From The Archives: Shillito’s Driving School

Yesterday my son passed the test that allows him to drive solo! While there are certainly plusses to gaining freedom from having to shuttle him places, it’s yet one more marker on his road to true independence. I hope he’ll still let me drive him places occasionally, even though he generally doesn’t talk all that much when we’re in the car together.

This got me to thinking about my own experiences before I got my license. I didn’t rush out for my permit the day I turned 16, but it was in my hands only 2-3 weeks later. Mom thought I should I have some lessons before taking the driving test, so she signed me up for Shillito’s Driving School at the Florence Mall (I guess department stores felt the need to be everything to everyone even back in 1980). Along with several other teens, I spent some of my Saturdays that March with a couple of instructors in a room somewhere in the dark recesses of the mall as they reviewed driving rules and statistics and showed us short films. We did go outside and get critiqued on our driving, too! Probably the most useful piece of the whole experience was being taken for a practice run on the route of the test. When I “graduated,” I got a report card–no mercy here!


I took the test in mid-April. Unlike some of my friends, I passed the first time, albeit with a 75, then the lowest possible passing score. Clearly, I had much to learn.


I wrote an exaggerated version of my first session at Shillito’s for an English assignment several months later, at the beginning of my junior year. It’s not a great piece of writing; while I’m trying to be humorous, I go maybe just a little too hard at the older gentleman leading the class (I refer to him as dear old instructor, unsure tutor, old windbag, sluggish geezer, senile patriarch, and torpid ancient–all in 4.5 pages!). I guess it’s got its moments, but overall I’m too adjective- and simile-happy.


I’ve had a very different relationship with cars from that of my father. He was very much about flash and speed, particularly in his bachelor days. Some of the stories he told make me think I’m lucky even to have been born (in particular, there’s the one about seeing how fast he could go at night on US 421 from Lexington toward Frankfort in his 48 Mercury, maybe without the headlights on?). I’ve always had a much, MUCH more utilitarian, practical, and calmer approach. Right now, I think that Ben’s more like me than he is my father. I just hope he’ll keep his head on straight, be careful, grow wise through experience without having expensive lessons, and most of all stay safe.

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