Business

A good job if it doesn't drive you crazy

He tells people how to drive: Brandon Miller's job is driving instructor. At 33, he's been driving for 161/2 years and teaching people to drive for eight of those years with Boone Driving School.

A native Lexingtonian, he learned to drive from his parents, his grandfather and, it so happens, Boone Driving School.

Door-to-door service: Miller picks up and drops off students at school, at home, or at a neutral location, such as a Speedway. Seventy percent of his students are teenagers, he says. That leaves a good 30 percent for job diversity. And since 9/11 brought stricter licensing rules, he teaches many more foreigners, too. That can present its own problems if, Miller jokes, ”They don't understand my form of English.“

It takes a special person: The job of driving instructor isn't for everybody. You have to work around school schedules and most Saturdays.

Miller says he likes the hours because he's also a college baseball umpire and the job allows him to balance both work schedules.

And, he says, ”I like working with the kids and hearing their stories.“

They don't fuss at him, he says, like they do at their parents.

The job is not for the faint of heart, either.

The company owner, Charlotte Plummer, says they always give applicants a test-ride in a student-driven car to see if they've got the right stuff.

”One guy threw up in the back seat. He said, "I can't do this. This is unreal,'“ says Miller. They've had people come in inquiring, ”Is it OK if I've had a couple DUIs?“ Let's just say no.

Plummer says a number of their teachers are retired: a retired banker, a retired firefighter. Even the office cat is retired, she adds.

His workplace is a late-model Chevy: The school uses Impalas exclusively for their lessons. For one thing, they're not exactly a tin can, though collisions hardly ever happen.

For another, there's no center console, which is very important, Miller says, if the teacher needs to apply his left foot to the student's gas pedal for a quick acceleration — say, while merging onto New Circle Road. And the cars are outfitted with an extra brake pedal and a kill switch on the instructor's side.

He says he almost never resorts to the kill switch, but ”I wear that brake out.“

Maybe that's one reason why the state requires the school to replace its cars regularly – every 4 years, in fact, says Miller.

Cost-of-driving increase: Boone has had to raise its prices by $5 per lesson because of gas and insurance increases. The Impala is not a huge guzzler, getting about 20-24 mpg in city driving, Miller says. But they haven't changed their routing to conserve fuel, says Plummer.

”We can't exactly say, "OK, we're just going to drive around here because gas is so high,'“ she jokes, if somewhat ruefully.

Instructors do make recommendations to students on improving mileage, though. A big thing is tire pressure, says Miller. ”I tell them to check it every week.“ And he also reminds students not to gun it when the light turns green. ”The most gas is used in acceleration,“ he preaches.

Avoidance tactics: Miller says it's not just gas prices that cause him to veer away from problem spots such as Clays Mill Road in the afternoon. ”You could spend 40 minutes stopped in traffic because of all the schools.“

Where Dunbar High School traffic backs out onto Man o' War Boulevard is another treacherous section.

Sometimes you have to stop on Man o' War, and ”that's bad, bad, bad.“ And ”I try to shy away from Hamburg,“ he says.

What, me worry? Miller says the main lesson he has to reinforce is for students to concentrate on what they're doing and not worry about what other drivers think.

He's seen a lot of impatient drivers in the rear-view mirror who go to great lengths to pass, only to end up waiting at the same red light, one lane over. ”I'll just look over at them and smile,“ he says. ”It's like the tortoise and the hare.“

All shook up: Miller remembers one poor girl who'd never driven before and got caught on the road with nearly golf ball-size hail raining down. They were able to find cover, but it was nerve-wracking, for her, at least.

”I've seen many tears in my day,“ says Miller, from men and women both, he's quick to point out.

When worlds collide: Miller says he's had only one accident with a student in his eight years of teaching, and it wasn't the student's fault.

”A lady kept backing out of her driveway; the student was honking but she backed right into us. She told us, "My car has sensors so I don't even look,'“ Miller says, shaking his head.

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