Dad’s driving advice

By Dawn De Busk

When I was 17, my dad ran across an advertisement for a Sherman tank for sale in one of his car magazines. He joked that he planned to buy it because it would be the perfect vehicle for me.

I would never be able to speed — since the military tank travels at only 35 or 40 mph, he said. I already had several speeding tickets under my belt, including driving the posted speed limit, which apparently was too fast for the snowy, blowing conditions, according to the police officer, who wrote the ticket. Plus, I got that speeding ticket on my birthday, while someone who had a scanner called my dad with the news before I walked through the door.

So, according to my dad, the advantages of buying a Sherman tank for his teenage daughter included her being incapable of speeding, her being able to “run over” the cop cars that tried to pull her over, and her being super safe.

When I first started driving, my dad refrained from the teaching process because I was as stubborn-headed and dramatic as my mom. So, mom taught me to drive, and subsequently brake for drivers two miles away. My younger siblings, Derrick and Denise, were given the advantage of dad’s driving lessons. They learned to drive stick shifts a decade or two before I did. At some point, I learned to drive a forklift at the local fish processing plant, but only if was automatic did I feel confident and not stall out.

What’s the big deal? I am totally comfortable with automatics and braking for the traffic way down the road ahead of me.

My dad did give me some advice. When I was learning how to drive, he said, “Dawnnie, whenever you are driving, don’t worry about killing squirrels.” He told me if a squirrel — or even a dog — was in the road, I should not brake or run into the ditch to avoid killing the creature. He told me my life was more important than that. I think at that point the conversation may have gone to what to do when a moose is in the road. Avoid that one, he said.

My dad wanted me to be safe on this new adventure of driving. His words hold in my heart every time I turn the key in the ignition, and get on the road in my vehicle.

I can brag I never had or never will land in the ditch, and blame it on “squirrel avoidance.”

Recently, contrary to another piece of advice my father gave me, I stopped for a stranded motorist on Route 121. I stopped and gave him a ride. After all, I had already braked. It was almost 10 p.m., and I suspected a fox had been hit by the vehicle. The motorist had run out of gas, was from Florida, and would have had to wait a day-and-a-half for someone to stop, he said, if he was in that Gulf state instead of in Casco, Maine. I asked if he had a gas container in his truck. He said the gas station sells those. That’s where my car headed with a stranger in the passenger seat — to a gas station.

I was rewarded with more than a quarter tank of gasoline, and some witty rapport. He even repeated his home address three times, saying if I ever needed help, he would try to come through for me.

Every time I tell the hilarious details of the story to friends, those close to me exact a promise that I will refrain from picking up stranded motorists and hitchhikers. They respond to my roadside account, saying I was lucky this time. Bear in mind: I do not make a habit of this. Before October’s incident, the last stranded motorist I helped was 16 years ago during the winter on south central Alaska’s Turnagain Arm, a stretch of road open to the icy blowing wind, and the gas station was about five miles away, but that would be a long five-mile hike.

Of course, I am excluding from my driving behavior any stops for vehicular accidents, which by the way is against the law to drive past if help isn’t already present.

It is a bummer when helping a stranger could, might possibly put oneself in peril. That night, I did trust my own judgment when I chose to stop for a motorist who ran out of gas and helped out. I trusted a “gut feeling.” Even then, in the back of my mind, I was aware that incident could have turned out differently — one of those stories I don’t like to report about for the newspaper.

I wonder how quickly I could fend for myself in the future? It would be less like a tire bumping over a squirrel, and more like being at the wheel when you see the moose aimed for a collision with the car.

So, it is with an unfortunate heart that I admit I am wise to give that promise to friends and family. However, such a sentiment or such a truth is too sad for me to end writing here with a promise I will keep.

When I was 17, it was probably hard to agree with my father that I should purposely run over squirrels, or not react to the fact that I might kill a squirrel in my pursuit to stay on the road.

In October 2011, I had a gut feeling it was okay to give a stranger, whose car was sitting on the side of the road, a lift to the gas station; and everything worked out fine. Additionally, I was given a generous gift of gasoline. Therefore, I was able to travel around three or four days longer than usual, and that was awesome.

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