Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Late Bloomer

When I turned 15, my mother asked if I'd be interested in taking drivers training (classes weren't offered at my school). I said I could wait, that I was in no real rush to learn. I liked to look at my uncle John's example; he didn't get a license until he was in his mid-20's. Course, he was in the seminary where there wasn't really a need for a car, but still.

Once I hit 16, I still wasn't up for learning. I remember one afternoon walking and seeing three of my classmates in a drivers ed car. They all appeared happy, one step closer to fulfilling their dream.

More time passed and I had yet to change my tune. I recall one day being driven home by one of my friends' mothers and knowing I was of age, she asked if I had my license yet. I said I didn't and had no plans of doing so. She seemed quite surprised to hear this. Yep, I was a real nerd. It actually became a point of pride for me. I got around by walking and biking. I wasn't unnecessarily polluting the environment or putting another car on the road that didn't need to be.

I graduated high school and decided to attend college in my hometown. Most love leaving the city they grew up in behind. Not me. The years went by and I got by just fine without a car. No car or insurance payments, no money to piss away on gas. Course, I never had a girlfriend during this time, either, but that was due more to my social inadequacy than not having a "ride".

Finally, sensing that I was fast turning into a loser, my mom said she'd teach me how to drive. At this point, I was 23. I can still remember the afternoon in which she taught me the basics. As my mom showed me how to push the gas and apply the brakes, I was struck by how small her feet were. She said that she was taught by my old man when she was a teen. We'd chosen a back road to practice on for obvious reasons. As I drove, one of my favorite songs of the time played: Wynonna Judd's "Girls With Guitars".

One thing that was hard for me to wrap my head around was why feet had to be used to drive a car. The only thing I did with my feet was walk. You'd think by the '90s, they'd have invented a car in which you pressed a button on the dashboard to get the car going; same thing for brakes. I felt like Fred Flintstone, to tell you the truth.

A week or two later, I went to the license center and took a multimedia test for my permit. I passed relatively easily. I was halfway to being a full-fledged driver. Not too long after, I finally obtained a girlfriend. Months passed and I lost interest in getting a license. I only wound up getting it (at the age of 24) because I had to in order to work as a companion with an elderly man. I was close to broke and he offered me free room and board along with $100 a week.

I set up an appointment for the test. In a great display of generosity, the older man paid for a 2-hour drivers training session for me. The instructor gave me a nice overview of all I needed to know before taking the test. I couldn't seem to get parallel parking down, but knew that even if I failed, I would be long as I did perfectly on the rest.

I was certainly nervous on the morning I took the test, but followed the tips my instructor had given and was doing good until it was time to PP. I fucked that up, but what are you gonna do? I would up with a 78, I believe (passing was a 75). I was extremely relieved that I wouldn't have to take it again and for the next couple months, I worked closely with the elderly man stocking money up for the school year.

Though now licensed, I had no desire to piss my money away on a vehicle, not while I was still attending college. My mother did let me borrow her car from time to time, however. I recall one late summer early evening hearing David Ball's "Thinkin' Problem" on the radio. I quickly turned the volume up and began singing along. Life was good.

Shortly after I graduated college, my dad said he'd like to help me purchase my first car. He knew of an auction in which dealers would sell cars to each other and since he ran his own RV business, was eligible to participate. I had just met my wife-to-be a couple months before and was more than happy to bring her along. I got a bit PO'd at her as she was late in meeting us at her place; her chiro appt had gone over. I said she should've just left at 6:15 since she had agreed to meet us at 6:30.

We headed out into the fall evening. This was my dad's first chance to meet my new girlfriend. I explicitly remember hearing Lone Star's "When Cowboys Didn't Dance" on the radio as my dad conversated with my beloved.

We arrived at the auction and had a bit of time to look over the cars before the show started. My dad asked what kind of vehicle I was interested. I said a 4-door sedan would be fine. I watched with interest as dealers raised their hand to bid on the cars. It was a very congenial atmosphere with a number of children present and lemonade being served. One of the cars I liked, an 89 Mercury Topaz, came up for bid.

My dad raised his hand and the fun began. There was one other person who was also bidding, but he gave up fairly easily. The car went for around a thousand or so which was within my price range. My wife was very excited, almost as if it was gonna be her car. My dad had his mechanic do a few repairs on the car to get it into ship-shape condition (alignment, etc.) before handing it over to me. He said it would be a good in-town vehicle. Two months later, I moved to a city an hour away and for the next year would make frequent trips back and forth between the two towns. Oh well.

One good thing about learning to drive late is that I'm probably not as car-fatigued as others who started at the age of 15. Others my age have been drivers for well over 20 years while I've only been at it for 13. I can't say I'd really do anything differently if given the chance, well, other than voting for Clinton instead of Bush I in the fall of '92.


Rocketstar said...

Personally, I think kids should nto be able to drive until 18. A 16 year old behind the wheel of a possible murder weapon, not a good idea.

Randy said...

Good story. I started when I was 16, it was a rite of passage. It was also my responsibility as I paid for the car, paid all maintenance and gas. I did get a break on insurance that my older brothers & sisters didn't get.

Brian Mongold said...

I was a terrible driver when I was 16. I almost got into a major accident because I looked left, then right and failed to look left again before making a left turn. :) My buddy about crapped himself.

Sorry I haven't been around lately. In the process of buying a house, moving, etc. Hope things are good.


Marina Martin said...

The real question is ... can you parallel park now?

Sarah said...

it's 14 in sodak!!

Thomas said...

Rocket, I can't help but agree with you on that.

Randy, kudos to you on showing such exemplary behavior at such a young age.

Brian, I understand all the upheaval that's caused when in the process of moving. Wishing you all the best.

Marina, I still don't. If I have to park downtown, I'll only pick a spot where PP isn't necessary.

Sarah, that is ridiculous!