Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Take me for a Ride in your Car, Car

Just read a new statement on a blog by Triple G and it reminded me of a story so few of you know, so here it goes.

Yes, that is me, next to a Ford Mustang coup with black bucket seats and a huge engine with an automatic drive. My father bought it for my mother to drive to the Richmond Country Club to play golf. He traded in the family Ford blue station wagon with faux wood siding and a reverse third seat. He also bought? a yellow Ford Galaxy convertible with an even bigger engine but a massive square body.

These are the family automobiles I practiced driving in. I know, I know..... me driving is a freaky thought, but wait, there is more.

At the ripe age of 15 , like so many other boys of the day, the transfer to manhood required a driver's license.

So the first year of high school, I sat in a dark trailer watching a screen showing teenagers dying in black and white wrecks of mangled metal, then practicing in a bumper car type model following instructions to turn left, stop, and wait for school children to cross the street. Unlike today, when you pressed the "gas" pedal, the movie didn't go any faster.

At the end of the trailer training, I spent weekends next to the local baseball park behind the wheel of some smooth Chrysler vehicles listening to an instructor tell me how to turn around some orange cones laid out in the parking lot.

Then the real excitement happened. My instructor invited me to drive on the "street". Although we only traveled a few blocks on lightly traveled roads, the sense of freedom presented itself to me.

Before this adventure, I had to walk, or ride my bike (which wasn't cool) or take public transportation (which was slow and even more not cool) to get to any place other than my own room.

Which brings us back to the Ford parking lot in my backyard.

Yes, I graduated from the city driving training lessons and had my own learner's license. It was like a real driver's license, but a REAL driver had to be in the vehicle with you.

So I would get mom (dad didn't want to venture out with me, besides he was busy working) and we would take one of the Fords out to a local quiet neighborhood and turn corners, speed up and slow down, change gears, parallel park and all the stuff you need to do to drive. I actually was pretty smooth with this, but I preferred the Chrystal vehicles because they had power steering.

A couple of weeks reading the driver's manual and I was ready for the Department of Motor Vehicles driver's test. My mother drove me down to the building not far from where I took my in-car lessons and waited for me to complete the written portion.

Waiting to be graded, I watched other teens line up eagerly for their photos to be taken, then a dull man in a gray suit told me to follow him. We walked to a black former police cruiser and he climbed into the passenger side motioning for me to get behind the wheel. He held a clipboard in his lap and without emotion indicated my path to follow. With a deep breath, I turned out of the parking lot onto Broad Street and slowly followed his instructions. I checked the mirrors, gave signals on turns, slowed before stopping, and looked both ways before crossing the intersections. Pulling back into the parking lot and ending the uneventful journey by placing the vehicle into park, I was issued back into the gray concrete building to await my conclusion.

I had not talked to many of my friends about this incursion into manhood and none had joined me into this venture, though I knew some of the others were trying and a few had been successful enough to have access to their own escape pod on wheels.

The evaluator came back and stoically handed me the clipboard. I had missed a turn signal, BUT I had a passing score.

Happily I got my photo taken and received my laminated drivers license. I skipped out to my mother awaiting the results. I showed here the new license and begged to drive home, to little avail.

I still had to ask permission from my mother to use any of the Fords, which was rare. I drove her to the club on a few occasions and more so on the way home since she had been in the club house tasting the drink.

A few friends from the "good" neighborhoods, would come by to see if I could drive them to a local "social occasion" and my mother immediately agreed, since "they" were of the class of kids she wanted me to associate with. What she didn't know was these "good" kids just wanted to drive around and drink beer.

It wasn't long before these "good" kids had bribed their parents into buying used cars for them to drive to school, which was a joke, since school was about two blocks away.

So, on week nights, instead of studying, we would gather at a local watering hole called the Tempo Room, pay the proprietor too much money for 3.2 beer, listen to R&B on the jukebox, then get into our cars and drive up and down Grove Avenue.

Our favorite sport was to drive on Grove Avenue from the Boulevard to the University of Richmond.

Some of the "good" kids had clunkers like big old heavy 57 Chevy coups, but some had sporty foreign models like Mg's or the rare Corvette.

We would wait until late so the regular traffic had evaporated, then start at one end of the street and race to the other end of the street. We zipped through stoplights without a notion of danger.

When I drove the Mustang, I had no competition, but when I drove the Galaxy, there was a true race. The big yellow mobile machine was heavy, but had a powerful engine, so the start was slow and unless the other drivers could keep the lead, I would catch up and pass without a problem. The path was pretty straight, so it was just step on the pedal and press your body against the wheel. (Side note: this was before seat belts and air bags)

Unfortunately, at least for me, there were enough neighbors along the way who complained to the authorities about the noise of loud vehicles racing up and down the streets late at night.

Police were stationed along our path and sure enough I saw the red flashing light. It seemed to me I was targeted by the law, but maybe I was the only one who stopped. Looking back, other "good" kids may have gotten tickets, but they had parents who were lawyers, doctors, and politicians and got away with it.

I just drove home, signed the ticket, payed the fine and never told my parents. I was too ashamed to tell anyone. I had gotten caught while the others got away.

Yet, the next invitation was accepted and the race was on, only to be captured again.

I accumulated several violations for driving TOO FAST, so my father received a letter requesting him to accompany me to a downtown courtroom. This was not a good thing.

I had somehow gotten around this tendency to drive irresponsibly before, but now I had to face the music.

As my dad drove the yellow monster down to the courthouse, we were silent. He didn't ask, I didn't tell.

Before the judge, we stood together, awaiting his comments as he shuffled through a stack of tickets. The judge paused, looked up at my father, and asked, " Do you want to take his license away or do you want me to do it?" My father stood motionless. The judge folded the papers and asked for the next case.

After arriving home on a long, slow, quiet drive home, I never asked about using a motor vehicle again.

So today, I ride two wheels and am content in the knowledge I should not use the fossil fuel and metal madness to venture aimlessly onto the pavement endangering others and myself. Like an addiction, I enjoyed the thrill of speed within the confines of the fast moving vehicle, and like a recovering addict, I avoid the temptation.

Although this decision has limited my transportation confines, I have grown accustomed to and appreciate the exercise, weather, sounds, smells, and sights missed by those whizzing by missing what is surrounding them as they rush to the next location.

I probably made the right decision.


TripleG said...

"Fun, fun, fun"

"Life in the Fast Lane"

"Mustang Sally"

-- playing in the Tempo Room...

Art said...

one of your best posts...

I wonder why the first, or second, or... did not convince you to slow down. Would a Yugo have done it?

What's the old line... The definition of nuts is doing the same thing oer & over and expecting different results...