Jeep's marketing department has it all wrong. Their ads have been carefully crafted to show a vehicle that can handle the toughest punishment and come back for more. It's fine and dandy to show a Jeep hauling an impossible payload or tackling some gnarly trail, but that's all child's play. If the gentlemen from marketing really wanted to impress me, they'd run an ad showing a teenager behind the wheel, learning to drive.
I mention this because, and quite possibly you've already deduced the connection yourself, I've been using my Jeep to teach my teenage son how to drive. Of course, I've been purchasing antacid in the economy size. Not only have I been guzzling Maalox, but I've been dispensing it from one those beer-can, drinking-straw hats normally only seen at frat parties. (Editor's note: Thanks for not mentioning how I often wear one of those beer hats in the afternoon around the office.) (Author's note: I wasn't going to say anything, but is it really appropriate to wear just the hat all by itself?)
There are several reasons why I picked the Jeep for driver's education duty. Putting the transfer case into low range is one big advantage. The reduced speed provides over twice the time to panic before reaching the crash site. This leads to the second reason, namely without doors or even a top to trap sound waves, my whimpering isn't so obvious. One drawback to the Jeep, however, is that without carpeting or even floor mats, the sheetmetal reverberates quite loudly when I'm stomping on that imaginary brake pedal in front of my seat.
Picking the right location is crucial when learning to drive. Ideally, a flat treeless expanse would be most practical, the sort of place with nothing of any importance with which to collide. However, with gasoline prices so high, there's no way I'm driving my Jeep all the way to Iowa just to teach my son to drive. So we went with Plan B: The fire roads that lace the endless forests near our home. This made a great excuse to combine driver's ed with a few extra father/son camping trips.
In the evenings around the campfire, we'd rehash his driving lessons from earlier in the day. I got a little misty-eyed reflecting on this momentous occasion. It's quite a rite of passage to have your father teach you how to drive. Even more exciting is to hear old dad use new words never before uttered in polite company. I considered introducing him to another tradition, that of initiation into the vaunted Blue Flame Society. We already had a campfire roaring and were armed with several days' worth of the proper diet. I think I showed incredible restraint because I finally decided that was something best experienced with his future college buddies. After all, if I'm going to pay for his college education, I may as well get my money's worth.
Still, I can't help but imagine that my latest adventures are bringing tears to a few eyes. (I'm no longer talking about the Blue Flame Society.) Just the thought of a teenager learning to drive is sure to get any clutch and transmission repairman choked up and dreaming of an early retirement. There's a certain bucking bronco type of clutch abuse that can be accomplished only by a novice. After a few weeks of driving experience, the beginning driver is no longer able to make the clutch behave in such a fashion. I've tried but have never been able to duplicate the clutch abuse I inflicted so many years ago, and now my son was following in my footsteps as he learned the intricacies of being behind the wheel.
Learning to drive is quite the daunting task, especially in a balky old Jeep. The conveniences of a modern vehicle would make the learning process easier, but that's not my intent. I want my son to have a healthy respect for how a vehicle behaves when he's finally turned loose on public roadways. A little fear now goes a long way in the future. With a stick shift there's a lot to master, especially when there are three pedals, but the typical driver has no more than two feet. Tall, strapping young man that my son is, he reminded me of the pencil marks on the kitchen door jamb recording his height. Sure enough, over the course of the last few years, he had indeed grown an extra foot, so the three pedals should be no problem.- Dr. Vern