First off I would like to thank each and everyone of you that wished me well, or sent me a note, or made a comment expressing concern and a wish for a speedy recovery from my recent illness, your thoughts, prayers, and well wishes have helped greatly in my ongoing recovery. Thank you so very very much. — Bill
Now moving on. Apparently some folks actually like it when I write stories about myself, so today I will share with you how I learned to drive. Unlike my daughter who had the a world-class teacher, giving her skill and guidance, who had patience of a saint and a soft shoulder, as she learned to drive, I did not have a conventional form of training for learning how to drive.
As a kid I got to sit in Dad’s lap with my hands on the steering wheel as we took an occasional drive. Later I got to race a homemade soap box derby kinda of crappy things down a local hill. We used skate wheels or the wheels off a baby carriage, with 2 x 4’s, rope to steer, and a vegetable box for a body. Later came real driving on a go-cart, a neighbors’ tractor, and the VW Bug in the soybean field, and then where I really learned Thomas’s Automatic Carwash! Driving school for the imaginative.
My earliest recollections of driving came from the lap of my father, my hands on the wheel of that big old 50 Dodge, by the time my parents got the 55 Buick Roadmaster I was too big to sit on Dad’s lap or stand between his legs as he drove. Driving was always important to Dad, and many a Sunday he would take off for the drive to nowhere. I was usually invited, and I went many a time. I always remembered that dad drove like crap, and he never went the same way twice to anyplace. Dad had 8 or 9 possible routes to a given location, and none of them were the shortest distance. Dad drove because he liked driving, and after I stopped riding with him, he really didn’t invite any of us kids until my sister was old enough to appreciate having that time with him. When I reached the age of 16 and got my learners permit, I think Dad took me out for 1 driving lesson, and either I scared the crap out of him, or he lost any tiny bit of patience he may have that first effort. I don’t remember my dad being involved in me actually learning to drive.
But learn to drive I did. It really started long before I was 16, it started at county fairs, and state fairs, and small time amusement parks. Bumper cars were probably the single biggest 1st factor in my driving. At first I did all bumping, crashing, slamming into the other cars, but it didn’t take long for that not to be fun. I found avoiding being slammed more fun, I found racing around the circle without being pushed aside more fun, and I believe that was the earliest lessons in defensive driving. From bumper cars, as I honed my skills I was invited numerous times a very young kid to drive the tractor on a friend’s farm. It didn’t go fast, and it brought a whole new aspect to driving, suddenly there was a 3rd pedal a clutch. Back when I was a kid if you didn’t quite get the foot shift thing right the gears would not mesh and there was a terrible grinding noise from the transmission, we called this “grinding a pound,” and lord could I, when I was first learning to drive that tractor. I also didn’t know you could get a tractor to do a wheelie, but if up popped the clutch when the engine rev’d high enough you could just barely get those front wheels off the ground. By the time I was in the 5th grade I had learned (kinda) enough skills to drive the tractor all over the fields only stalling it a few times, and only grinding several pounds of gears. Also during the tractor driving days go carts became the rage. It seemed like go-cart tracks were opening at every corner, and this is where I learned to drive heavy with the right foot, and light with the left. At first go-cart tracks taught me to drive in making left turns only. But within a short period of time, they added right turns and driving became a wonderful new experience. Still heavy right light left. I became addicted to go carts, and have been ever since. The last time I rode one was only a few years ago just before I went on oxygen.
As a go-cart driver I had it nailed. But go carts where just nicer bumper cars. I needed real experience in real cars. At the ripe old age of 13 I took a job at Thomas’s Automatic Carwash, in Hike’s Point. I won’t go into the whole hierarchy of workers at the carwash but there was one. The 2 best jobs were finish prep, and driver. These two positions got the most tips. Tips were important. Hell anyone knows tips are still important. Over the course of a summer I worked my way to the position of window washer. I could make the inside windows of a car sparkle, no streaks, no dirty spots, just clear clean glass. I would ride each car from the wash and clean the inside windows. From time to time a driver just wasn’t available to drive the car to the finish area, and the boss would scream at me to get it out there. And eventually I became a driver. This is where I began driving real cars. This is also where I refined my skills using a clutch. Do you know you could really spin the tires good popping the clutch on wet pavement. I learned that at the carwash, much to the dismay of many a car owner. When I finally became a driver, us drivers would have contests seeing who could spin the tires the most in the 100 foot drive to the finisher. Sometimes winning meant a car owner screaming blue bloody murder at you as he waved his fist. Yelp this happened more than once. But I also learned how to drive with a clutch without grinding a pound, and how to stop on a dime. I worked weekends for 2 ½ at Thomas’s Automatic Carwash. I drove a ton of cars 100 feet at a time.
While I was learning to drive 100 feet at a time a friend of mine Paul, would let me drive his car, he had a Volvo hatchback. Don’t remember the year, but it looked like a 40 Dodge. It was fun to drive, and Paul didn’t care how fast I drove it. Paul was a year older, and had his license for over a year, but I was a much better driver. He clearly knew that, and he trusted me. I just didn’t have the license yet, so whenever we went someplace together he would let me drive. This is where I really learned to drive on a road, to drive in traffic, and to be aware of my surrounding. I never thanked Paul, for allowing me to use his car to learn. Oh I am sure I said thanks for letting me drive from time to time, but I don’t believe I ever acknowledge his role in my learning.
Another place I learned to drive was in my Dad’s Jewel Tea Truck. At this point in my life I still wasn’t old enough to get a learners permit. Back then you had to be 16, for a permit. But because I was the oldest, and because I had a job, and because I was quite full of BS, whenever Mom, Dad and my sibling when to grandpa’s farm for a weekend I was left at home to fend for myself. Yes I did work, yes I kept the house relatively neat, and yes I went out. But when I came home the neighborhood was quiet, all the houses were dark, and I had Buechal Terrance to myself. I knew where Dad kept the keys to his truck, and I would fire it up at 1am and drive it all around the neighborhood. Some nights I did 10 or 15 laps. I always had to make sure I didn’t drive it too far, and I didn’t do it every time they went out-of-town, just most the time.
The final step before I got my driver’s license was driver’s education class at Fern Creek High School. You actually got credit for it, and it was probably the only class I got an “A” during my 4 years in High School. It didn’t do much for teaching how to drive, but it did teach me important stuff like learning to parallel park, a skill I still have and am quite good at. The other important aspect to taking and passing “Driver’s Ed” was that the insurance company gave you a 20 percent discount. As a teenage boy that 20 percent was a very real savings.
When the time finally came to take my driver’s test, I missed one question on the written exam, and I aced the driving part of the test. So a couple of months short of my 17th birthday I had my license. I was legal, and a new phase of my life started. And that folks is how I learned to drive.
As always your comments and thoughts are always welcome. Please take care and have a great day. Bill