My friend, Benny, taught me to drive but it was a stranger who taught us both one of the most important things about driving. More about that later.
Benny was the best driving instructor a girl could have. He was 19, two years older than me, and he had his driver’s license. Better yet, he often had his father’s car. I loved that car, a deep-burgundy Chevrolet Monte Carlo with a black interior. I’m not sure his father knew that Benny gave me driving lessons in the car, but I guess what he didn’t know didn’t hurt him.
Benny would pick me up, slide into the passenger seat and let me take the wheel. Sitting behind the wheel of the “the Monte” as we called it always made me feel classy and special. And, although I didn’t know anything about cars, I knew this one ran smoothly and comfortably.
Our lessons started in my neighbourhood, a quiet, residential area with little traffic. I was nervous at first because I could hear my mother’s voice in my head “Be careful” or “Look out for that car!” But Benny stayed calm and was never anything but patient and encouraging. Slowly, he urged me to venture onto busier streets until, with time, I was comfortable driving almost anywhere.
I’d heard many stories of friends failing their driver’s test because they messed up the parallel parking part. The day before my test, Benny and I spent a whole afternoon practicing parking and the next day I passed with flying colours.
But the two of us learned an important thing about driving from a stranger when we went for a drive through downtown Montreal on a balmy Friday night in June. Benny drove and the streets were alive with people celebrating a beautiful summer night. Coloured lights outside bars, restaurants and movie theatres lit up the night and tried to entice people to come through their doors.
We stopped at a red light when a small group of intoxicated young men began to cross in front of our car. Suddenly, one of them veered over to the driver’s side and opened the door. With the dome light on, I could see that Benny was as startled as I was. With a goofy smile, the young man just said “Ya really should lock your doors, man. You never know who could run into.” Then he closed the door and ran to catch up with his friends. Benny and I looked at each other and burst into laughter. But it’s something I never forgot and I always lock my doors!