Driver ed, p.1
Learning to drive can be a wild ride.
Copyright ? 2017 Eric Howling
ISBN 978-0-9959065-0-1 (epub)
Also by Eric Howling
Red Zone Rivals
This could be trouble.
I had just started my Friday afternoon shift and stood slouching behind the cash register watching three of the most popular kids at Midtown High file into the store. They were on a mission to find snacks and I knew that even the likes of Trey Redmond, Jerry Fishburn and Katrina Kapoor could track them down. You didn't have to be a rocket scientist to find snacks at 7-Eleven-they were in every aisle.
"Over here!" Trey called out, excited by his discovery. "I knew we could find them."
Trey was square-jawed, square-shouldered and the quarterback of the Midtown Mustangs football team. His dad owned the local Ford dealership and gave his son a big weekly allowance, not to mention a new car. Everybody wanted to be his friend.
Jerry grabbed some Doritos and grinned. "I could eat a whole bag of these."
His real name was Jerry but everyone called him Fish which was no surprise given his last name and round bulging eyes. His claim to fame was being Trey's wingman. Everywhere that Trey went, Fish swam right along beside him. He was a smooth talker and would set up Trey with jokes and punch lines so that he looked good in front of his classmates-mainly the girls. Fish was small as a guppy with a few red zits peppering his oily face but Trey didn't mind because it made him look bigger, stronger and better looking.
"This party's going to rock," Katrina said, big brown eyes lighting up her face.
There were always a lot of house parties in September after kids came back from vacation. Everyone wanted to find out what kind of summer jobs people had, how dark their tans were and how much taller they had grown. Even I had shot up two inches which I didn't even need. I was already over six feet and skinny as a rake.
Katrina liked to play the party girl and go by the name Kat, but I thought she was a lot smarter than she let on. She was always getting higher marks than me in our grade-eleven math class. Plus, she was a reporter for the online school newspaper, the Midtown Weekly. The purple streak running through her black spiked hair and the small butterfly tattoo on her neck made her seem tough but to me it was all just an act.
A mountain of bags spilled out of their arms and on to the counter in front of me. Potato chips, corn chips, popcorn, pretzels, Reese's Pieces, two boxes of Oreos and a giant package of red Twizzlers. Jumbo bottles of Coke and Sprite quickly followed.
"Ring'em up, Eddy boy," Trey said.
"And make it fast," Fish added. "We've got a party to get ready for."
"Paaarteeee!" Kat said, waving her forefinger and pinky in my face.
"Sounds like fun," I said, trying to be friendly like Bruno, the store manager, wanted us to be with our customers.
Trey nodded. "It's going to be a blast but don't get any ideas about going, Eddy boy."
"Yeah, this party is invite only." Fish pounded fists with Trey to let me know how exclusive the list was.
"I have to work late tonight, anyway," I said, scanning the bar code on a bag of Lay's chips. I didn't really have to work late but I needed a quick excuse for not being able to go.
Kat tilted her head and eyed me up and down. "Maybe Ed could come by after he's finished."
"Don't make me laugh," Trey said, making a face. "First, take a look at our clothes."
Trey, Fish and Kat checked each other out and gave thumbs up. As usual all three were dressed in the coolest shirts, jeans and kicks. I knew they spent a lot of time shopping at the mall. I didn't care much about clothes but maybe that was because I didn't have much money to spend in the first place. And what money I did manage to save from ringing up snacks and Slurpees here at 7-Eleven I spent on computer driving games like Need For Speed and Grand Theft Auto.
Trey flicked his chin at me and continued, "Now take a look at his clothes."
"No one at our party is going to be wearing a bright red and green shirt," Fish said.
Trey smirked. "He looks like something you'd hang on your Christmas tree."
Fish nodded. "Yeah, a tall and skinny candy cane."
Trey and Fish bumped knuckles again to congratulate each other on their hilarity.
"Well, it was just an idea," Kat said, glancing at me before quickly looking away. "He doesn't seem so bad to me."
I finished packing the snacks and drinks and pushed four heaving bags across the counter.
Trey pulled a set of car keys out of his jeans and jangled them in front of me. "Let's roll."
"To the party mobile," Kat said, flashing her perfect smile.
"Hey Eddy boy, what kind of wheels do you have?" Fish asked, struggling to pick up all the bags that Trey had left for him.
I knew Fish was making fun of me and I took my time answering. "I don't have-"
"Wait, don't tell me." Fish snickered. "I forgot your wheels are attached to a lamo bike, not a car."
I took a deep breath and let out a long sigh, relieved the three party-pals were headed for the exit. Trey pushed through the glass door first and kept right on walking. Jerk. That left Kat to hold the door open for Fish who was hauling all four bags like a loaded up mule. He lugged the packages into the parking lot and put them in the trunk of Trey's brand new red Mustang. Everyone at school knew Trey had the car custom painted to match the fire-engine red of the Mustangs' uniforms.
Fish slammed the trunk and slid into the back seat. Kat hopped in the front beside Trey who checked his sunglasses in the rear-view mirror before pushing the ignition button. I heard the powerful engine growl and watched as they pulled away, laughter flying out the open windows.
"Hey Warnicki!" Bruno shouted from across the store where he was loading some sort of half-frozen green slime into the Big Gulp machine. "It's nine o'clock, quittin' time."
"Okay Boss, see you Monday." I waved at Bruno and picked up my jacket and backpack ready to leave. I only worked three days a week after school from four until seven, and until nine on Fridays since it was the weekend and I didn't have to rush home to do my homework. Not that I liked doing LA, Social and the other useless subjects they forced us to learn but I didn't feel like flunking either. Repeating grade eleven would be bad news. I always did enough to scrape by.
I say rush home but my trip was never exactly fast. Not like it would have been in a shiny new red Mustang, for example. I loped down the middle aisle where all the Hostess Twinkies were piled up three-hundred calories at a time, past the washrooms that every second customer used, and out the back where the delivery trucks pulled up. And there it was-leaning up against the concrete wall of the 7-Eleven just where I left it after riding over from school-my bike.
Let me tell you about this two-wheeled steed. You know those super-sleek bikes you see triathletes racing around on as they train for their crazy-long Ironman events? Yeah, my bike was nothing like that. Instead of being made from the latest super-light carbon fiber, my bag of bolts was built with heavy steel. Probably the kind that tanks and bulldozers were made from. But what do you expect from a bike you bought at a garage sale for twenty-five bucks?
I swung my backpack over my shoulder, strapped on my silver helmet to keep whatever brains I had in one piece, and hopped on. The sky was starting to darken as I wheeled down the back alley. I cycled past the dry cleaner, hairdresser and Chinese restaurant then rolled out onto the main street that I'd follow for three-and-a-half kilometers until I reached my sleepy neighborhood of Evergre
I'd been pedaling for about a minute when I heard a sound that sent a wave of panic through me-a long, slow rumble of thunder overhead. This can't be good. At first it was just a few drops spitting on my bright yellow windbreaker-the kind with reflective tape that I hoped could be seen by a driver speeding by me at night. No big deal. My coat would keep me dry. But then the rain quit falling in thimble fulls and started to come down in buckets. Sheets of water poured over me like I was standing in a shower. But the water wasn't soothing and warm-more like cold needles spiking into me. I was drenched almost immediately and cursed that I hadn't bought the more expensive Gore-Tex waterproof jacket from REI.
With rain driving into my squinting eyes, I steered blindly along the shoulder of the road. Cars and trucks whizzed by splashing me with water from giant puddles that had formed on the asphalt like small lakes.
I swerved left and right trying to dodge the pools of water. The traffic didn't seem to agree with my new navigation technique. Drivers started honking and waving their fists at me. I swore right back at them but my shouts were swallowed up by the roar of their passing vehicles and the pounding rainstorm.
The road headed up hill and decided to shift into a lower gear to make riding easier. This was normally a smart thing to do. I shifted and the pedaling got easier-way too easy. My feet started spinning frantically. I glanced down and saw my chain lying limp. More swearing. I was going nowhere fast and came to an abrupt stop. I hopped off, grabbed the greasy chain and put it back on the sprockets. Success. I was congratulating myself on the quick fix when I looked down at my hands. Big gobs of black grease were smeared all over both hands.
There's no way things could get any worse.
Then it did. Going around the next bend I saw another big pond ahead. I veered sharply right and was able to miss the water but not what lay just past it. Sprinkled across the road were hundreds of pieces of razor-edged broken glass. Some late night drunken idiots must have tossed a few beer bottles out their windows.
Pop! It was the sound no cyclist ever wants to hear-a tire exploding beneath them. I looked down and sure enough my rear tire had gone flat as a pancake. It was pointless to keep pedaling and I rolled to a stop by the edge of the road.
Swinging my leg over my seat I got off and assessed the damage. It was bad but not like the first time I had ever got a flat. Luckily, I had a small bag of bike tools that hung under my seat. I unzipped the bag and searched for my spare tube. I was sure it was in here somewhere. Wrench?screwdriver?emergency cash but no tube! I must never have replaced it after the last flat. I smacked the side of my head angry that I had screwed up. Good thing I was wearing a helmet.
I stood there in the pouring rain wondering what to do next. But I knew there was only one thing I could do. Walk. I grabbed my handlebars and started to push my wounded machine forward, the wind howling in my ears, the rain pelting down, the cars splashing by.
Forty-five dismal minutes later my house was in sight. I rolled up the driveway shivering, swearing and swimming in water-soaked clothes. I put my bike in the garage and headed for the front door, my shoes squishing every step of the way. There was only one thought in my head. I didn't need two wheels-I needed four.
I stood in the front hallway wetter than a drowned rat. My not-even-close-to-being-waterproof jacket had soaked all the way through, my red 7-Eleven shirt had turned into a giant sopping sponge, and my jeans were so drenched they felt like they had just come out of the washing machine. I looked down and saw a small pool of water forming around my feet.
Mom scurried in from the kitchen and looked up at me brightly, "How was your day, dear?"
I stared at her wide-eyed, puzzled by her apparent blindness. "Awesome," I said, my voice dripping with more sarcasm than the water trickling down my bony legs. "You might have noticed it's raining out."
"Yes, it's miserable," Mom said, shaking her head but not having a single dark strand move thanks to several coatings of hairspray. "No one should be out in weather like this. Did you get wet riding home?"
I took off my shirt and wrung it out on the floor adding to the pool of water. "Just a bit."
"Good thing you had a bike to get home faster," Mom said with an innocent mile. "It would have been awful to walk."
I thought about explaining how I did have to walk, how it was the worst walk of my life but it seemed pointless. I bit my tongue and moved on to plan B. "So I've been thinking, Mom."
"With all the rain and everything, I think I need to improve my mode of transportation."
Mom stared at me blankly.
"I think I need a car."
Mom's eyes started to mist. "I knew this day would come but I can't say I like it."
"Why not?" I asked, confused by her tears that were about to gush.
"If you had a car the next thing you know, you're driving around town with your friends and having a good time."
"Yeah, that sounds terrible," I said with a straight face. "What's wrong with that?"
"Well, you'd be spending less time at home with me." Mom shrugged and looked sad. "Ever since you're father left a few years ago I always counted on you being around to keep me company."
"Mom, I'm sixteen. Don't you think it's time I did what other sixteen-year-olds do? Go to parties and stuff? Not that I get invited to any but if I did I don't want to show up on a bicycle. That's just not cool."
Mom wiped a tear away before answering. "Yes, of course Ed, I'm just being silly." Then her face lit up. "There's just one problem."
"Yes, there always seems to be something wrong," I said, making a face. "What is it this time?"
"You don't have a driver's license." Mom looked relieved that she had found a way of keeping me home a little longer.
"Not yet I don't but I could take lessons and get one. I'm already a pretty good driver when I play Need For Speed on my computer. And then after I got my license I could buy a car."
"You don't have the money to buy a car," Mom said, finding another hole in my argument.
"What about the money I'm saving from working at 7-Eleven?"
"You know what that's for," Mom said, hands jumping to her hips.
I nodded glumly. "But what if I don't want to go to college?"
"You're going mister." Mom pointed a finger at me. "I never went and I don't want you ending up like me; working at Sears your whole life."
I didn't want to work at Sears or at 7-Eleven forever, so I knew she had a point. Still, maybe I could use a bit of my savings and buy a cheap car.
"Besides," Mom said, raising her eyebrows. "What's wrong with you driving the car we already have?"
I rolled my eyes. "You're kidding right?"
Our car was a twenty-year-old Chevy Impala. Mom called it Mildred after her sister who gave it to her. That's right, gave it to her-for free. That should tell you something about the condition of the relic. The color had faded to a kind of puke-green and its wide body handled more like a boat than a car, which is to say it swayed wildly going around corners. I had been catapulted into the passenger door on more than one occasion as Mom careened around the streets of Midtown City.
"Well, it's lucky we even have a car," Mom said, lowering both her voice and chin at me. "They're expensive you know-all the gas and insurance and repairs. And it got you to a lot of soccer games too."
I had to admit life would have been a lot harder without having a car at all. Just carrying grocery bags filled with meat, potatoes and ice cream home from Safeway would have been impossible. "I guess you're right."
"I tell you what," Mom said, a smile returning to her face. "Why don't I give you your first lesson?"
"Sure, go put on some dry clothes and we'll take old Mildred out for a spin."
I was wet and tired but I didn't want to give up a chance at my first driving lesson. I mean, how bad could it be driving with Mom?
"Wait!" Mom shrieked.
I hit the breaks and the green car jerked to a stop before we had even got halfway down the driveway.
"Did you check the sidewalk for kids walking or skateboarding or biking?" she asked rapid-fire from the passenger seat. "Did you check the street for passing cars?"
"It's ten o'clock, Mom. How many kids are going to be out at this time of night in the rain?"
"Driving rule number one," Mom said, sternly. "You can never be too careful."
I took a deep breath and looked left and right. No kids and no cars. I backed out onto the street and started to drive away, windshield wipers flapping in front of us. I was feeling pretty good when another howl came from next to me.
"Do you see that stop sign?"
I nodded. "You mean the one that's way down at the end of the street?"
"Yes, that one. Rule number two-it's never too early to slow down."
I rolled to a stop in front of the red octagon then stepped on the gas.
"Did you come to a complete stop?" Mom burst out. "I think we were still moving. Did you look both ways? I'm not sure you did."
I never knew my mother could talk so fast. I'm not sure I wanted to know. I proceeded with extreme caution and we continued on our way at a snail's pace. It would have been faster to walk but I couldn't complain-at least I was behind the wheel driving!
I knew Trey lived close by in the rich part of the neighborhood and I turned onto his street. I may not have been invited to his party but there was no law against me driving by his house. The closer we got the more cars there were parked on the street. This must be a massive blowout. I could hear the music pounding from the speakers two blocks away.
Driver Ed by Eric Howling / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.5 out of 5 / Based on35 votes