Sunday, January 4, 2009

Driving Well #3

When I was in the army I was stationed for more than a year at Camp Hero, Montauk Point, Long Island, New York. This was a small artillery training camp. I was the company clerk. I’ll tell you more about that sometime. We were quite isolated there. I remember on one occasion when we were visited (inspected, I guess) by the commanding general from New York. The only way to get there from New York was to drive 130 miles or fly in a small, single engine plane, using a local civilian airport located about 20 miles from the Camp. He flew in, came alone because the plane had room only for the pilot and one passenger, and was picked up at the airport by the Camp Commander, Major Broomfield. When it was time to return him to the airport I was told to drive him there.

He had apparently stayed longer than he had planned because he was very anxious to leave and in a hurry to get to the airport. I was very intimidated by him even though he pretty much ignored me – no, he totally ignored me. He sat in the back seat of the car and didn’t speak. I wanted to please him, and I remember how carefully I started out so he wouldn’t feel anything, how I watched the speed on the curves so he wasn’t pulled this way and that, how I brought the car to a stop so there was no jerking when it came to a stop, etc. After two or three miles of this treatment he cleared his throat loudly and I assumed he was saying “hurry up”, so I did. I drove as fast as I dared – I thought to myself “the police probably wouldn’t stop this car with him in it”. We passed through a small city on the way to the airport, the two lane highway being the main street, going too fast. A police officer, standing by his parked car, stepped out a bit and angrily waved at me to slow down. The general cleared his throat again. He got out of the car at the airport and walked directly to the plane – not a word.

I thought a lot about that later, and over the years – that is, I thought about how carefully I had tried to drive with the general in the back seat. I found myself practicing the same things I had tried to do when he was there. I practiced starting from a stopped position so a passenger with his eyes closed wouldn’t know we were moving. I practiced judging my speed on approaching curves so that I was at the right speed to round the curve without ever using the brakes. I practiced stopping so that a passenger with his eyes closed would not know when the car came to a stop, etc.

I’ve driven many miles since then. I covered the state of Idaho and eastern Oregon and Washington for five years as a sales person. In the engineering businesses my projects have always been scattered over a large area, and I have traveled some significant distance most days. Practicing those things became a habit long ago.

When Dawn and I were on our mission in Pennsylvania I was given the assignment by the Mission President to work with the missionaries who had problems driving. I had them practice the same skills as I sat in the passenger seat, and taught them to always drive as they would if the Mission President was sitting in the back seat. (To be continued)