“Road Warrior” (season 3, episode 9; originally aired 11/30/1996)
It’s easy to feel all jaded about this now, but when you’re a teenager, driving is a really big deal. It’s a right of passage and a method to total independence that’s practically a God-given right. Once a 16-year-old takes the test, they’re free to roam the globe in whatever rust bucket they can beg for, borrow, or steal.
Recently, I turned 31, which means I started driving 15 years ago. To be honest, that scares the shit out of me. Not that I’m 31, but that I was driving when I was 16. Sure, I was a responsible teenager, but I wouldn’t trust a teenager to dogsit for me now, let alone drive my car—or drive next to me on the road. Unfortunately that’s not my decision to make, and there are kids out there ruling the road.
Watching “Road Warrior” didn’t do all that much to alleviate those fears. In the episode, Big Pete, Ellen, and Teddy are all taking driver’s ed, a class that may only exist on TV and in movies at this point. Their teacher, Mr. Slurm (played by a totally different actor than the one in “Tool And Die”) is no easy A. He makes sure they know every part of the car “from the manifold intake valve to the driver’s side airbag” before they even snap on a seatbelt. He enlists his special assistant Endless Mike Hellstrom to put Teddy through his paces, and hardballs Ellen on grades. Consequently, she sucks up shamelessly.
For his part, Pete is just concerned with how he’s going to own the road. He’s been ready to drive his whole life, and then Slurm comes along and makes him lose his confidence with his Simuglide 6000. After Pete plummets to virtual death, his family helps him with a stationary simulator (“Steer clear of the Mardi Gras parade! Look out for the loose ball!”) Slurm kicks his guts to the curb once again with a course set to crush overconfidence, and Pete retreats to the peewee racers. Ultimately Pete passes his test after Slurm goads him into it, and the flamehead realizes that he doesn’t need to be a great, fabulous looking driver, but rather just a safe one.
“Road Warrior” isn’t a great episode, but it’s a solid one. Weirdly, Little Pete appears only briefly in one scene. Teddy and Ellen have solid B-stories, though, and Rick Gomez is great as always as Endless Mike. With the older characters’ ascendance into adulthood, though, it’s more and more clear that we’re approaching the end of the series. We only have four more episodes before these recaps are all finished, and it’ll be bittersweet at best. At least we have next week’s episode, “Pinned,” to cheer us up again.
- Growing up in Ohio, I had to take driver’s ed in some strip mall school for weeks, then I had to do something like 20-plus hours in the car with a weird instructor before I could even think about taking the test. My fiancé, who’s from Texas, just had to get his mom to vouch that he could drive.
- “Too much confidence can be as dangerous as a leaky fuel line.”
- Teddy hits a cone in his test—well, Mike does because he won’t let Teddy drive for himself—and so the two of them will be spending the summer together re-learning “excellente” techniques and factoids.