First driver’s license

1954 Ford Ranch WagonGranddaughter Kass has a school project involving me supplying pictures from experiences of my younger self. One image she chose was my first wife and a 1954 Ford Ranch Wagon.

[pullquote]His test, his rules. My second try was a success.[/pullquote]That station wagon was pretty terrific. It had a three-on-the-tree shifter, and ran fine if one didn’t count that it burned more oil than gasoline. We and that car went places, many of which were night runs to the Ponte Vedra dunes south of Jacksonville Beach – before people with money bought up the land and erected Don’t Even Think About Walking On Our Sand signs.

The rear hatch did not lock – which mostly was no big deal. I knew people who did not even have a key to their home, much less worry about locking their car.

Now it’s Kass’ turn to learn to drive. Rules have changed some, since my youth. Kids no longer learn to drive on a farm tractor or log truck; in some jurisdictions they even have log books where suitable adults must certify the neophyte has actually controlled a car, in daylight and dark, traffic and none, interstate and rural two-lane.

It was well-known among my high school classmates that no one passed the road test first time out. Titcomb Hill was fairly steep, and the wannabe new driver was required to come to a full stop, then proceed – without rolling backward more than six inches. And without using the parking brake, which in those days was called “the emergency brake.” Stopping and starting on a hill normally did not constitute an emergency.

With an automatic transmission, it is an easy accomplishment. Almost no one had an automatic transmission.

When I started driving a car, parallel parking was a mandatory skill. It now is a rarely-used maneuver and one, her Future Drivership informed me, she had been cautioned by her Driver Ed. instructor against learning from friends or family, lest the procedure be wrongly taught. I’ll admit I’ve seen several parallel parking maneuvers demonstrated. Only one actually works.

The examiner for my first driver’s license made me parallel park as the penultimate trick in my driving demonstration. Up to that point, I had done really well on the entire road test. I full-stopped at a partially hidden stop sign. Turned militarily square corners from one street to a cross street without angling across oncoming traffic. And nailed parallel parking.

The problem came when I pulled out of the parking space and into the non-existent traffic on the suburban residential street, safe from other moving vehicles because everyone already issued a license was at work.

I hit the left blinker, turned my head to notice in the side view mirror that there were no other vehicles approaching, and pulled out.

And failed the test. Mr. Examiner explained he wanted me to twist my body to see behind me. Mirrors and peripheral vision did not count. I was not quite as large as I am now, but close, and my test vehicle was a sports car. There are things one does not, at least without great difficulty, do behind the wheel of a sports car, buckled in between the shifter and the door. One of those things is turn to face where one has been rather than where one is going.

His test, his rules. My second try was a success.

I wish Kass her own ’54 Ranch Wagon (whatever it is called on the title), lots of worthy destinations, and good friends with whom to enjoy both.

And I hope she learns to parallel park. There are still some places where the alternative is to park in Littlestown and walk the 20 miles back to the restaurant.

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