Throughout the last few weeks, Rob, my in-class driving instructor, has hinted a few times that he has a complicated relationship with squirrels. During a discussion about what tactics to use when you want to avoid a head-on collision, he shed some light on why he hates the furry creatures so much.
There are three techniques you can use to avoid a collision, he informed us. Using your brakes to slow down, giving yourself a bit more time and space, you can safely steer around an obstacle. There is also the four-wheel lock technique, which you only use if you don't think you can avoid actually hitting the object. This is done by pumping the brakes. Lastly, there's threshold braking, which is when you squeeze the brake pedal without locking up your brakes to avoid skidding and losing steering control. This is where class got interesting, and our instructor told us his strange squirrel tale.
When he was 14, Rob's brother-in-law asked him to come over to help him get rid of a pesky squirrel that was wreaking havoc in the attic. The animal wasn't just making a lot of noise - it was actually tearing up the electrical wiring up there.
Now, it sounds like Rob's sister's husband was a pretty interesting guy. He worked at a steel company in Hamilton, where he somehow found time to indulge his passion for the Medieval arts. There, he fashioned himself a few swords, spears and shields to play with in his time off.
"They were, like, real Excalibur-type things made from solid steel," Rob told the class (whose eyes were slowly getting wider).
Rob's brother-in-law had a plan to get rid of this squirrel. He'd climb into one end of the attic and would shoot his BB gun (complete with infrared ray scope) at the animal, forcing it out through a hole on the opposite side. Rob would be situated just outside of the hole. And he'd be armed with an enormous medieval sword.
"I could barely lift the thing," Rob said, incredulous. "When it comes to the hole, I'm supposed to cut its head off."
Surprisingly, the plan almost worked. Rob's brother-in-law successfully forced the squirrel out of the attic and through the hole. But as it came flying toward the teenager, he got a good look at it.
"This squirrel wasn't right," Rob said. "It has huge, pointy teeth and it's foaming at the mouth. It scares the $!&% out of me! I drop the sword, fall off the roof and break my arm. I had nightmares for weeks."
Rob was, understandably, traumatized. He said instead of dealing with it, he blocked it out of his mind, hoping it would go away. But when he became a driving teacher at age 39, he started noticing squirrels again, and it all came flooding back. He fixated on the creatures.
One beautiful sunny day, Rob left the house, greeting his neighbours who were outside watering the garden. He pulled his car out of the driveway and onto the road, and noticed a grey squirrel running down a tree at the end of his block. As he started driving toward it, the squirrel did its characteristic hop-jump to the centre of the road. And then it stopped, facing the car.
"I thought, 'It's calling me out,'" Rob said. "It knew me or something."
So Rob did what anyone with an untreated phobia of squirrels would do. He slowly drove toward it, lining one side of his car's tires up with its tiny body. And then when he was about 30 feet from it, he accelerated, making the tires squeal and his neighbour drop his garden hose.
"And then when I was five feet from it, I hit the brake," Rob said, finally referring to the threshold braking technique he wanted to teach us. "I almost broke my collar bone," he added, referring to the force of his body pushing against his seatbelt.
He was sure he'd hit it. He got out of the car, shaken by the strange experience, wondering what he had done. And that's when the furry thing hop-jumped right past his feet.
Rob swore it looked back at him once, and smiled.
"Would you hit the squirrel if you had to?" Rob asked the class. "The right answer is, 'Yes!'"