in the passenger seat for fifty hours before the teenage driver can drive on their own. This might actually be intended as punishment for producing this generation of drivers, but I can't seem to confirm or deny this. In the courthouse where we get go to get a driver's license, there is a poster on the wall which describes this new law. It has a picture of a smiling, confident mother in the passenger seat with her teenage son who is a bit nervous, but obviously proud to be in the drivers seat. The poster explains the fifty-hour requirement and describes this as a good time for "bonding between the parent and child." Whoever made the poster had obviously never ridden with a new teenage driver from my kid's generation.

One of my daughter's male classmates was working on his fifty hours one day while driving to school with his mother in the passenger seat. An argument had ensued about the teenage boy being over confident. While the teenager was making smart remarks to his mother regarding his driving skills, he failed to slow down enough for a left turn and slid off the road totaling the car. No injuries other than the teenager's pride. He is grounded until he is thirty and hasn't driven since.

One of Amy's female classmates was in this fifty-hour training period when she rolled a vehicle putting herself in the hospital for a few days. Still another classmate slid off the road after getting his license and totaled his car. One of the "brighter" ladies in Amy's class backed into a police car in the school parking lot, then left the scene of the accident. She had her license revoked for one year for that act of indiscretion.

Getting back to Amy, the day she finished her six hours driving the drivers ed car which has an automatic transmission, I met her at the parking lot of the high school in my 81 Tercel, the same car that took Amy home from the hospital when she was born. We needed to go to Lewiston for some things and it seemed only natural that we would get started on her fifty hours of driving time right then. I got in the passenger seat, Amy approached the car and in a low voice so her friends wouldn't hear, she pleaded with me to drive away from the school so her friends wouldn't see her dropping the clutch and killing the engine. As a parent, it is actually rather pleasant to have one of my children plead with me. Especially Amy, because she normally just demands to have her way in a loud voice ignoring anything her mother or I might say. I patiently explained that I was going to sit in the passenger seat as long as it took and that she could drive the car away right now or argue with me in front of her friends for countless minutes or possibly hours until she finally gave up and drove the car herself. I sometimes have an infinite amount of patience and I certainly don't feel any embarrassment in front of Amy's friends. These qualities come in handy for any parent.

Amy managed to get us out of the parking lot and headed for Lewiston without much trouble. She drove a bit slower than most people, but that was fine. As we approached Lewiston, the speed limit went from sixty-five down to forty-five, she dropped our speed from about sixty down to just below forty-five. At this point, Amy had been driving for nearly an hour, almost all of it at speeds over forty miles per hour. She needed to make a right turn onto a side street, but something didn't work right. You see, people from my generation just naturally knew you had to slow down to less than twenty for such a turn, maybe even fifteen. Amy tried to make the turn at about thirty-five miles per hour. After she realized there was a problem, she applied the brakes, which isn't always a great idea when part way through a turn. When the car came to a halt, she had managed to complete the turn onto the side street, but she was in the wrong lane, facing on coming traffic. The engine had stalled because she had brought the car to a halt with the brakes without depressing the clutch. In the back of my mind, I was wondering just what lane position this was considered to be. Amid her screams of "I hate this car" and "I hate you", I calmly asked her to start the engine and move the car to the right side of the yellow line. Back when I was learning how to drive, one of the goals was to keep the car to the right of the yellow line, but I realize everything is different now.

Later in the day, Amy killed the engine pulling out of a parking lot onto a busy street. Somehow, she managed to get out of the parking lot and into the street diagonally, blocking two lanes of traffic before she killed the engine. She alternated between screaming about her intense dislike of the car and myself and pleading with me to trade positions with her and move the car out of the busy road. I wasn't eager to get out of the car with all the traffic around us, so I stayed in the passenger seat, suggested she restart the engine and move the car herself.

As time went on, Amy's driving skills improved. At first, her shifting resembled hand-to-hand combat with the gearshift. Eventually, she shifted smoothly, could start out on moderate hills without killing the engine, and learned to judge her speed on the corners better.

Amy got her drivers license just before harvest started. She then set out to learn how to drive a farm truck. She did a good job of piloting thirty thousand pounds down the road, split shifting a two-speed axle and keeping her eye on the tachometer. I was rather proud of my daughter. Our insurance rates were lower because of her 4.0 GPA in school, she was doing well.

When school started, Amy was able to drive herself and her sister Lisa to school on those days when they had after school activities, saving her mother and I time driving our daughters around. She turned sixteen shortly after school started and could then drive at night.

On January 16, 2003, exactly one day short of a year after Amy got her driver's ed permit, she got a call from a neighbor boy in her class about an after school activity. She had given him a ride home from after school activities a few times. I wondered if he was offering her a ride for that evening. He had totaled his car a few months before and I wasn't real eager for Amy to ride with him. As it turned out, he was just asking her a few questions. 

The phone rang that evening about 7:35. I answered, it was Amy. She said, "Dad, the Toyota is in the ditch, but the car is okay, its not hurt." Then, almost as an afterthought, she said, "I'm okay too." This was followed with various pleas, something about, "Please don't be mad at me." The temperature had been below freezing, but things hadn't been wet, so the roads weren't very slick and both our vehicles had been running without snow tires. I supposed Amy had probably hit a patch of ice somewhere and slid off the road. I asked if a pickup would pull the car out. She said, "We can almost get the car out just rocking it by hand." She told us where to find her and I assured her we would be there shortly.

Lisa and I put on some warm clothes and went outside. We tried to start Dad's pickup, but it hadn't been run in a few months and wouldn't start. Gary's pickup started, we threw a couple chains in the back and went to the residence where Amy was waiting for us.

Amy came out and got in the pickup, again begging me not to be angry with her. I calmly ignored her pleas and asked her where the car was. She said, it is on down the road to the left. This was again followed by assurances that the car wasn't hurt, then followed by more, "Please don't be mad at me," statements. Again, being Amy's parent, it can be rather pleasant to actually see her begging for mercy. It happens so rarely. 

We soon came to a car off the road in the ditch, its underside towards us. It was lying on its left side pointed back in the direction it had come from. I have owned that car for over 21 years, I have washed it, waxed it and been under it many times. I have seen it from every angle including the underneath side, but when I saw it in the ditch that evening, I just didnít recognize it. Lisa later told me that I said, "THAT is the Toyota?"

We got out and studied the situation for a while. I wondered just what lane position the car was in at this point, but I didn't ask. Lisa and I were trying not to laugh as Amy pleaded for mercy. I said something about, "I thought you said we could almost get it out just rocking it by hand". She actually meant we could almost tip it back on its wheels by hand. The three of us tried, but we couldn't do it. Lisa noticed the left front tire was flat, it was also obvious the front end had been mashed in the accident. The left side of the car was down and we couldn't see what damage might be there just yet. 

About this time, our neighbor Betty happened to come along. She stopped, about 100 yards past us, I motioned for her to go on and told her we were all fine. It was dark, but she had recognized us and stopped to help. Her daughter was a frequent passenger with Amy, riding home from various after school activities. We filled her in on the situation and she then went back to the other side of the accident to warn traffic.

We had both lanes blocked for a few minutes while I positioned the pickup in the road, attached a chain and prepared to pull the car back on its wheels. At this point, Amy shifted tactics and brought up the fact that I had hit a rock and punched a hole in the fuel tank on my parent's car when I first got my drivers license. I had hit a rock in the road, it punctured the fuel tank, she had heard the story. I studied the car in the ditch for a second, the least serious damage I could see on it was the front license plate which was folded back underneath facing us rather than facing forwards. I replied, "I punched a hole in the gas tank, but you bent the license plate". 

I pulled the chain tight and the car tipped back on its wheels. I asked Amy to get in the drivers seat and steer while I pulled the car to the nearest driveway, about fifty feet away. There we took a better look at the damage to the left side. The left front was hit pretty hard. There was also some major damage to the left rear, especially just behind the rear door. The doors themselves somehow managed to escape serious injury. The trunk latch was broken; the trunk had come open and spilled the contents out in the ditch. We gathered things up and the girls got out the tools to change the flat tire. The entire time, Amy was asking repeatedly if the car would be okay. I kept telling her we would talk about it when we got home. She would say, "But I need to talk about it NOW, is the car totaled?"

Betty held a flashlight while we changed the tire and checked things over. I checked the engine oil, and brake fluid, they were fine. There was fluid leaking on the ground just behind the left front tire. This was determined to be transmission oil, which leaked out while the car was on its side. No gasoline had leaked out, so I started the car and backed it into the driveway a bit to make room for the pickup to turn around in front of the car. 

Amy didn't want to drive the car home at that point, so she drove Gary's pickup. I wondered if that was a good thing to do as she pulled onto the road and drove away. Lisa didn't want to ride with Amy, so she rode with me in the Toyota. The car drove home fine, no funny noises, no peculiar handling. The left turn signal was running at double speed when we signaled to turn in the driveway because the left front signal was gone.

We got home and Julie was appalled at the damage to the car. She was convinced the car was scrap. This caused Amy to become very upset. 

As I was in the bathroom washing the mud from my hands, Amy asked, "What should I have done differently?" I suggested, "Keep the car right side up and in the road". Eventually, Amy sat in my lap for forty-five minutes or more, while I rocked her in the rocking chair. She hadn't allowed me to hold her in my lap for several years. She told us what she knew about the accident, but about all she knew was she had gotten over too far to the right, and the car got into the loose gravel at the edge of the road. The car was all over the road for a while before coming to a rest on its side facing back in the direction from which she had come. The engine was still running on its side, she wondered why it hadn't died, the car was stopped in gear, the clutch was out (The right front wheel was in the air, undoubtedly spinning freely). She shut off the engine and turned off the lights. She was trying to get the passenger door open when a young man opened the door for her and helped her out. The man's cell phone wouldn't work, so Amy climbed back in the car to look for our cell phone. It had been in the passenger seat beside her. She couldn't find it. The fellow gave her a ride to the nearest house, from there she called us.

Amy kept refusing to go to bed that night, always claiming she had just one more thing she wanted to talk about. She was very concerned about the car. She had become attached to the car. After driving it for many hours, it shifted right, it steered right, other cars all drove funny. She asked if we could just pound on the car with a hammer until it was back in the original shape. 

I couldn't sleep that night. I lay awake in bed and thought of the other possible outcomes of that accident. She has had as many as three other passengers in that car on the same road home from school. She almost always had Lisa with her. There are many places where you can drive off that road and tumble hundreds of feet. I got up at 12:15 and walked into Amy's bedroom. She was also wide-awake. We talked awhile before I went back to bed.

Amy and Lisa rode the bus to school the next day. I checked the car over better in the daylight. There was significant damage to the front end under the bumper. The license plate, turn signals and various body parts under the bumper were all seriously damaged or destroyed. The bumper itself was pushed rearward, upward and to the right as if it had taken a heavy blow at the left front. Amy couldn't remember hitting anything with the front end. She had no bumps to the head, but she does not remember how the front end sustained damage. 

In Idaho, you are required to report any accident with over $750 property damage to the sheriff's office. The value of a 21-year-old car with 137,000 miles on it is questionable, but I suspected it was worth more than $750 and I knew the damage exceeded the value of the car. The car only had liability insurance on it, so I knew we were on our own trying to fix the car. I was concerned about the effect on our insurance rates, so I called our agent and discussed the issue with them. Much to my surprise, I was told if Amy was not issued a citation as a result of the accident, it probably would not affect our insurance rates at all.

The day after the accident, Amy was home early, so we took the van and drove down to the scene of the accident. I insisted that Amy drive since I believed we needed to put her right back on the horse for her own good. We looked over the accident scene and based on the tracks and what Amy could remember, we pieced together the accident as best we could. Amy drifted over to the right just as she was coming to a left curve. There was a substantial amount of very loose pea gravel at the edge of the road, completely covering the white line at that location. She probably started to skid a bit, then turned hard to the left. The car started to skid, she thought she had nearly gone off the left side of the road, but I suspect she was actually just sliding down the road sideways pointed towards the left. The last thing she remembers doing was turning hard to the right. I believe the car rotated to the right, leaving the road just after it was pointed straight. It crossed the road ditch and hit the road bank hard doing the damage to the front end. It then spun around, continuing to turn to the right, coming to a halt on its left side facing back in the direction she had come from. There is a major impact site where the car hit the road bank with mud and dirt splattered everywhere. There are pieces of plastic from left front and left rear turn signals all over the place. We found the drivers side mirror embedded in the loose gravel in the bottom of the ditch where the car had come to a rest. Amy still had difficulty believing she had hit the road bank because she had no memory of the impact.

We continued on to Orofino to report the accident. We discussed it with Deputy Randy Herman whom I have known for several years. He has been at our farm bird hunting before. Again, much to my surprise, he said there was no point in filling out an accident report. Since the car had liability insurance only and there was no liability issue, the insurance company didn't need the report. He also said we were supposed to report the accident before moving the car. By moving the car and going home, we had actually left the scene of an accident, but he didn't issue a citation.

The next day, Amy spent most of the morning removing what damaged parts she could from the car. The day after that, we put the car in the shop and finished removing the fender, bumper and various other parts. We discovered the electric fan housing was bent such that the fan couldn't turn. This was straightened. We chained the car down to hooks in the cement floor in the shop and using a hoist, we pulled on the bumper from various directions to straighten it. On Tuesday, the twenty first, I drove to Kamiah and walked through Jackson's wrecking yard for a good portion of the afternoon looking for parts. I managed to find a left rear turn signal and a driver's side mirror, both of which were only slightly damaged. They made a few calls and found a left front turn signal and a left headlight bezel at a wrecking yard in LaGrande, Oregon. For the sum of $94.50, I bought all the parts we needed to make the car legal to drive again.

Amy did some work on the mirror, painting it. I glued the pieces of the right front turn signal back together again.

I later talked with our neighbor Clinton Fredrickson, who loaned us his body and fender tools. My father and I spent Friday, January 24th reshaping the various sheet metal parts, trying to get things to fit again. UPS delivered the last of the plastic parts Friday evening. Amy was home on Saturday and we finished assembling everything except for the two headlight bezels, which Amy painted that evening. We tried some silver paint from a spray can on a rust spot on the hood, it was too bright to match the car. We then tried some Massy Ferguson gray, but it was much too dark. We went back to the silver spray paint and after sanding everything that had been scratched to bare metal; we painted affected portions of the car to prevent rust. 

It doesn't look as good as it once did, but the car is back on the road. Amy and Lisa drove away to school the morning of January 29th. I gave Amy a hug as she walked out the door, she said in an indignant tone, "I'm not going to wreck!". Julie and I then watched as the girls disappeared from sight. I am confident they will be okay, but everything is different now.