IT'S DUSK as Eleanor Kane slides behind the wheel of the 1988 Ford Tempo. Driving instructor Keith Elliott, a soft-spoken, burly man with a beard, also squeezes into the front seat.
The car is clearly marked on the outside with "student driver" signs. It is equipped with an extra brake on the passenger side so Elliott can stop the car in an emergency.
The sky is clear, but the South Buffalo side street is slick with ice. Both Miss Kane and Elliott fasten their seat belts.
"You can put the lights on now," Elliott says. Miss Kane obliges. "Pull out when it's safe."
Miss Kane rolls down the window, looks back and checks the rear-view mirror. She puts her left turn signal on and pulls into the street.
A few hundred feet away, a group of youngsters is playing street hockey. There is parking on both sides of the narrow street. Miss Kane slows down and beeps her horn, but the kids are not moving.
She beeps again. Elliott has his foot poised on the brakes. Miss Kane then presses the brakes. The car skids, veering sharply to the left. It wasn't close to an accident, but it was scary.
"Whew," says a relieved Miss Kane.
"You handled that well. You did the right thing," Elliott assures her.
A kid of about 10, holding a plastic hockey stick, smiles and waves at Miss Kane from the side of the road.
"Way to go, lady," he yells, with a tone of sarcasm in his voice.
Elliott smiles. It's all in a day's work for a driving instructor. He has had his share of close calls, but he maintains an ideal attitude for the job.
"I don't scream, I don't yell, I don't hit -- in fact, I'm numb," says Elliott, 39, a teacher at O'Day's School of Driving for nearly 15 years.
Miss Kane appreciates Elliott's low-key presence. The lesson lasts 45 minutes, and that can be a long time to spend with a driving teacher.
"He makes me feel relaxed," she says. "He doesn't yell and he doesn't get excited. He takes time to explain things."
Despite his style, Elliott admits the work is demanding. "People think it's an easy job, but it's not," Elliott says. "There's a lot of mental pressure.
"It might sound crazy, but I enjoy this work. Most people do very well, and I feel that I'm helping them became safe drivers. I get a great deal of satisfaction when they pass their road test."
Miss Kane will take her road test in about two weeks.
After the skid, the rest of her lesson is routine. She does a couple of three-point turns and practices parallel parking.
"For me, parking is the hardest part," Miss Kane says. "Driving is easy."
The lesson ends, Miss Kane departs, and Elliott slides over to the wheel. He doesn't drive much in his free time.
"I don't like to take my work home with me," Elliott says.
He enjoys watching video movies; his favorite is "Smokey and the Bandit," especially the car crash scenes.
"I like sitting in my living room and watching someone else crack up."