American in Spain

First Driving Lesson

December 1, 2006

Well, I just got back from my first driving lesson in over 13 years. Let me just summarize it by saying that, if you think you know how to drive, and you want to be convinced otherwise, take a lesson with a picky driving instructor. First of all, my lesson was supposed to start at 5:15pm. I got there at 5:10. The woman that is normally at the driving school was off for the day and another woman was substituting and trying to run things, but was kind of lost. Anyway, my driving instructor casually shows up at 6:00, just in time to smoke a cigarette and chat with his two 6:00 students for 15 minutes. They'd obviously had many classes, because they were joking with him in a friendly manner.

Finally, we all get in the car, with me driving and the other two students in back. While I'm buckling my seatbelt, he says, "Wait, stop!", with a "you've already messed up, are you sure you know how to drive?" look on his face. He says, "First, you have to check the mirrors." I said that I was going to do that next, and he gave some idiotic reason about how if you buckle up before setting the mirrors, that you might not set them in the way that matches your body position as you drive. Obviously, that sentence only makes sense negated.

He shows me where the lights are (I've never driven this brand or model of car before), since it was dark already, due to Prof. Punctuality. And off we go...

At the first left turn, 30 yards from the driving school, he slams on the brakes in the middle of the turn and asks if I could adequately see down the little walled street that the opposing traffic could come from. I said, "Yes, I could," and he lets me take the car out of the middle of the intersection. We went on like this for a while, on our way to nearby Laredo. Laredo is full of one-way residential streets with blind corners and fading painted arrows pointing the wrong way on the street from when the streets went in the other direction. It's not the best place to drive if you're even remotely nervous. And this guy had me seriously on edge.

He corrected a bunch of silly things. Like driving down a two-way street with my lane being just barely wide enough for two cars side-by-side, it was important for me to move to the right side of the lane, even if there were no cars around. And to change sides of the lane, I had to 1) look in the rear view mirror ("retrovisor"), 2) put on the turn signal, 3) change "sides". If I did #2 before or during #1, I got chastised. And every time that I went over to the right side, there'd be a dumpster in the road 100 yards up, so I'd have to do steps 1, 2, and 3 again going back to the left. No reasonable driver would behave like this.

The biggest criticism was my use of the clutch. Apparently I step on the clutch while turning, even though I'm already in second gear. So freakin' what! But that's a point-deductible offense during the exam, and if you get three points off, you fail. Argh!

By far the most unnerving part about the whole experience was driving a car where the passenger had complete control to override me on the pedals. The pedals moved by themselves a lot. That will FREAK YOU OUT. I can't express how odd it is to be driving along and have the clutch or brake go down on its own. Give me a regular beetle over Herbie any day!

Finally the torture ended and a teenager from the back seat took the wheel. The instructor put on some loud thumping techno (the girl in the back seat with me said, "You'd better get used to this song. He puts it on every time!"), and we did a few more circles in Laredo before heading to Colindres, and they dropped me off near my house. I got home at 7:10, two hours after I left for my 45-minute lesson.

I'm now convinced that I, and 99.99% of everybody else on the roads, will fail the driving test. I'm not sure if I should pay for another class before the exam or not. If anything, it might be good to practice driving under the intense pressure.