Sarah with Buick

Wild Bill
by Sarah Bigham

Obtaining a driver’s license in my hometown required a classroom course followed by a practical component called, helpfully, “Behind the Wheel.” After acing some true/false quizzes and viewing safety films, I passed the written permit test without issue. Then I met Wild Bill.

Wild Bill helped hundreds of teenagers learn to drive, and I fear I may have been his most challenging charge. On my first day, I hit the curb and forgot to put the car in “park” before I got out. He just shook his head. While mastering country roads, Wild Bill told me to accelerate. I informed him that I wasn’t able to successfully steer beyond 30 mph, but he kept urging me on. We soon approached a hill and the car practically came to a standstill halfway up. Wild Bill yelled, “Floor it, Bigham!” and I did — right into a ditch at the side of the road. More head shaking. Parallel parking also proved challenging, as did operating the windshield wipers. Quiet head shaking.

Wild Bill harbored hopes I would pass the driving test before the school took possession of the brand new driver’s education vehicle. Instead, it returned to the school with damage to a side mirror. (To my credit, I told Wild Bill quite specifically that turning into alleys was not my forte.) I did pass the driver’s test, finally (this warranted a grin), and on the same night backed into a fence post.

Wild Bill is gone now, free at last to cruise the roadways alone in his own vehicle. I think of him when I have mistakenly driven down one-way streets in the wrong direction, parked with wheels atop a curb, or struggled to operate my car’s air conditioning. I shake my head and give a hint of a smile.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: This photo is from the early 90s, probably around five years after I learned to drive. The car is the Buick station wagon I drove during my college years. (Thanks to Dad for passing it on to me.) I have apparently always had a complicated relationship with automobiles!

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: William “Wild Bill” Heyser is a person I will never forget. He must have had some kind of special gene that made him impervious to fear. How else could one copilot with hundreds of teenagers as they learned to drive? I honestly was not sure I would ever acquire a driver’s license (and he probably felt the same without outwardly showing it), but he patiently worked with me until I did. At the time, I was completely stressed out by these driving lessons and simply grateful that he didn’t yell. It wasn’t until years later that it occurred to me how infinitely patient he must have been. I wish I had realized that in time to thank him for helping me develop an important lifelong skill that I continue to use every day.

Current photo - Bigham1

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sarah Bigham reads, teaches, and writes in Maryland, where she lives with her kind chemist wife, their three independent cats, and a rather unwieldy herb garden.