Monday, November 28, 2016

Road Trip

Over Thanksgiving week I took a road trip, 550 miles each way, about 1,400 total miles.  Easy-peasy today. It is hard to imagine that only 100 years ago, driving 550 miles in 9  hours was well - unimaginable.  There were a few race cars built for speed and endurance that might do it, but the average car of the day could go fast enough and was not durable enough.  My how far we have come in 100 years, where will the next 100 years take us? 

It also got me to thinking about my learning to drive.  When I turned 16 my family was living in Michigan 8 months of the year and Florida 4 months of the year.  I really didn't care if I got a drivers license, my parents had been stingy about providing cars for my older siblings, the last "second-car" my middle brother had totaled in spectacular fashion a couple of years older flipping it end over end into some farmers flower beds, and walked home from the accident.  

My father on the other hand was insistent that I had to looking into driver's ed and getting a license.  I called the school that summer and asked, and the fall semester driver ed class didn't finish before we would be going to Florida for the winter, I figured I had my reprieve and I would take the class the following summer (also thinking this would get me out of 2-3 weeks of work on the farm.)  In a rate move, my father called the school the next day and then informed me I would be taking drivers ed as a special independent study in September.  Oh joys!  

Shortly after school started I checked in the with shop-teacher / driving instructor.  He talked to me for 2 minutes and gave me a copy of the text book and said the read the first half of the book and come back and see him when I was done.  It didn't take long, it was not a complex text and at the time I read about 40 pages an hour, with occasional gusts to 50 pages (and no one pointed out to me that this was an unusual talent.)  About a week later I went back the to shop teacher, he chuckled and handed me three multiple choice quizzes and a pen.  About 30 minutes later I gave them back to him, and he sat at his desk going over them and putting check marks next to nearly every answer.  Now I knew I hadn't studied hard and I really didn't care, but I didn't think I was doing that bad.  When He finished he looked up and said, you only missed 3 questions out of the 60, he was putting a check mark next the correct answers.  He said to read the rest of the book and come back and see him next week. The following Monday I was back in his office,  he asked me the average stopping distance from 60 miles per hour, the minimum safe following distance at 60 miles per hour and handed me a 10 question true or false final exam.  Five minutes later he confirmed that I had 10 correct answers and he asked me if I was free after school at 4:00 PM the next day to do some driving.  I was.  The first day of driving started off kind of rough, he asked the three students to put gas in the car and set up the jack to change a tire.  I had never used an electric gas pump (the one on the farm was gravity feed) and we had a hard time finding the gas cap on the Ford of the year.  But we managed, he stopped us before we started to loosen the lug nuts and told us we had the jack properly set and the wheels blocked.  And off we went.  The only think I remember about the route on the first drive was an impossibly rough section of gravel road the the instructor questioning my honesty when I told him I had not been driving illegally.  He said to plan on three hours the second evening, he had paperwork he needed to drop off in Saginaw and we would do some expressway driving.  There were only two of us the second day.  The other guy went first, and after the instructor backed the car out of the ditch, I took over.  On the expressway on-ramp the instructor slid over, put his foot on mine and mashed the accelerator screaming you drive the accelerator not the brake.  We arrived back at my house and I asked "what time tommorow?" and he replied you won't be back tomorrow, hang one just a second and he signed something on his clip board and said, "You passed, go get a learners permit."  

Now I was still not keen on the idea of getting a license, I couldn't really see why.  But dad was insistent.  My middle brother was very patient and took me driving, my mother only let me drive with her once.  A month or so later, just before we left to go to Florida for the winter, Mom scheduled me for a driving test.  The examiner had me go around one-square-mile, four left had turns, one with a turn light, one with a traffic light, one four way stop, one two way stop.  I didn't hit anything or drive off the road.  I was most nervous about the parking test. As we approached the end of the test drive, the examiner looked at me and said, "turn in the driveway on the right, and get it stopped in any of the 40 empty parking places in that lot without hitting anything, and you passed."  I didn't hit anything. 

The following spring we returned to Michigan and shortly after getting back into classes I needed to be there early or late, and asked my parents the evening before.  My father handed me the keys to his Chrysler and a key to the gas pump on the farm and said, always be careful.  A week later he traded the keys to his car for the keys to a red 1965 Ford pickup truck and said get yourself back and forth to school - we have always trusted you to be good. 

Tell us about your learning to drive?  


  1. I got my first license in NYC at the age of 17. I am now in the unfortunate (to me) position of having to get a Spanish license. Spain doesn't recognize the US license, so I have to take lessons and start all over again. Needless to say, I've been "thinking about it" for a year!

  2. I had private driving school. Our instructor would fall asleep while we students were at the wheel of her grey Ford Granada. My dad took me out for several very frustrating father/son instruction sessions and on my 16th birthday I passed the tests and started driving myself and as many others as we could pack into my 1968 Chevy pickup back and forth to school. Oh the stories that old truck could tell.

  3. summer of 1971 - I was 17 and about to start senior year of high school.

    since my high school did not offer driver's ed (stupid catholics), my parental units signed me up for lessons at the local public high school. I trained on a 71 chevy impala; yes, it was solid and huge and like a boat on wheels! I passed the driving test first time too!

  4. According to some I live with, I am still learning apparently.