LeftTurnGrowing up in the city, I didn’t have a strong desire to drive but I really wanted my drivers license. I took drivers ed at Lane Tech and while I was great on paper, I was not as stellar behind the wheel. One time I got so nervous in class, I accidentally switched on the windshield wipers and in my preoccupation with trying to turn them off, I drove into a fence.

My mom would not take me out in her car to practice.

Luckily my dad had a tougher stomach for these things and wanted to help me gain confidence on the road. He was a Chicago police officer, so of course he knew the roads better than anyone. We ventured out in his bronze yacht-sized Lincoln Town Car and shuttled around the city.

I passed the written test and because I had gotten above a B+ in drivers ed, I didn’t have to take a driving exam. Though even if I did, I think I would have gotten the CPD wave-through on that one. Once I was 16 and licensed, nothing really changed. It’s one thing to have a license. It’s quite another to have use of a car, which I didn’t. I still took the CTA everywhere and bummed a lot of rides. And because I didn’t need to drive, I didn’t. Ever.

I didn’t think about driving until 12 years later when my mom was battling cancer. She couldn’t drive any longer so it made sense for me to use her car to commute to her suburban condo instead of taking the train. Luckily, my sister was a drivers ed teacher in high school so once again, I got into the car with a trained adult and drove around a parking lot. Then we drove on actual roads, graduating to the expressway. It was like being 16 again; I white knuckled it the whole way. And when we got back to my mom’s house, she said, “Ok, now drive home.” I was finally kicked out of the nest.

This is when all my father’s driving lessons came back to me:

“Never hesitate.” Pick a direction and stay with it. Don’t waffle. Don’t second guess. Just go.

“It’s just a curb”, he would tell me, as I got discouraged when misjudging the distance on the right side of the car. He would reassure me, “Just do your best. That’s all you can do.”

“What does it mean when the car ahead of you has its left turn signal on”
, my dad used to ask me. Well, duh, I learned that in driving school. They’re turning left! “Wrong”, he would say. “It means they have their left turn signal on.” Never make assumptions.

“It doesn’t matter that you’re right, if you’re dead”
, he used to say when I would argue about the right of way. Sometimes you have to let that jerk in the BMW blow through a stop sign. It sucks but I’m alive to tell about it.

“You never know who might have a gun.” Avoid raising middle fingers, swearing, tailgating or using any other revenge tactics. There are strangers out there. And they might kill you. Be kind to everyone.

I’m still driving my mom’s car. I’m still not the best driver. I’m still holding on to my dad’s pearls of wisdom, on and off the road.