In Which Make of Car Did You Learn To Drive?
GemOfAGirl recently wrote of “Our Relationship With Our Cars”, and I was reminded of the car in which I learned to drive.
I graduated high school in an East Canadian town where I had lived for one year. I was sixteen and had gotten a learner’s permit, which meant I could operate a vehicle so long as someone licensed was with me. It was June, of course, and I had been practicing since late November, but not often, as my dad used the car daily and didn’t feel like helping me during his weekends off work. For him and my mom, that was party time - involving lots of drinking and dancing - important for construction people to “blow off steam”. Or so they said.
He still had his ’57 Plymouth Belvedere sedan, a canary yellow behemoth which he loved and that I had always seen as ridiculous. But it was a car and I ached to drive.
Sixteen was the only age I ever longed to reach, as it meant freedom to go where I needed without having to depend on anyone else. Since I was a couple of years younger than my classmates, many of them had their own cars, though few were willing to share the driving duties.
But now school was done, and we were heading back to home base - Winnipeg - where my parents co-owned (with his brother and spouse) a large house on the Red River with two rental units. The smallest was empty, and that’s where I lived while my parents moved back into their own room in the main part of the house.
And, because my dad had just undergone an operation for varicose veins and was told not to drive for a couple of weeks, I got to drive most of the way, only letting my mom take over if I felt tired. I was ecstatic. As a newbie, I avoided cities, taking the roads around; as for towns, it was usually a matter of stop and go on a straight path through. There were plenty of roadside motels with easy access parking. Mostly, I got to fly us along the virtually empty Canadian transcontinental highway, way over the speed limit.
Once we got to Winnipeg, I had to take the bus or street car wherever I might want to go and sometimes I would just ride at random, exploring the city out of boredom. My dad again went up to the D.E.W. line for construction work and my mom didn’t feel equipped to be a driving coach.
Enter my cousin’s boyfriend. He took pity on me and began my lessons.
Now here’s the thing. This was a huge unwieldy car without power steering. Even the twenty-one-plus young man teaching me struggled with it. I felt like I was wrestling an angry rhino. I’ll tell you, once I mastered parallel parking I was exultant, not to mention dripping sweat. (No air conditioning in the July heat and humidity!) I remember the guy who conducted my driving test peering at me sideways as I grunted and panted, using every ounce of strength I had to maneuver the yellow beast into proper position in a tight parking space, perspiration pouring. Thank God it was an automatic or I would never have managed it. He congratulated me heartily after he gave me a pass!
A few days later a friend came to visit me for a week and away we went - everywhere - from A&W Drive-ins to Winnipeg Beach. I came to finally appreciate the big yellow lemon, not for its looks, but for its wonderful, rich-sounding radio that could boom forth like a stereo. Or so I recall it.
And one of my salient memories includes a night we were driving down Portage Avenue and the disc jockey at CKY, the popular hits station at the time, kept replaying a song he had heard during a visit to London. We laughed at the band’s name - The Beatles - but we loved the song: “She Loves You”! This was the summer before they first performed on the Ed Sullivan show on February 9, 1964. This song somehow always defined the freedom that driving always represented for me.
Image Credit » http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plymouth_Belvedere_heck_bj_1957.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Plymouth_Belvedere_heck_bj_1957.JPG