Student Driver Fail #1

I’d only had my license for a short time and I was already a nervous driver long before I’d ever slid behind the wheel.

It was my first grown-up adventure, for which I would be taking my mom’s SUV, two friends, my sister and a bag of chips to a church service out in the woods. The chips will come into play a little later.

We would have taken the church bus with the rest of our friends except there wasn’t enough room and I volunteered to drive–against better judgement.

It was nighttime, which didn’t help my raging nerves. The church was almost an hour away in a back woods town that I’d hardly visited, let alone ever driven through. And while I fortunately had the van to follow, unfortunately they didn’t stick to the speed limit. And unfortunately, I did.

Striving to see the brake lights out ahead of me and which road they’re about to turn on, I suddenly hear a voice from above. Over the dull drum of the radio and the girl-talk in the backseat, I heard a voice. It said very clearly “Pull off the road.”

I glance to my rear-view mirror to be blinded by a red flashing light that can only be described as paralyzing. I can’t explain what I was thinking–I’ve had a lot of those moments in my life–but I jerked moms SUV into the right lane without even checking for traffic.

I’m so grateful there wasn’t a car beside me. That would have been more than I could handle.

Either way, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t the police who wanted me to pull off the road. It was an ambulance and all they wanted was for me to get out of their way. And they yelled at me! I didn’t even know ambulances could do that. I think they call it a Public Address System. Or maybe it should have been called a Jessica Address System. Seems it was made especially for me.

You would think the worst was over with.

Think again.

My friends and sister had themselves a good laugh–I should say a hysterical laugh–while I’m on the verge of tears and ready to abort mission and turn back now.

I didn’t. I kept going, caught up to the van, and turned down the road that should lead straight to the church. There were a ton of hills and curves that threatened to separate me from my leader should we get too far apart. But I persevered.

That is, until the SUV started acting funny. She gave out a little bit. Coasted a dozen feet. And then picked up and went on again. She repeated the routine until we noticed the brake lights ahead of us were going somewhere that we weren’t.

The gas pedal refused to work. The SUV was still going forward, but it wasn’t because I was making her. I knew we were done-for right there. She was making this awful screaming noise and I don’t quite remember if the headlights went out or not. It seems to me like everything was darker than usual when I think back on it.

One way or another, I was able to pull into a strangers driveway. And kaput! She wouldn’t move from that spot.

I’m scared to death. My passengers are having the time of their lives while I’m just trying to stay conscious. The church van is long gone, and I have no clue where I am or what’s wrong with my vehicle. Scratch that…my moms vehicle.

We get on our phones, call my parents, contact the church van that is halfway to Florida by now, and prepare ourselves to sit and wait. It wasn’t but a few minutes later that I decided to give the SUV another try. I turned her over, she started up. I hit the gas, she went forward.


I went further down the driveway to turn around. I thank my Father in Heaven that I didn’t back out into the highway because she cut out again, refused to go forward, and there would have been no possible way on earth we would have gotten her out of the road without help–and there were hills.

So there we are. Three giggling teenage girls and one basket case. And one bag of chips, don’t forget. We’re sitting in some strangers yard. IN THEIR YARD. Because that was the only place I could turn around. We’re parked on someone’s green lawn.

My friend decides to open a bag of chips. The big bag. She rips the top apart and chips go flying everywhere. All over the floor and all over the seats. I want to give up on life, but she figures the best thing to do is dump them out onto someones lawn.

It probably wasn’t a big deal, but at this point I was so uptight that I screeched at her not to dump them in somebody’s yard! It’s funny now that I think back on it.

This has been many minutes in the making, now. The church van has finally returned for us after dropping off the rest of the kids. Three adults are finally on scene, but I still feel responsible for the entire situation. We get out of the car and they start to question what’s happened, looking under the hood, and coming up with no ideas to get ourselves out of this predicament. However, my parents are on their way. It’ll just take some more time.

One of the youth leaders looks down through the moon-lit night and asks what’s on the ground. “Chips,” we tell him. “It’s chips.”

Another set of headlights pulls into the driveway. My parents?

No. That would be the homeowners. And they’re probably wondering why our church is having a party on their lawn.

I could go on to tell you I had a wonderful night with my friends at church and returned home without a hint of tension. But I’d be lying.

No. I was upset. My parents were upset because, after all, this is their children’s first outing and the family vehicle decides to keel over out of the blue. No prior troubles until this day. My friends still thought it was funny and my sister was trying to tell me to loosen up. But I couldn’t.

I needed some time to mature first. Some time to realize that life doesn’t have to be perfect. Things are going to happen. Things are going to go wrong. I’m going to be humiliated. But I can’t let that hold me back. I can’t let the results of my circumstances dictate my degree of happiness–or joy for that matter.

I won’t blame myself for being scared and uptight. I was young. I was learning.

But I will push forward and I will choose to not let myself get bound down my the effect of uncontrollable situations. I will learn to laugh. I will be happy.

And the next time my friends and I get stuck in a strangers yard with nothing but a cell phone and a bag of chips, maybe, just maybe, I won’t stop her from dumping those chips in the yard. 😉



  1. Cute. A little secret though. Even adults lose it and don’t loosen up when we have auto problems. The worst can come out in all of us at times like this. Humor is a great healer but it usual comes after the fact. One of those hilarious stories you tell your children.


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